This is an edited version of an article that was originally published on: Teach Middle East Magazine

The world is changing fast, and so must we, if we are to live in it; successfully, productively and sustainably.

However, global education systems are still largely committed to the ‘imparting knowledge’ model, simply because that’s how things have always been done, and being tested on an accumulation of knowledge is the
traditional basis for students to prove their capabilities. But technology has transformed the world to such an
extent that we are living in a vastly different place than we were, even two years ago. Consider how the
pandemic has caused a monumental shift, not just in life and education but also in the workplace. Technology is now impacting so many areas that the onus is on all of us involved in education to prepare our students for this increasingly technology and skills based future.

It’s all online

These days, we have immediate access to knowledge or facts – we can ask Alexa, Google or Siri, or look online for answers. So, isn’t it time we challenged the idea of knowledge-led education? With technology use becoming ever more embedded into society, I would suggest a focus on skills as the way forward – to ensure young people know how to find digital information, and then examine, challenge, validate and use it appropriately.

Of course, many schools already teach these skills as far as they can within their curriculums. The UAE, for example, is already taking significant steps in this direction, teaching problem-solving, critical thinking and human skills, alongside digital citizenship education, where students learn all about digital law, etiquette,
security, rights and responsibilities and so on. But I believe that these skills need to be taught more widely as part of a larger overhaul of global education systems. Why? Not only is technology transforming how we live locally, but it can contribute to managing global issues, such as climate change, ending the reliance on natural resources and pollution – all of which will require us to have the digital and interpersonal skills to collaborate and innovate on multiple levels as we try to find ways to mitigate them. They simply won’t wait
for our education systems to catch up.

Another consideration is that the pandemic has accelerated changes in the employment landscape. Although still in a period of flux and adaptation, in the future, it will require employees who are creative, independent, reliable, adaptable, resourceful and can work successfully with others, both locally and with other countries and cultures, to achieve real solutions to real situations. We need our students to be ready and able to embrace this.

Let’s talk about assessment

Preparation, revision and the lead-up to the exams that determine students’ futures is intolerably stressful, probably more now than ever before. But the current testing system is broken. And although some countries are moving towards online testing, too many still compel students to recall facts under exam pressure and write them down, pen-and-paper style. After a whole school career of using EdTech, this makes no sense and does not create a level playing field for assessment. For example, we know that some students handle written exams well, but others will outshine them with the creativity of their coursework; or some may have reading disorders, yet with the accessibility features that technology affords them in the classroom, they are able to demonstrate that they are equally as competent as their peers.

In these days of heightened awareness of students’ wellbeing, we need to be looking at alternative ways to test, in a way that vastly decreases the prolonged anxiety and stress
students feel at exam time. The stress is so acute that it is not just mental health that is affected, but many also experience physical symptoms in the run-up to exams. I would suggest that educating young people to have the confidence, self-esteem, and resilience to fulfil their potential is far healthier and more beneficial than producing stressed-out individuals
who are so damaged by the process that their futures may be affected in the wrong way. With students’ mental health now at crisis levels in so many countries, it’s clear that such changes
are already overdue

Giving young people the chance to show their potential

I recently watched a 2013 TED talk by Educational researcher Sugata Mitra, and so much of what he said resonated with me. He explained his ‘hole in the wall’ project, where he installed
public computers in walls in deprived areas in India and the children came together to work out how to use them. His findings illustrated a clear point: if you give young people access to the right technology (or teacher), they will work together to find answers.

I love that these children showed what they could achieve by being naturally resourceful and inquisitive. Today’s young people are more than capable of doing the same. Many are already
innovating beyond their years, and, in many cases, the catalyst is technology.

Skills drive change

Students are inventive and adaptable, but current models of education and testing constrain them within barriers that often appear, to them, irrelevant and uninteresting.

Teaching students a range of digital and soft skills right now is vital for everyone’s future. These are the skills that can elevate a country’s prosperity. They can drive real change and help to tackle inequalities. For example, over the last decade, the UAE has seen much success with integrating technology into education and this, together with a renewed emphasis on equipping students with a skills-based education, will ensure that as the country continues to move away from a reliance on oil, new initiatives and enterprises can emerge to replace it.

Innovation is key

Let’s consider the technology industry. It’s an area that flourishes on innovation, and learning facts is not what drives it. For students interested in tech-based careers, it is so much better to be hands-on and learning real skills in a workplace, rather than studying for qualifications that will be outdated as soon as they have been gained.

I see the value of workplace trainee schemes first-hand; it is one that my company wholeheartedly supports by hosting workplace trainees of our own. Placements are more immediate, practical and relevant – in fact, the perfect environment to, as Sugata Mitra said, ‘let learning happen’ with colleagues of all ages, and levels of experience, together. It has certainly worked for the highly engaged young people our company works with, and many have remained with us as fulltime employees after their training has finished.

The future is now

We have always trusted the education system to prepare our children for the future, but the model that has worked in previous centuries is now falling short, today. In this fast-moving technological age, we cannot truly know what the workplace will look like, in even a few years, other than it will be more digital-heavy and remote, with people working from anywhere and everywhere. The key to operating successfully in that environment will be not just a reliance on knowledge, but on digital and soft skills – and that is something we can prepare our students for right now.

Al Kingsley

Al Kingsley has almost 30 years’ experience in EdTech and digital safeguarding. He speaks regularly at education events, conferences and exhibitions around the world. Al is the CEO of NetSupport and Chair of two multi-academy trusts in the UK


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