Looking to the future with optimism, thanks #futurefrontiers

It’s been over 6 months since my last blog post. I can’t pinpoint one exact reason for this, but I do know that not writing here has led to me tweeting snippets of things I’ve done and things I feel, and sometimes those snippets get lost or misconstrued. So, I’m back!

On Tuesday of this week I was invited to attend the launch of the latest discussion paper commissioned by the DoE for their Education for a Changing World project. You can find the paper here. The launch featured a panel discussion titled Future Frontiers: Educating for 2040. You can watch a video of the panel here (if you watch closely you will see me and Lee in the second row from the front, tweeting like mad, and also being silly). The discussion once again brought up the issues raised in my last blog post (also related to the Education for a Changing World project – no, I’ve not been asked to write posts about these things by anyone in the DoE, I am genuinely promoted to after each event) regarding the current state of education in Australia, and what needs to be maintained, changed or removed from this system in order to ensure the kindy kids of today are fully ready for life after school in 2040. The panellists were all really well chosen for this purpose: Prof John Buchanan (Head of the Discipline of Business Analytics, Sydney University), Stacey Quince (Principal, Campbelltown Performing Arts High School), Emma Hogan (NSW Public Service Commissioner and former executive at Foxtel and Qantas),  Dr Sandra Peter (Director, Sydney Business Insights, Sydney University) and Prof Rafael Calvo (ARC Future Fellow and Director of the Software Engineering Group, Sydney University).

I am a big fan of Stacey Quince and the great work she is doing at her school, and once again she spoke confidently and with experience about how schools are, and can be, preparing young people to be active and engaged citizens in a world that is changing. Her school’s current focus on high quality cross-KLA PBL in Stage 4,  frequent public exhibitions of students’ learning, and meaningful connections between the school and the local community, is the end result of over a decade of thoughtful redesign of curriculum. I also was impressed with the honesty of Emma Hogan with regards to her concerns for her own children, reminding us that the students in our care now are at risk of becoming increasingly anxious due to the dual/duelling school narratives they are exposed to – STEM and innovation vs. NAPLAN and HSC – both of which are telling them that without success in each they will not be able to have fulfilling careers, and thus prosper in life. We really, really need to think about these kids because the truly are caught between the traditional education system and the purported education revolution, which is causing great distress and confusion, rather than the claimed excitement and sense of opportunity. How can we address this meaningfully NOW? Hearing John Buchanan speak for the first time ever was awesome – he strikes me a true thinker, and really a bit of a punk in his advocating for teacher agency and the need to shake up the business sector and make them stand up and DO something to support the coming shifts in education, not just (as he said) stand on the sidelines and throw grenades. I think the media does this too, and I’m eager to be part of the movement that (as Emma Albericie said to me) ensures that the ‘good stories of education are being told). Finally, I liked what Sandra Peter and Rafael Calvo had to say about technology (especially AI) – firstly, the usual, we don’t need to be scared of being taken over by killer robots, we need to be more optimistic about the potential of AI, and have our young people thing of its potential to create a utopia and not a dystopia. Calvo said some great stuff about our need to be mindful about the nature of this AI revolution – it is not a physical revolution like the Industrial Revolution, but rather a cognitive revolution. This means a narrow focus on workplace skills (often claimed to be 21st century skills) is not enough. We need to be designing learning experiences that develop empathy, ethics, resilience, flexibility, agency, and an eagerness to continue learning. Nothing new here, but it’s is important so it’s worth repeating. Interestingly, Calvo warned about the increasing power of tech companies, and the fact that even now they are using algorithms to control human decisions and actions – we need to ensure our young people are equipped to understand this process, and to challenge it where necessary

After listening to this panel, and speaking with my DPs about the conference they attended last week (where they heard from the inspiring and impressive Asssociate Professor Alison Beavis, Deputy Dean UTS, leading the Faculty of Transdisciplinary Innovation), I had a really productive future-focused meeting with my senior executive, where we put on the table what our students need, and ways to achieve that. I’m not currently at a place to write all that up just now, but let’s just say that I’m excited. And me being excited is a big deal, given my battle with purpose and direction over the last 6 months. Basically it’s all coming together, and I know it sounds like I’m sucking up to my boss, and that’s not very punk of me at all, but I have to thank the Future Frontiers team for that. The culture of the DoE (at least from up the very top) has shifted direction, and it’s filtering down… obviously there are INCREDIBLE blockers to schools being able to genuinely reshape how this education thing is done, but at least we have the research and the conversation happening. Next comes the funding to actualise the change, am I right? 😉

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One thought on “Looking to the future with optimism, thanks #futurefrontiers

  1. Yes, talking is good! The next move towards change is when it starts getting hard imho, when courage and risk taking are needed. Sometimes I wonder whether it would be easier (and way more punk) to blow up education and start again.

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