International Opinion

Preparing Youth for a Knowledge-Based World

By Anthony Jackson — May 01, 2012 6 min read
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I’ve asked Maria Langworthy, Principal and Founder, Langworthy Research, and Global Director of ITL Research sponsored by Microsoft Partners in Learning, to share with us this compelling multiyear global research on innovative teaching to prepare students for the 21st century global knowledge economy. The related recommendations call for better-aligned accountability measures and offer advice for educators, school leaders, and policymakers—as well as a tool that any school can use to measure their own innovative teaching. Read on!

by Maria Langworthy

Preparing students to succeed in a globalized, technology-driven, knowledge-based world is at the forefront of teachers and school leaders’ concerns around the world. Recent interviews with teachers internationally show that teachers in India worry whether their students will be able to compete with students in the UK and Australia. At the same time, teachers in Canada and the UK worry whether their students will be able to compete with students from India and China.

Unfortunately, this concern for global competence tends to be less prevalent among educators in the United States, where concerns often center on whether students will make it into college. The assumption may be that students who make it through college will automatically be prepared for the knowledge-based workplaces of today. But there is growing evidence that other countries are preparing a much higher percentage of their population with skills for the 21st century economy than the United States, where only about 27% of the adult population holds a four-year bachelor’s degree. In countries such as Australia, Finland, and Singapore, educators are directly developing students’ future skills in middle and high school, providing all students (not just university-bound) with the foundation of skills they will need.

All of this speaks to challenges facing education systems as the result of changing economic and social conditions. Worldwide, education leaders are asking how to transform the process of teaching and learning to better equip students with the skills they will need in the 21st century economy. This challenge is directly addressed by the Innovative Teaching and Learning (ITL) Research project. ITL Research is a multiyear global research program devoted to researching and supporting “innovative teaching practices” and their relationship to students’ development of 21st century skills. Innovative teaching is the combination of advanced pedagogical approaches with technology in ways that transform learning experiences to build future skills and meet curricular goals. The project also investigates how school and system factors support teachers’ adoption of innovative teaching practices. ITL is a multi-stakeholder partnership with Microsoft’s Partners in Learning as the founding global sponsor, joined by government sponsors and research teams from participating countries and SRI International as the global research partner.

ITL Research teams in Australia, Russia, Brunei, Senegal, Indonesia, Finland, Mexico, and the United Kingdom have been investigating how education transformation is taking place and the impact of innovative teaching practices on students’ future skills. Findings over the past two years across countries have consistently confirmed that when teaching is designed to foster 21st century skills, students can and do develop the skills they will need in the 21st century.

Key Findings from ITL Research

The eight-nation research has reveled four key findings:

Innovative teaching supports students’ development of the skills that will help them succeed in future life and work. However, students’ opportunities to develop these skills are typically scarce in the actual classrooms and learning activities observed by researchers.

While technology use in teaching is becoming more common, technology use by students in their learning is still an exception in most countries. All nations are investing in digital technology and skills to varying degrees, but lack of infrastructure and resources do not hinder schools from developing broad skills for the global knowledge economy.

Innovative teaching practices are more likely to flourish when schools have a strong culture of teacher collaboration that focuses on peer support and the sharing of pedagogical approaches. Teacher professional development involves the active engagement of teachers, particularly in practicing and researching new teaching methods; School leaders, likewise, develop a common vision of innovation among stakeholders and consistently encourage new types of teaching.

In each country participating in this research, national goals stress “21st century” skills that range from complex problem‐solving and collaboration to the use of technology to support learning. Yet ITL Researchers found there is still a large gap between these high level goals and what actually happens in classrooms today.

What this means
For education systems seeking to address the challenge of transforming teaching and learning for the 21st century, ITL findings establish a roadmap. First, teachers need professional development opportunities that drive peer collaboration around pedagogical impact. For 21st century skills and global competence, this collaboration should focus on teachers working together to design, practice, and research innovative teaching approaches and the impact these practices have on student learning. Second, school leaders should work towards cultivating holistic and shared visions of innovation across their school community and its stakeholders. Finally, education policy should evolve assessment and performance accountability systems to measure these practices and skills at the student, teacher, and school levels. New accountability measures may be the single most important factor that will allow more 21st century teaching and learning practices to flourish. Today, teachers and schools are too often constrained by evaluation regimes originally developed to measure knowledge and skills needed in earlier eras.

Moving from Theory to Action
The will to transform education is growing. It is time to move from theory and research to action. ITL and Microsoft Partners in Learning recognize this and are working to directly support innovative teaching capacity building. Through Partners in Learning School Research, schools in over 45 countries are now using ITL methods to measure their own innovative teaching. Schools receive reports that can be used to develop a more shared vision of innovating teaching and learning among all stakeholders in a school community. These reports can also be used to guide the planning of professional development and to assess progress annually on a school’s adoption of more innovative practices.

Partners in Learning and ITL are also building a new type of teacher and school professional development called LEAP21. LEAP21 leverages the ITL rubrics developed to research 21st century skills and uses them as a framework for teacher collaboration. Teachers and school leaders use these rubrics to analyse and refine their own lessons, and to study how changes to learning activity design impacts students’ work. The aim is to provide a structure that bridges the gap between the theory and practice of 21st century skills. In early trials, this program has proven to be a powerful tool to help teachers design learning experiences that deepen students’ development of 21st century skills.

These tools and programs can support schools, districts, and entire systems as they embark on transforming teaching and learning. And, importantly, they can be used in middle and high schools to support all students - even those who are not college bound - in developing the skills they will need in a knowledge-based world.

The opinions expressed in Global Learning are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.