Academic journal article The International Schools Journal

Twenty-First Century Learning from a Third Century BC Perspective

Academic journal article The International Schools Journal

Twenty-First Century Learning from a Third Century BC Perspective

Article excerpt

'The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history

George Orwell

There is considerable controversy as to what 21st century learning means or what kinds of skill sets are to be defined as 21st century skills within an educational framework. There is speculation and argument about what ought to be included. Children, parents, corporations and governments all have opinions on what skills are needed to prepare the 21st century student for life and how they should be included in a school curriculum. In his insightful essay Haywood asserts, and rightly so, that within the framework of 21st century learning we must face up to the existential human condition and offer an inclusive set of values and ideas that embody intercultural awareness and spirituality. (Haywood, 2014)

One of the fundamental premises underlying the current discourse on 21st century learning is that schooling at all levels needs to be restructured in a way which meets its demands and challenges. Yet this poses a conundrum, especially for policy makers and curriculum designers, because no one quite knows how to prioritise these demands and challenges.

The most pressing ones, like climate change; the continual exponential increase in youth unemployment; the widening global gap between the rich and poor and dispossessed; geo-political tensions, especially in the Middle East and South East Asia; religious sectarian strife and war; are the themes most often excluded from any clearly-defined curricula or enquiry-based learning objectives. Haywood takes up this argument and it is worth quoting in its entirety:

A particularly insidious approach to existential questions is to view them uniquely from academic perspectives, allowing for psychological, anthropological, historical or sociological insights but failing to respect the authenticity that students feel their personal engagement with these experiences deserve.

I once visited a school which operated in a context where the national curriculum in religious studies was a mandated component of the curriculum, only to find that an internal report stated 'there is no evidence to show that Christian Studies and Islamic Studies leave room for the issue of global mindfulness'.

The same report went on to suggest that 'The language belonging to critical, analytical and speculative methods is embedded in proper Religious Studies scholarship - but in our school we teach exclusivism, indoctrination, catechesis and supersessionism'. What a missed opportunity to engage teachers and students on a genuinely inclusive intercultural project! (Haywood, 2014)

However, a counter claim to Haywood's argument might be the content, ideals and secular values embedded in the International Baccalaureate learner profile. It does attempt to offer, through the key domains of learning (affective, cognitive and psychomotor), a set of teaching and learning standards which aims high in terms of secular, liberal ideals. On a practical level it may appear more of a wish list of the type of character one could hope to have developed having graduated as an IB learner. (See Appendix 1.)

As noble and as well thought-out as these ideals are, they do not reflect the existential condition of human-kind in a way that makes the skillset within the IB learner profile attainable, measurable and achievable as 21st century skills within an educational context. In addition they are, for the most part, hard pressed to be defined as having been achieved once a student passes through any one of the three IB curricula.

Interestingly enough, they are not dissimilar to the kinds of values education attempted by religious schools and institutions over the centuries which placed a higher emphasis on moulding character rather than free-thinking independent individuals: 'Give me a child at seven and I will show you the man', while attributed to the Jesuits, is more often a reflection of the powerful ideological factors - regardless of the historical context - that shape the human character. …

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