Vancouver Sun - - ARTS & LIFE - TRACY SHER­LOCK VAN­COU­VER SUN View a longer ver­sion of this in­ter­view at van­cou­ver­ Sun ed­u­ca­tion re­porter tsher­[email protected]­cou­ver­

Tony Mackay, CEO at the Cen­tre for Strate­gic Ed­u­ca­tion in Australia, was in Van­cou­ver re­cently, fa­cil­i­tat­ing a fo­rum about chang­ing the ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem to make it more flex­i­ble and per­son­al­ized. He spoke about the rapidly chang­ing world and what it means for ed­u­ca­tion.

Q Why does the ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem need to change?

A The needs of the econ­omy and our so­ci­ety are chang­ing and there­fore you need to have a learn­ing sys­tem that fits the pur­pose, and that pur­pose is con­stantly shift­ing. So it’s not just a mat­ter of say­ing we can reach a par­tic­u­lar level and we’ll be OK, be­cause you’ve got such a dy­namic global con­text that you have a com­pelling case that says we will never be able to en­sure our on­go­ing level of eco­nomic and so­cial pros­per­ity un­less we have a learn­ing sys­tem that can de­liver young peo­ple who are ready — ready for fur­ther ed­u­ca­tion, ready for the work­force, ready for a global con­text. That’s the com­pelling case for change.

Q Isn’t that tough when we don’t know what the jobs of the fu­ture will be?

A In the past we knew what the skill set was and we could pre­pare young peo­ple for spe­cial­iza­tion in par­tic­u­lar jobs. Now we’re talk­ing about skill sets that in­clude cre­ativ­ity, prob­lem solv­ing, col­lab­o­ra­tion, and the global com­pe­tence to be flex­i­ble and to have cul­tural un­der­stand­ing. It’s not ei­ther or, it’s both and — you need fan­tas­tic learn­ing and bril­liant learn­ing in the do­mains, which we know are fun­da­men­tal, but you also need ad­di­tional skills that in­creas­ingly fo­cus on emo­tional and so­cial, per­sonal and in­ter-per­sonal, and per­se­ver­ance and en­ter­pris­ing spirit. And we’re not say­ing we just want that for some kids, we want to en­sure that all young peo­ple grad­u­ate with that skill set. And we know they’re go­ing to have to ef­fec­tively “learn” a living — they’re go­ing to have to keep on learn­ing in or­der to have the kind of life that they want and that we’re go­ing to need to have an econ­omy that thrives. I be­lieve that’s a pretty com­pelling case for change.

Q How do you teach flex­i­bil­ity?

A When I think about the con­di­tions for qual­ity learn­ing, it’s pretty clear that you need to be in an en­vi­ron­ment where not only are you feel­ing emo­tion­ally pos­i­tive, you are be­ing chal­lenged — there’s that sense that you are chal­lenged to push your­self be­yond a level of com­fort, but not so much that it gen­er­ates anx­i­ety and it trans­lates into a lack of suc­cess and a feel­ing of fail­ure that cre­ates blockages to learn­ing. You need to be work­ing with oth­ers at the same time — the so­cial na­ture of learn­ing is es­sen­tial. When you’re work­ing with oth­ers on a com­mon prob­lem that is real and you have to work as a team and be col­lab­o­ra­tive. You have to know how to show your lev­els of per­for­mance as an in­di­vid­ual and as a group. You can’t do any of that sort of stuff as you are learn­ing to­gether with­out de­vel­op­ing flex­i­bil­ity and be­ing adap­tive. If you don’t adapt to the kind of en­vi­ron­ment that is un­cer­tain and volatile, then you’re not go­ing to thrive.

Q What does the science of learn­ing tell us?

A We now know more about the science of learn­ing than ever be­fore and the ques­tion is are we trans­lat­ing that into our teach­ing and learn­ing pro­grams? It’s not just deeper learn­ing in the dis­ci­plines, but we want more pow­er­ful learn­ing in those 21st-cen­tury skills we talked about. That means we have to know more than ever be­fore about the emo­tions of learn­ing and how to en­gage young peo­ple and how young peo­ple can en­cour­age them­selves to self-reg­u­late their learn­ing.

The truth is that ed­u­ca­tion is in­creas­ingly about per­son­al­iza­tion. How do you make sure that an in­di­vid­ual is be­ing en­cour­aged in their own learn­ing path? How do we make sure we’re tap­ping into their strengths and their qual­i­ties? In the end, that pas­sion and that suc­cess in what­ever en­deav­our is what will make them more pro­duc­tive and frankly, hap­pier.

“The learn­ing part­ner­ship has gotto go be­yond the part­ner­ship of young per­son and fam­ily, teacher and school, to the com­mu­nity and sup­port­ive agen­cies.


Q But how do you change an en­tire ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem?

A Once you learn what prac­tice is done and is suc­cess­ful, how do you spread that prac­tice in a school sys­tem so it’s not just pock­ets of ex­cel­lence, but you’ve ac­tu­ally got an in­no­va­tion strat­egy that helps you to spread new and emerg­ing prac­tice that’s pow­er­ful? You’re do­ing this all in the con­text of a rapidly chang­ing en­vi­ron­ment, which is why you need those skills like flex­i­bil­ity and cre­ativ­ity. The learn­ing part­ner­ship has got to go be­yond the part­ner­ship of young per­son and fam­ily, teacher and school, to the com­mu­nity and sup­port­ive agen­cies. If we don’t get the busi­ness com­mu­nity into this call to ac­tion for life­long learn­ing even fur­ther, we are not go­ing to be able to get there. In the end, we are all in­ter­de­pen­dent. The econ­omy of the fu­ture — and we’re talk­ing about to­mor­row — is go­ing to re­quire young peo­ple with the knowl­edge, skills and dis­po­si­tions that em­ploy­ers are con­fi­dent about and can build on.


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