It's time to re-boot modern education

Guest post by Beth Watson, education director for the Asia Pacific region at Microsoft

Photo of Beth Watson presenting
Beth Watson presenting recently at BETT Asia

And technology is not the answer.

That might seem like a strange thing for someone at Microsoft to say, so let me elaborate. Technology is an enabler. It is not the entire answer to the challenge we face today in the education sector – a task that requires a complete revamp of how we teach not just our children, but older learners as well.

There's a reason I phrase it so starkly. In my role as an education director, I'm privileged to witness teaching trends across the region and around the world. A common tendency I am seeing today is that governments are now focused even more strongly on the education sphere. The challenge for governments is: how do we make this work? How do we harness technology to improve learning?

However, it is exciting to see opinions changing and an acknowledgement that investing in successful education today yields economic growth tomorrow. It's also a critical component for competitiveness, building the right economic conditions and entrepreneurship for future job growth. Many students around the world are in this wonderful position. They are armed with technology, and ready to learn in different ways.

So far so good. But…

Is your child 21st century-savvy?

The challenge is that these students either use a device in a way that is disjointed from the educator, in terms of how they change the method and practice of teaching. Or, they might have a device that isn't quite suitable for learning. Essentially, it's a mixed bag. The good thing is, people are starting to realize that there is a need for 21st century skills.

But these skills go beyond 'how do I turn on this computer?' and basic usage proficiency. Rather, it's about how students wield technology effectively in a changing era, one where they need to communicate with people across the world from different cultures.

Because when we look at what jobs require now, the world has changed in fact the top three skillsets companies today require as published by IDC are:

1) Oral and written communication skills

2) The ability to be detail-oriented

3) An understanding of Microsoft Office

Perhaps more than anything, the last point shows how the job market is transforming. However, from a parental view, whether I want my child to be a doctor or an accountant, I need to make sure they are digitally savvy.

24/7 tools

What we need to do is look very meaningfully at our students and ask: exactly how are we enabling them to develop these 21st century skills? Because let's face it; fundamentally, learning has changed. Students aren't constrained to a 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. school day anymore. They're learning outside the classroom. Anytime, anywhere. That's fantastic. It's something we should encourage and embrace.

This is a process I'm undergoing myself. I'm very lucky – I have young children in two different schools as we speak. For them technology is the air they breathe, and each utilizes it differently. In one school, children are being introduced to technology as a support, a teaching tool. It's just one ingredient among many. But in the other school, technology, whilst present, is not integrated.

Technology is needed in schools, but you can't just throw a device onto a student's desk without foresight. The world is littered with failed device stories. There are schools that have tried it, and lost an entire year's education because of a lack of strategic planning. School leaders and teachers hadn't sat down and thought: right, how does this new, shiny jigsaw piece fit into the big puzzle?

Final thoughts: start right

There's no simple, singular fix. Fundamentally we need to change the dynamics of the conversation into a richer, more holistic story. We need to rethink how pedagogy can be better attuned to the needs of our students, and the needs of the world.

Technology has to come last. It is there to support teaching and learning. It's not there to drive. Too often, the journey to change starts with a fixation on devices. And it shouldn't. It should start with the student and how they need to learn.

Beth Watson with students in Nepal

Meeting with students in Nepal

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Comments (2)

  1. Nicholas Fragkias says:

    Nice article! I am sure that we have to reorganise school and education process! Our students feel bored in class. So we have to do something!

  2. Anonymous says:

    In an era of change and economic uncertainty, schools are taking steps to alleviate costs where possible. It helps to think of a school as a business – the end product being a productive, intelligent member of society.

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