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A Vision for 21st Century Education

The BC government just released a report from the Premier's Technology Council (PTC) on the future of education in British Columbia which is a fantastic read. It's like someone took the conversations we have on #edchat on Twitter and bottled it up into an official report.

The report starts with discussing the needs of a knowledge-based society1, which it describes as

  • Functional Numeracy and Literacy
  • Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
  • Creativity and Innovation
  • Technological Literacy
  • Communication and Media Literacy
  • Collaboration and Teamwork
  • Personal Organization
  • Motivation, Self-regulation and Adaptability
  • Ethics, Civic Responsibility, Cross-Cultural Awareness

They move onto some over-arching principles about what they feel a 21st century education should look like. Specifically, the document indicates "[t]he system must place greater emphasis on the learning of skills over the learning of content...[which] will have to evolve constantly, not only to remain relevant but so students are ready to deal with how rapidly information changes in a knowledge-based society."2 Of course information in our society is changing very rapidly. Kurzweil, in his article entitled "The Law of Accelerating Returns" said "[t]he Singularity is technological change so rapid and so profound that it represents a rupture in the fabric of human history"3 referring to his prediction that the rapidly approaching time when our ability to digest and create knowledge as a species will exceed our current ability to comprehend and predict the changes.

How would such a system operate? According to the document4 "the transformed system would have a flexible curriculum that allows for more in depth study...The system would have a mixture of face-to-face classroom and online learning." According to the Premier's Technology council, the system would require:

  • A Flexible Educational Path
  • A Blended System
  • Access to Learning Objects and Teaching Tools
  • Open Access to Information Systems
  • Constant Feedback and Assessment

Many of these requirements will need additional infrastructure supports, and certainly the opponents of such a radical transformation will point to the lack of access to the Internet in rural communities, or the disparities and inequities5 in the necessary technology between communities as reasons not to move toward this educational system. The Premier's Technology report does say that "a critical component of adding connectivity to the system is equity of access"6 so obviously they recognize this as an issue but the report does not make any recommendations on how to address this issue.

These are issues which we address daily in our discussions on #edchat. If you look through our conversation topics from the past year our wiki, you'll find that they address the current problems in our system, and acknowledge a desire to move toward this system by many educators. The transformation of our system, as the PTC acknowledges, is not going to happen from a single report, but from the combined effort of educators, parents, students and other stake-holders in our educational community.

What is refreshing is to see that the very same ideas are being discussed at the highest levels in our (BC's anyway, sorry to you US folks) educational system. Unfortunately there will be much opposition to these proposed changes. Many teachers in BC will naturally resist change, since it is easier to keep doing what one is doing than to transform one's practice. The BC teacher's union will resist these changes since many of them will require changes to how teacher contracts in BC are structured. I have hope however, that a majority of BC educators see that our system is not working and that it is not currently meeting of the learners it is intended to support. We must change, our children depend on our ability to be flexible and adapt to a rapidly changing world.

References:

1. Premier's Technology Council, (2010). A Vision for 21st Century Education, retrieved from http://www.gov.bc.ca/premier/attachments/PTC_vision%20for_education.pdf on December 14th, 2010

2. Kurzweil, R. (2001). The Law of Accelerating Returns, retrieved from http://www.kurzweilai.net/the-law-of-accelerating-returns on December 14th, 2010

3. BBC News, (1999). Online Education Increases Inequality, retrieved from http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/education/323272.stm on December 14th, 2010

About David

David is a Formative Assessment Specialist for Mathematics at New Visions for Public Schools in NYC. He has been teaching since 2002, and has worked in Brooklyn, London, Bangkok, and Vancouver before moving back to the United States. He has his Masters degree in Educational Technology from UBC, and is the co-author of a mathematics textbook. He has been published in ISTE's Leading and Learning, Educational Technology Solutions, The Software Developers Journal, The Bangkok Post and Edutopia. He blogs with the Cooperative Catalyst, and is the Assessment group facilitator for Edutopia. He has also helped organize the first Edcamp in Canada, and TEDxKIDS@BC.

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