How do we map the future onto education?
The future approaches at increasing speed with all its innovation and challenges. There are profound social, cultural, technological, scientific and environmental changes which occur at most local but also at global levels of the modern world. From these will stem huge challenges in all spheres of life. These demand changes in education, not necessarily in the system or how it operates, but perhaps in its aims, and most certainly in its content. Rhetorically the education system has, inter alia, the task of preparing for the future, but does it? Probably not. And it does not know much about the future - even though much more is known than many people acknowledge. Neither does it know how to map the available knowledge onto the system. In a curious way the future is seriously neglected by modern education, despite claims to the contrary, witnessed by a vivid discussion about 21st century competencies.
Where do we want to go?
The aims of education in an environment that potentially changes faster than most people realize, needs to be placed as the top priority in the modern educational discussion. Without rethinking our aims, it is of little value to discuss administrative reforms, testing, accountability, pedagogic practices or the use of technology, to name some of the current discourses. Bringing the discussion about aims to the center is perhaps the biggest challenge for modern education. This is unfortunately a neglected issue. Discussing how to get somewhere tends to be meaningless if you don’t discuss where to go.
The impediments to change within education
Why is it so difficult to develop the important ingredients of our education? There are ample reasons to move ahead with the content of a new curriculum, while preserving what is valuable, in order to ensure powerful knowledge and education for everybody for the decades to come. But if we want to change, we have to negotiate an incredibly difficult labyrinth, filled with hurdles of all sizes; these have to be seen (understood) and crossed, one after the other. I have enumerated at least ten categories of these, that I describe and discuss how we can tackle. But note I am not arguing that all change is for the better and we must combine creative and visionary thought with critical insight and wisdom while moving ahead.
The wrong-footed emphasis on research or evidence-based policy and practice
There is little disagreement that research and data are perhaps the most vital ingredients for the dynamics of educational progress. But, the successful use of either, requires – or rather demands - vision for education and the people involved and the societies they live in. It also demands imagination, insight, honesty and a deep understanding of the field or arena being developed. Also a thorough understanding of the essence of research and the nature, strengths and weaknesses of the available data and the context, in which it has been assembled, is also an absolute necessity. I am attempting to clarify these issues, inter alia given the current widespread infatuation with the “what works” movement.
A perspective on the gender attendance differences in Higher Education
Recently, I have argued that the nature (exponential growth) and stability of the differential attendance growth (during the whole of the 20th century), has not been acknowledged in the present discussions. The stable, historical patterns, indicate that the gender differences will grow and present imbalances within HE during the decades to come. Given the current emphasis on good balance within the system, the emerging imbalanced pattern will turn out to be problematic. I claim to present a very simple story, by showing a remarkably stable, but differential exponential growth for males and females. I also maintain that the message implied by the pattern is important, - but one that most people seem to find very difficult to grasp.
Moving the focus of the educational discourse from “pre-work” education to life-long learning is a pressing challenge. Even though this has been rhetorically accepted, for nearly half a century it is still not fully acknowledged either by the system, industry nor by the pragmatic discourses. Teacher education is a particularly interesting case in point. While genuinely accepted by most parties, it still has, formally, a marginal status, both within the school system and the university system.
Working with change at the upper secondary level
With my colleague Guðrún Ragnarsdóttir, and as a part of still larger project, we are looking at how school leadership at upper secondary schools in Iceland, views educational change, and how such change progresses, and how the leadership can stimulate it, and what are the hurdles that they face.
A book project
I am thinking about a book on what I call “the challenges of education”. Some of which have been mentioned above. These are, the discussion of educational aims for the middle of the 21st century coupled to the mapping of the future onto education, the impediments to change, the use of research and data to mould change, the acceptance of the system of LLL, but also the what it means to educate for a democratic society, and why that is important and how teacher education should be conducted.