Education for change – a global view

April 5, 2019

I am just back from this year’s Varkey Foundation Global Education and Skills Forum (GESF), which brought together educators, world-leaders, thinkers and technology experts to discuss ‘who are the world’s education change-makers?’. In addition to the conference, the organization also awards arguably the most pre-eminent award in education: the Global Teacher of the Year.

Celebrating Andria Zafirakou’s year as 2018 Global Teacher
Celebrating Andria Zafirakou’s year as 2018 Global Teacher

The top ten teacher finalists and overall winner, Peter Tabichi from Kenya, are inspiring examples of teaching as a powerful driver for change. Last year’s Global Teacher of the Year, Britain’s Andria Zafirakou has been the most powerful of advocates, and champion for the role of creativity in education.  Creativity, rooted in curiosity, can drive transformation in ways that are responsive and adaptive to context.

In addition to creativity, empathy is a key area for educational growth. Empathy on its own cannot ring the innovation but, when coupled with insight and action, it has an incredible impact on change-makers. The context can be global, as was evidenced by Andreas Schleicher’s (Director of Education and Skills, OECD) session on ‘A world that educates students for their future, rather than for our past’ at the GESF. I am a champion of the importance for data-driven change, and given the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) approach, the session was data rich and incisive, with key messages on central learning competencies built around the concept of student agency – helping students become change-makers.

Here he introduced the concept of ‘co-agency’ as a key skill for today’s lifelong learners, meaning the ability to work effectively to bring about innovative practice, with people who are different from oneself.  This was also writ large in the session with Steven Pinker on ‘Changemaker for Language’. My question to him was whether there was one simple action that educators could introduce into their practice to help foster critical thinking – the broad theme of the session exploring themes from his recent book Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress.

Pinker’s response was to advocate for learning in small groups, task setting around a problem and bringing in knowledge and insight from a breadth of disciplines. In the ebb and flow (or cut and thrust depending on the nature of the debate) of conversation, perspectives will broaden, perceptions will be challenged, and nuance and complexity introduced into thinking.

But it is important to note that teachers must be both introspective and self-reflexive about their practice, as well as looking outward for inspiration and development.  As Schleicher neatly summarised, ‘some things are caught, not taught’.  Pulling focus back to educators, creating conditions for teachers to ‘catch’ one another’s thinking and lead their own professional development through practice sharing, peer learning, observation and so forth was propounded by Schleicher as one of the core aspects of strengthening teacher professionalism.

There were resonances here with my paper on concepts of professionalism in the cultural learning sector, drawing on Harold Perkin’s work on ‘open professionalism’ with its rubric of autonomy, discretionary judgement and expertise.  Autonomy for Schleicher, drawing on OECD data, is an essential aspect of teacher development. Educators need to be empowered to be the change-makers we are seeking.  What examples of great teacher-led professional development can you share and what have been some of the transformations as a result?

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