Imperatives for change

When today’s students leave school they will enter a rapidly changing world. More than ever, academic success and personal competencies will be the key to their future success. Most students now have ready access to a vast amount of information on the internet but they have to learn to make sense of what they find, examine it critically, and use it appropriately and wisely. The demands imposed by both rapid change and ever-expanding knowledge have major implications for educators, who are responsible for helping students develop the attributes they need to thrive in such a world.

Challenges facing modern learners

New Vision for Education: Fostering Social and Emotional Learning through Technology[2] argues that, to ‘thrive in the 21st century, students need more than traditional academic learning’ – they need, in fact, 16 ‘crucial proficiencies’, which are developed through social and emotional learning.

This image shows the umbrella of the 21st Century skills.  There are three branches which are 1. Foundation Literacies, 2. Competencies and 3. Character Qualities. Under foundation literacy there is the following list; literacy, numeracy, scientific literacy, ICT literacy, financial literacy and cultural and civic literacy. Under competencies there is the following list; critical thinking/problem solving, creativity communication and collaboration. Under character qualities there is the list; curiosity, initative, persistence/grit, adaptability, leadership and social and cultural awareness.  Surrounding this is a pale blue border names life long learning.

Such aspirations for learners are not new. Indeed, The New Zealand Curriculum has a vision of young people

… who will develop the competencies they need for study, work and lifelong learning and go on to realise their potential.

Similarly, te āhua o te ākonga ka puta (the graduate profile) found in Te Marautanga o Aotearoa lists a broad range of attributes that young Māori need to participate, contribute and succeed.

In their report, Supporting future-oriented learning and teaching: A New Zealand perspective, Bolstad and Gilbert (2012) eloquently discuss the need for the education system to respond to the volume of information and ongoing technological, social and economic change that characterise the 21st century. They highlight the importance of developing new understandings about learning, rethinking the role of both teacher and learner, and connecting learning more closely with the world beyond school, with all its unknown challenges. There is much in this research that teachers and school leaders can act upon to provide teaching that is inclusive, more responsive to the needs of individual learners, their cultures and ethnicities, and addresses inequity of opportunity and outcomes.

Increasingly New Zealand schools are viewing the acquisition of knowledge and academic success within the broader context of the student’s whole development. As a result they are adapting, changing how they operate, and finding ways to innovate and improve the effectiveness of teaching and learning. Many schools, such as those in the Manaiakalani community[3], are making good use of digital technology to extend and enhance learning. To enable a wider variety of teaching strategies some schools have been purpose built with flexible learning spaces,[4] others have successfully created flexible learning spaces by remodelling existing buildings.

While students in effective schools are learning how to learn and developing the key competencies this is not happening widely enough or fast enough, particularly in secondary schools. Wylie and Bonne (2016) found in 2015 that

little progress had been made since 2012 in equipping students with the ability to learn to learn—a key principle in The New Zealand Curriculum—and in inclusion of the key competencies in students’ learning opportunities.

Achieving equity and excellence in student outcomes remains a major challenge for New Zealand education (OECD, 2013a). Students who are achieving at or above expectations for their year level can successfully engage with the curriculum, and, as a result, they are more likely to leave secondary school with qualifications that reflect their potential and to be able to participate in and contribute to the social, cultural, economic and environmental future of our country[5]. The learning journey from childhood to adulthood is critically important and any inability to access the curriculum has long-term implications for both the individual and society.

[2]       New Vision for Education: Fostering Social and Emotional Learning through Technology, World Economic Forum (2016)

[3]       The Manaiakalani Community aims ‘to tackle the learning challenges via highly effective teaching practice using the appropriate tools of the digital age’.

[4]       A flexible learning space is a space that can be reorganised for different purposes so teachers and students have opportunities to work together in a variety of ways (see ERO’s Modern New Zealand learning practice: glossary).

[5]       The New Zealand Curriculum (2007): p. 8.