Friday, January 24, 2014

Changing high school education: Equinox Summit and Learning 2030

I recently re-watched a program on The Agenda about high school education and what needs to be done to make it better. The broadcast was from the Perimeter Institute in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada and it featured the results of a conference on learning called the "Equinox Summit" organized by the Waterloo Global Science Initiative in collaboration with the Perimeter Institute. You can watch the final episode of the TV show at: The Agenda: What's Necessary? What's Possible?.

If you are interested in this subject, as I am, you should watch this show since it gives you a good perspective on what the "best minds" are thinking. You can make up your own mind about whether this is encouraging or not.

Here's a short video on the summit ...

The communique from Equinox Summit: Learning 2030 isn't very long so you can read it quickly. Here are the goals that this group decided on.

In order for high school graduates to reach their full potential in life, they need to be:
  • lifelong learners who can identify and synthesize the right knowledge to address a wide range of challenges in a complex, uncertain world
  • literate, numerate, and articulate
  • creative, critical thinkers
  • able to collaborate effectively with others, especially those of different abilities and backgrounds
  • open to failure as an essential part of progress
  • adaptable and resilient in the face of adversity
  • aware of the society they live in and able to understand the different perspectives of others
  • self-aware and cognizant of their own strengths and limitations
  • entrepreneurial, self-motivated, and eager to tackle the challenges and opportunities of their world

To achieve these goals, we require a radically di fferent structure for learning in 2030, one in which traditional concepts of classes, courses, timetables, and grades are replaced by more flexible, creative and student-directed forms of learning. This develops deep conceptual understanding, which can then be applied in other contexts.
There's nothing radical about these goals. They're pretty much the same goals that any conference in the 1960s would have come up with. The only really new buzzword is "entrepreneurial"—that's borrowed from business and it wouldn't have been popular in the 1960s. Today every high school student has to be an entrepreneur because by 2030 nobody will be working for anyone else. They'll all be running their own businesses.1

I've been trying to teach creative and critical thinking for a long time and I haven't come up with any really good ideas. It's probably because I'm too old. You should watch the Agenda show to see how young people are going to solve these problems.

But here's a question that occurs to me as I'm thinking critically about this problem. Let's assume that we can achieve all those goals. Let's assume that in order to graduate from high school you have to have learned how to think critically; be literate, numerate, and articulate; be able to collaborate, be entrepreneurial, be adaptable, etc.

They are laudable goals that I support, but what percentage of students entering high school can achieve them? I'm thinking that, with lots of resources and excellent teachers, it might be possible for about 50% of high school students to reach these lofty goals. The rest are going to achieve the goals of learning to be "open to failure as an essential part of progress" and how to be "adaptable and resilient in the face of adversity."

I think we might have trouble convincing most societies, and most governments, that a 50% graduation rate from high school is the price of higher standards.

I'm not even sure that all of the students graduating from the University of Toronto are literate, numerate, articulate, critical thinkers.

1. This will save enormous amounts of tax dollars because nobody will be working for the government.