Evidence on educational outcomes is not - by itself - going to change anything
What we need is a change of attitudes towards a pedagogical approach that ultimately creates "a world of people who love to learn".
Last September, “Ensuring equitable and quality education leading to relevant and effective learning outcomes” became a key Sustainable Development Goal of the United Nations. In fact, quality has become a major topic within the global debate around learning and education. The World Bank talks about “The New Horizon in Education – From Access to Quality“ and in 2015, the World Education Forum placed “Equitable and Inclusive Quality Education“ at the top of its agenda.
No one can disagree with the goal and the important shared efforts to create equal access to education, increase the relevant skills of young people, upgrade education facilities and increase the supply of qualified teachers, etc. But do we have a shared vision for our children, a guiding star that leads us to act more and talk less?
In Finland, they have a vision for the country, the people and the children. In October 2015 the Finnish New Education Forum, SITRA, released a report with the poetic title: A land of people who love to learn. The report states that we need to move away from just talking about quality education, and start implementing what we already know from learning sciences. Here’s a short recap:
We know quality is about providing our children with key capabilities through learning tools and pedagogy firmly rooted in an understanding of the child as an active, self-directed learner.
We also know that critical thinking as well as social, emotional, creative and cognitive skills are developed in early childhood when the circuits in the brain are still being developed. The ways in which these circuits develop –the outcome, so to speak – is determined by both biology and experiences.
How we learn (not what we learn), what we experience through the practices and behaviours imposed on us by our environment are crucial for the quality of our ability to learn and strive throughout life.
What we are encouraged to do, e.g. “individual exploration”, enhances our ability to share ideas and negotiate conflicts, to seek feedback from others, to focus and sustain attention to goals, to regulate our own emotions, to persist on difficult challenges, and to come up with new ideas and multiple perspectives.
Most surprisingly, many adults will recognise that these are also the important skills in their everyday work and family life. So, how do we close the gap between the skills that we all recognise as important in the job market and the tangible hard skills (reading, writing and mathematics) that are currently most valued and measured through standardised testing. Evidence is not, by itself, going to change anything.
First international review and guide for policy makers
At the WISE summit for education held in Qatar in September 2015, the University of Cambridge released a comprehensive overview of the evidence behind quality education based on research from developmental psychology, education and a range of international examples https://www.wise-qatar.org/2015-wise-research-early-childhood-education. The report points to the need for a significant shift in educational policy to think more about holistic skills, addressing the role of measurements, increasing investments in early childhood, etc. The report also touches upon the fact that political systems have a tendency to focus relentlessly on standardised outcomes. Whereas the process whereby learning takes place and is internalised is not in the spotlight. This means fundamental attitudes need to change before we can change anything on a systematic and structural level.
As societies, we are free to choose between a narrow focus on what good outcomes are, through standardised measurements or results, or to begin looking at quality experiences and long-term outcomes, as a breadth of skills and competencies laid down in early childhood through play and quality education. But at the end of the day, it is the attitude that needs to change and there needs to be an increased focus on the process of how children learn through play,rather than on standardised outcomes alone. Maybe, we can then get to 'a world of people who love to learn'.
Bo Stjerne Thomsen,
Director, Research & Learning, the LEGO Foundation
This post was inspired by the many rich discussions on how to unlock every child’s potential which was the focus of the 2015 LEGO Idea Conference. Here, participants engaged in an interactive process to agree on what the main barriers were in five specific thematic areas (Mindsets and Attitudes, Finance, Informal Learning, Measurement and Formal Learning) and they subsequently worked to co-create new solutions to address these barriers. One of the solutions was called “21st century vision”. The vision aims to transform the understanding of what types of education children need in order to thrive in modern society.