If there was any silver lining to be had from SARS-CoV-2 (aka COVID-19), it would be how education has been forever disrupted or transformed as a response to the global pandemic. Since Friedman (2005) and Trilling & Fadel (2009), educators have been talking about changes that are needed in education to meet the demands of living and working in the 21st-century. Whilst superficial changes, such as 1:1 devices and various classroom gadgetry have been employed, often the model for teaching and learning remained the same.
This year educators have really embraced some of the possibilities that the technology presents us, albeit in a stressful situation as they react to an ongoing crisis. Much like the metamorphosis process of becoming a butterfly, education has left the stage of being a caterpillar in the 20th-century and will transform into a beautiful butterfly. In this analogy, 2020 is the pupa: things look like they are going backward, but it is a necessary process to move forward.
My hope, for 2021 and beyond, is that educators embrace the new skills learned during this trying year and bring a more STEM-minded approach to education. Interdisciplinary or even transdisciplinary approaches to teaching and learning, coupled with methods like project-based or problem-based learning, can engage students in real-world issues whilst also supporting their development of critical skills such as communication, collaboration, and resilience.
SARS-CoV-2 also provoked more partnerships between K12 schools, local universities, businesses, and government bodies as they sought to collaborate on ways to address the issues surrounding continuity of learning and other pressing community issues. As an example, companies such as Google and Adobe have created further features and free resources for education institutions, whilst the UN and OECD have partnered with leading Universities to create white papers on COVID-19 impact. MOOCs such as EdX and Coursera now have more resources for pre-University level students, and a plethora of EdTech vendors are providing their resources free to schools whilst students learn online. The response to the crisis has been overwhelming, to say the least.
I hope that these partnerships strengthen and become more plentiful in time. Schools need to expose students to most aspects of the real-world in a structured way, and this will happen through partnerships. This exposure not only builds on the aforementioned 21st-century skills but also develops empathy in our students for people from all walks of life. After all, school-based educators cannot be experts at everything.
At Qatar Foundation Schools we are fortunate enough to have many partnerships in place that provide these opportunities to our students, whether it be a collaboration with universities such as Texas A&M on STEM projects, or with the QF Farm on learning about hydroponics and where our food comes from, or even our students attending a Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra rehearsal to watch the orchestra prepare and learn in person about the instruments. These opportunities not only enrich our students through the learned content knowledge but show them the world is interconnected and interdependent.
When I was in high school, I was told that blue-collar work would be automated by machines, and that I needed to go to university to get a qualification to successfully obtain a white-collar job that could not be performed by a machine. In the advent of Artificial Intelligence (AI), we now see many white-collar jobs being performed by algorithms.
For example, in the United Kingdom, Bank Managers rarely get to approve the use of credit. This is performed by an algorithm to assess your risk profile, and so as machine learning and AI improves, many jobs that were previously performed by qualified professionals will be performed by machines. What is the future for our learners then? I believe the answer lies in becoming more agile thinkers, more adaptable to changing environments, more able to effectively communicate, collaborate, and think critically.
The path ahead requires collaboration between schools, universities, businesses, and governmental bodies on opportunities for our learners, whilst ensuring our curricula provides ample room for students to learn, practice, and demonstrate these 21st-century skills that will make them more employable in the future.