Why Education Systems of Tomorrow Must Start with Teachers, Not the technology

by Cameron Mirza

Educators around the world are trying to tackle the “complex problem” of how to modernise education systems and better prepare young people for the opportunities and challenges of an uncertain, unpredictable, and fast-moving 21st century. Teachers are currently functioning in a learning environment they may have had little or no training or for that matter any experience of distance learning. Whilst covid-19 has disrupted schools and universities around the world, it has, at the same time, quite rightly raised the status of teachers as many parents struggle to adapt to homeschooling. Therefore, now is the appropriate time to examine the future role of teachers and more importantly how policymakers and education leaders can support and enable the teachers of tomorrow to continue to change the lives of millions of learners around the world.

Whilst it's commonplace to discuss the future skills agenda and student attainment, it is perhaps overlooked that the critical success factor in the education system is the teacher. It is therefore essential that teachers are supported to develop the skills, knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors such pedagogical content knowledge, in-service training, and digital skills as required to thrive in and outside of the classroom environment. The recently published teaching report by the Economist Intelligence Unit, sponsored by Microsoft, laid stark some sobering data.

Only 26% of respondents think their training has equipped them for managing stress and burnout, a leading cause of teacher shortages.

Only 38% feel their training is equipping them to use digital technology. Given 90% of students globally are currently are doing so in a distance learning setting this is disconcerting.

A majority (60%) think new teachers will increase the use of technology by 2030. Half predict they will focus more on teaching social values and diversity, and nearly half (48%) expect an increased focus on social and emotional learning.

Nearly all survey respondents agree, by wide margins, that the purpose of education must shift to helping students know how to collect, interpret, and apply information, rather than just learning it.

The repercussions of this data are complex, cutting across several key aspects from curriculum to learner assessment. This complexity is further compounded if we consider data from Pearson’s global learner survey taken which is based on a survey of 11,000 learners from around the world. From the survey results;

78% believe that they need to develop their soft skills to give them the edge over automation.

84% of people globally agree with the statement that 'my career path will be significantly different from my parents or grandparents'.

81% believe that lifelong learning through a “do it yourself” approach will become more prevalent.

Given the challenges articulated and the skills and attributes required for talent to thrive in a changing, complex and uncertain world, it perhaps is appropriate to consider the fundamentals of teaching and how the profession needs to evolve.

Teachers serve students in many other ways beyond traditional learning such as through mentoring, coaching, inspiring, being a friend, a psychologist, and providing an anchor for student welling both emotionally and physically.

Therefore, as we move towards a “new normal” in education at an exponential rate, it is worth considering what should be the future capability framework for the teaching workforce.

Deep content knowledge is a given for teachers. However, a greater emphasis should be placed on teaching the content with a sharper focus on pedagogical knowledge. The teacher will increasingly take the role of a facilitator of knowledge to develop the student's critical thinking, research, and problem-solving skills. Teachers will also need to learn how to nurture multidisciplinary learning, which will explore interactions between subjects by helping students explore themes such as climate change that are not collapsible into one subject. This approach should nurture higher-order thinking, real-world knowledge application, collaboration, and problem-solving within students.

Technology training will be critical for teachers not just for the delivery of lessons but also to allow teachers to save time in lesson planning and/or marking to free up more time for face-to-face interactions with students. Technology and learning platforms within schools will create a significant amount of student data, teachers will need to be trained on how to use this data to know their students on not just an academic level but also an emotional level. To use data to allow the curriculum to flex around the learner rather than the other way round. Whilst most technology currently used in the classroom is low-fi, given the pace of change and uptake of technology since Covid 19 it is therefore reasonable to expect teachers of the future to have a good understanding of Artificial Intelligence, and how to harness its potential effectively to support learners and reduce their workloads.

Whilst technology is a significant part of the conversation currently, what requires greater focus is the critical aspect of instructional design. Educators will increasingly need to think about designing strategies for deep learning and not the technology itself especially as education systems globally migrate to a more blended delivery model. The evidence so far is that students are dissatisfied with their online learning experience, the transition from brick to click have proven to be a challenge for many educators. More emphasis will need to be placed on educators to deliver in a multimodal setting and this requires a rethink of teaching practices to accelerate students ability to engage with curriculum.

Teachers will need to have an understanding of how the brain works the neuroscience of learning. A deeper understanding of student’s prior experience, sleep, nutrition, anxieties, and aspirations will be essential to human learning. The higher-level cognitive

functions of Bloom’s taxonomy, such as creating, evaluating, analysing, and applying, involve the cortical areas responsible for decision-making, association, and motivation. As automation continues to redefine the world of work it is therefore critical that teachers can develop higher-order thinking skills in learners and support the development of intrinsic motivation for lifelong learning and the resilience required to navigate the unpredictability of modern life. Therefore, knowing how the brain works will be important for developing personalised learning for students and developing teaching approaches for individuals rather than the masses.

The future role of a teacher will be more than an educator but that of a learning scientist. Whist the global education systems come to terms with distance learning, the longer-term implications are that teachers and their role within society and learning communities will take on greater significance. However, to give students not just the knowledge but the practical skills and emotional intelligence to make their mark in the world requires a transition. Teachers need to develop new skills, innovative pedagogy, given increased autonomy, and supported appropriately to do so with a renewed focus on social and emotional learning.

Cameron Mirza is the MENA Director for Nottingham Trent University. A Director of the Global Careers Accelerator, A fellow of the Gulf Talent Advisory Board at Oxford, Board Member of Bett MEA and Microsoft Certified Educator.

Twitter @cmirza1