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Education needs to prepare students for challenges and opportunities they will face in the future

Education needs to prepare students for challenges and opportunities they will face in the future

14 September 2021

As the past year-and-a-half has shown, people have an incredible ability to adapt. Digital learning very quickly became the norm for many, with educators, parents, and students responding to new ways of learning with remarkable initiative and resilience. The world never stands still, and so it is critical that current and future generations of learners are prepared for new challenges. 

It is imperative that students learn skills that employers will be looking for in coming years, such as adapting to the shift to automation, where it is likely that around 15 per cent of the global workforce may have to switch occupations and in doing so learn new skills by 2030. Learning relevant practical and theoretical skills in the classroom now can ensure that future generations of workers have attributes and abilities that will be highly sought after. It is also important that education addresses issues that are likely to cause disruption and conflict in the future, such as climate change, as well as being able to move with the pace of change technologically and within society.

Understanding that these issues are critical in education, Oxford University Press recently published a paper titled The Evolution of Science Education, which tackles the issue of learning skills for the future head on, as well as launching a new pilot curriculum called the Oxford Smart Curriculum, which has a very firm focus on preparing students for life outside the classroom.

With insights from 398 teachers in 22 different countries and regions, The Evolution of Science Education shows that teachers are concerned that their curriculum in science is not properly preparing students for life outside the classroom. From the teachers surveyed, only 31 per cent believe that the current science curriculum in their country or region is fit for the future.

Furthermore, when specifically asked if the science curriculum currently being taught in schools prepares young people to address the challenges that our world would and could face, only nine per cent of respondents ‘strongly agreed’, and only 46 per cent collectively felt that it did . While 24 per cent were unsure, the other 30 percent did not believe it does. For those that believe it does not, it is commonly cited that more needs to be done to instil practical skills through experimentation, as well as reducing the amount of content to allow for more depth of learning in subject areas that really matter in the wider world. The teachers also felt that their curriculum is too theoretical, which is not conducive to showing students how science can play a role in everyday life.

One way of enabling learners to understand how to prepare for the future is through experimentation and even failure , which enables critical thinking and teaches students to be creative. If an experiment or project does not have the desired outcome, understanding the processes required for a better result and allowing the students to try again gives learners a sense of resilience and autonomy. In a way, students start ‘learning to learn’. This, along with other areas, formulates part of the Oxford Smart Curriculum for 11 to 16-year-olds, which also focuses on developing other skills such as metacognition (an awareness of your own thought processes), as well as ensuring students have equity, diversity, and inclusion in their learning. The curriculum will be piloted in schools in science from this school year, before a wider rollout in maths, English, and modern foreign languages the following year. These areas of learning are weaved into key pillars that help formulate the curriculum, as explained in the Curriculum Direction Paper.

Preparing children and young adults through a curriculum that addresses current and likely future issues head on will ensure that the next generation of learners are ready and resilient. By focusing on how they learn, as well as what they learn—ensuring the content is relevant in the outside world—students will be prepared for the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.