In 1916 John Dewey, the great liberal education reformer, wrote: “If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow”.
Notwithstanding the rapid transformation and uncertainty that took place during Dewey’s lifetime, the world that we live in today is already transforming faster and in more fundamental ways.
So what do those entering the teaching profession for the first time in 2018 need to be aware of?
What are the distinct trends that are affecting learning (what children need to learn, their expectations for learning, and how they go about learning), teaching (how, what and the context in which we teach, as well as who teachers are), and schools (their purpose, structure and responsibilities)? And how should these trends influence how teachers prepare for the profession?
The following key trends affecting education in 2018 are not mutually exclusive; in many cases they are not new or unique to 2018. The world is characterised by complexity, inter-connectedness and emergence, and these massive, long-term trends embody this. How well we understand and deal with them will determine how well we prepare children for their future.
Key trends affecting education
It would seem strange to start without acknowledging that digital technologies are probably the most visible sign of change. Technology is transforming our lives in a disruptive way, given its rate of development and increasing prevalence and accessibility.
We are no longer merely augmenting our ways of existing in the world, but are being forced by digital technologies to adapt to new ways of living. This is illustrated clearly, for instance, in the changing nature of work through automation, as well as in how we communicate and connect with one another. And as with changes to work, this brings both risks and opportunities.
Specifically, in education we have the opportunity for more personalised learning experiences that are tailored to children’s individual needs and interests using new technology. Conversely, the continuing digital divide might mean that we entrench and increase the inequality that already pervades education if we assume all children have the same access to these technologies.
How long this rate of development continues and what a plateau looks like is a matter for debate. But some key questions we face are: How do we maximise the opportunities that digital technologies present for learning, and what are the limits? How do we provide students with advanced skills that are well beyond our own competencies? How does the internet affect how we use knowledge and recall it? How does technology affect the interconnectedness between school and the outside world?
Technology is not evolving in a vacuum. Globalisation is speeding up and deepening connections across the globe. We see this, for instance, in immigration and economic integration with other countries. By global standards, Aotearoa New Zealand is minimally regulated and a large proportion of its population was born overseas.
For teaching, we have to look both outwards and inwards. We have to think about how we will prepare children for a world – and not just the world of work – that is increasingly interconnected, so that they can hold their own with others around the world. We need to do this while supporting those who are arriving in this multicultural country for the first time, and providing an education system that serves a diversifying population without exacerbating inequality.
Globalisation is also concerned with those global trends which no individual country can address alone. Perhaps chief among these are environmental concerns, including both the effects of pollution and climate changes, and conserving and restoring Aotearoa’s natural habitats. What roles do schools have in contributing to this effort, and how should we engage children?
The other side of globalisation is the role of New Zealand as a nation and the part that teachers and schools play in this.
As the world and our population grows, ages and diversifies, education is competing alongside other demands on the national purse, such as health and security. How might schools help to address these other emerging risks? What difference might this make to how education is delivered, and to access for people outside of compulsory education, such as excluded children and adults?
Crucially, how do these changes affect our perceptions and expectations of teachers, and how do we manage these expectations? Specifically, how do new teachers manage these demands to ensure they are able to deliver for the young people with the breadth that is expected?
As the world, and New Zealand, continues to become more urban, how will schools adapt and grow sufficiently, and what might this mean for the ways in which learning and teaching takes place within them? Auckland is already facing significant challenges common to similar cities: a housing crisis, inequality, poverty and exclusion. This raises questions about how cities take stronger leads in determining how we address these things, and how schools, teachers and students can collaborate across them. And how do we do these things while seeing difference as an asset, not a deficit?
At the more micro level, the way we live our lives as families has changed. Conventions of marriage and divorce, when we have children, and the diversity of couples across ethnic, gender and nationality lines affect the context within which children grow up. How should teachers adapt their approaches to working with (extended) families? And how might families’ expectations for connecting with schools change, especially if learning becomes more accessible from home?
How these trends influence schools, teaching and learning will determine the experience of new teachers entering the profession this year. How well we plan for them will determine the extent to which we support all children to live fulfilled and happy lives.
Jay Allnutt is a former teacher and CEO of the charity Teach First NZ: Ako Mātātupu, which offers an employment-based teaching and education leadership programme that works to attract new people into the education system, working in schools serving low-income communities across Aotearoa New Zealand.