I’m a teacher in Surrey, British Columbia, and I wanted to take stock of where we are with regards to 21st century education. More often that not, I meet teachers and others who are struggling to get a sense of what is going on with new movements, discussions, and controversies in education, and I know it can be very hard to keep up–especially with the incredible demands of attending to students and classroom and school life. I wanted to write something to begin to give an overview of the discussion from what I’ve gathered.
It’s clear that in our province the government’s new “BC Education Plan” and the related issues dominate public discussion of education. This purported “plan of action” driving a “transformation” in B.C.’s education system has been argued by some as an exciting, proactive response to our changing times. Others argue the plan reflects a neo-liberalist-driven agenda cashing in on a broader global discourse—one that perseverates on marketing “new” pedagogies and technologies (a.k.a. products) branded as “21st Century Education”.
So what is this notion of a “21st Century Education”? In response to this question I have heard futuristic musings that would appeal to any person’s inner child: envision soaring through school hallways on Marty McFly’s hoverboard or zapping through homework with gadgets inspired by The Jetsons! As well I have heard expressed by many well-informed individuals that they have a tough time grasping the rhetoric of education for the 21st century.
Although “21st Century Education” and it’s cousin concept “Personalized Learning” have a been much heralded, there is concern that definitions have been obscured on purpose by politicians, bureaucrats and entrepreneurs in effort to maneuver this apparent “movement” towards their own most desirable ends, such as to gain votes or profits (Sims, 2010; Kuehn, 2011). These 21st century practices touted already by some as “best practices” might at this stage be more akin and reducible to Kenneth Leithwood’s descriptions of bandwagons, slogans, and locally-valued ways of behaving (2008, pp. 72-73).
Still, even without consensus and clarity on the terms, power-players in education are making future-altering decisions regarding various legislation, curriculum design overhauls, budgetary priorities, and corporate partnerships. Because of this—despite the considerable immediate demands in our classrooms, schools, communities and homes—I believe it is our vital responsibility as educational leaders to stay alert in this era of electronic media and social-media proliferation and to tune into the polyphony of voices emerging through this foggy discussion of educating for the 21st century.
On the world stage we have already heard from the likes of Sir Ken Robinson, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Rupert Murdoch, George Lukas and others. In B.C. we have heard about education in the 21st century from the government, the BC Teachers Federation, journalists and others. At the local ground level, several thousand commentators identifying as public and private school administrators and teachers, students and parents have shared their own visions in the “BC Education Plan” forums and in personal blogs and websites, and the dialogue is voiced in many other forms in school staffrooms and classrooms, at school board meetings, in coffee shops and around kitchen tables.
So what conversations are you having with your colleagues, students, family and friends? Where do we need to focus more attention in this conversations around 21st century education and personalized learning?