Aristotle said, “The purpose of education is to ensure the flourishing of the individuals characterised by the ‘goodness’ of character and ‘goodness’ of intellect.” In Sanskrit, we say, “Vidya Dadati Vinyam,” meaning that education brings humility.
Unfortunately, character building has taken a back seat. The entire focus seems to be on maximising the academic performance, compelled by the overall eco-system. The race for college admissions in a fiercely competitive environment and shrinking employment opportunities has left very little room for the youth to pair their passion and interest with the need to build a strong character. Life skills, critical thinking, the appetite for risk, and adaption to a multicultural environment are among the top hiring characteristics in most of the top organisations. However, it has not deterred the uni-directional focus on the high academic score. Ron Miller, one of today’s significant thinkers on holistic education, puts it succinctly, “Education today is not a collaborative art of mentoring and nurturing the young, but a frenzied scramble to succeed according to some external measure of success.”
Transforming education for a future proof world supports a call for a system’s shift approach. The teachers must eschew to be broadcasters and acknowledge that there are several alternative sources to knowledge. They must encourage the students to learn not only from them but from all the available resources, including experts, podcasts, videos, TED talks, YouTube channels, and Web2.0. The classrooms require a redesign to elicit students’ love for learning and self-development. We must take a clue from the Delors Commission Report on education for 21st Century learning (1996) proposing 4-pillars of teaching, learning to know, to be, to do, and to live together.
These principles align with the moral and intellectual underpinnings of UNESCO. The pedagogy must shun predictability and encourage curiosity, innovation, and role-play. The diversity among the learners owing to differences in socio-cultural and linguistic backgrounds demands that personalised learning is encouraged. The stimulus-response-learning model should give way to meeting challenges, experiencing the excitement and owning knowledge. Schools are more than a place for intellectual development. They are a place where students learn to become responsible citizens and participate in community development. The best predictors for achievement in school and beyond are social, communication, and relationship skills.
The task of initiating mindset shifts can be performed by transformational schools and transformational leadership, experiencing and facilitating positive changes. Schools with a clear vision, mission, core values, positive culture and participative decision making, which are modelling best practices, have higher chances of making a change.
Leithwood (1994) formulated seven discrete characteristics of transformational leaders. These traits include: building school vision; creating rich culture; providing intellectual stimulation; offering individualised support; modelling best practices; demonstrating high-performance expectations; and fostering participative decision making.
All students grouped, taught the same thing, in the same manner, for the same duration, and assessed on the same standards. Such a practice is grossly unfair.
In the last two centuries, the world has done the best it could do to improve access to schooling and literacy, taking it from 12 percent to 88 percent worldwide. This unprecedented growth has witnessed evolution in curriculum, self-education, free and open knowledge sources such as the Khan Academy and other web-based hubs. While we owe a lot to this phenomenal growth, there is something amiss in our classrooms. Millions of children are marginalised and do not have access to education. Girls are the worst sufferers. Drop out rates are high. Contemporary teaching-learning is still very much on the predictable lines. All students grouped, taught the same thing, in the same manner, for the same duration, and assessed on the same standards. Such a practice is grossly unfair.
Teachers are under pressure, and students take studies a burden. The absence of fun and excitement and fear of failure is spoiling the entire learning experience. What could be the right remedies to transform education to the next level? The insights from the classroom challenges suggest three key areas to address. They are personalised learning, mastery learning and experiential learning.
More exceptional human qualities of empathy, compassion, and collaboration emanate from experiential learning and reflection. The young generation is fierce in thought and exhibits an appetite for risk. These entrepreneurial traits support one’s ability to solve problems of society. New technologies, internet of things, artificial intelligence and deep learning are the new tools in the hands of the young to think about how to use them to remove poverty, hunger and inequality. The world order of the past has reached its saturation and has pushed the world into gloom and scarcity. The new society and new economy represent digital communications, self-driven transport, and green energy, promising abundance. The role of education in refining human temper, illuminating mind, enhancing creativity, and invigorating emotions is crucial. Quality education is also imperative in shaping the world and pushing the human spirit into a bright and sustainable future.
A set of 17 goals adopted by the United Nations under the Sustainable Development Goals offers a roadmap for the future of education. Young children must recognise that poverty, hunger, inequality, and lack of opportunities for all are a curse to society. Each child must know that the increasing environmental risk is costing heavily, that peace is imperative, and that partnership building is a necessary condition for the prosperity of all. Education for the future, built on strong character education and social-emotional learning should address these global concerns. The seventeen goals are the new classroom objectives around which new pedagogies and assessments should revolve. The universal nature of these aspirations equalises the world order and injects sanity we have never seen before.
It is difficult to comprehend that just in a decade poverty and hunger will be wiped out from the earth. It is equally wishful to think that clean water and energy will be available to all by 2030, the target year. It is daunting to expect education, health, equality and decent employment opportunity will be accessible to the entire world community in such a short duration. So, does it mean that the SDGs are wishful and utopian? Can we be realistically optimistic about achieving them ever?
Dr. Johan Rockstrom, professor in Environmental Sciences at Stockholm University, Sweden, in his TED Talk “5 transformational policies for a prosperous and sustainable world,” concludes five transformational policies to achieve SDGs by 2050 if not by 2030.
They are: (i) Rapid renewable energy growth (halving emission every decade from 2020), (ii) Accelerated sustainable food chains (+1 percent per year better productivity), (iii) New development models in the poorer countries (copying aspects of South Korean/Chinese/Ethiopian successes), (iv) Active inequality reduction (ensuring 10 percent rich have <40 percent of income), (v) Investment in education to all, gender equality, health, family planning (improves wellbeing with reduced ecological footprint). Dr. Rockstrom’s profound scientific research brings hope.
The enunciation of the SDGs is the best thing that has happened in clearly defining a direction for implementing character education. If ever there was an opportune time for a broader world view to dominate our classrooms, it is now.