Stepping into 2018 along with all the sparkle, excitement and hope associated with the start of a new year, a critical event looming over the last few years have surfaced in full force. That is the ‘global learning crisis’ affecting children and young people of today. So we decided to take a closer look at this phenomenon, why we should care and more importantly what we can do to counteract it.
This blog is based on Can We Leapfrog? The Potential of Education Innovations to Rapidly Accelerate Progress, a comprehensive report published by Rebecca Winthrop, Eileen McGivney and Adam Barton, researchers at The Center for Universal Communication at The Brookings Institution, Washington USA.
Global learning crisis
This mainly refers to the huge disparity of learning levels experienced by children and young people across the world. To put it into perspective according to the predictions of the International Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunity (the Education Commission), in 2030, 825 million children in low- and middle-income countries would have reached adulthood without developing the skills they need to succeed in work and life. Then there’s the ‘100 year gap’ which predicts young people belonging to marginalized communities of today, to take another 100 years to achieve the learning levels the wealthy are experiencing now.
Why must we care?
To overcome the two main global education challenges: skills inequality and skills uncertainty. The inequality in learning levels is observed between countries and also within countries. We live in a world where poor children of today need another 100 years to catch up to the education level their wealthy peers have reached right now, and that is without taking into account the type of education children will need in the future. We also live in a dynamic world tasked with preparing our youngest citizens for jobs, lives and a future we can hardly predict, let alone understand. We need to enable all of them to develop skills that’ll help face the challenges of the future, but we certainly can’t wait a century to do so.
What is ‘leapfrogging’?
Simply put leapfrogging is a form of speeding up the educational progress to help all children and young people acquire the skills they need much faster than at the currently predicted 100 years pace, and also prepare them for the skills uncertainty of the future. Any practice which facilitates these goals can be defined as leapfrogging. They must focus on the range of skills developed by children, puts curiosity at the heart of teaching and promote play based experiential learning, and most importantly allow children who are rich, poor, in or out of school to access and benefit from these approaches alike. Leapfrogging is not about skipping steps to move as fast as possible along a specific path. It is more the idea of achieving quick and nonlinear progress without following the traditional path, maybe skipping a few steps and perhaps even ending up in a completely new destination.
The education paradox
This refers to one of the major questions the global education community faces today – is addressing skills inequality and skills uncertainty at the same time a possibility? The teaching methods which currently help schools to teach the most marginalized and counteract skills inequality, tend to also reinforce formal education structures. These education structure are more often the same ones holding back students from developing the range of skills essential for life in the future, or in other words skills uncertainty. This is where ‘education innovation’ can play a role in leapfrogging through limits in education systems, where there is determination and passion to prepare all children for the future.
How do we leapfrog?
According to the report there are 2 key ways for education to leapfrog. First is by setting a pathway grounded on existing evidence and practices on ways through which we can transform what and how children learn. This ensures the leapfrogging path remains a realistic possibility. The second is a catalog of education innovations which provides an understanding of how education can be enabled to leap onto different destinations along the path discussed before. To do so The Center of Universal Education brought 15 ‘Education Innovation Spotters’ who researched programs, schools, policies, approaches and tools, and created a catalog of almost 3,000 education innovations. The pathway highlights the collaborative efforts of the education innovations community, and help identify for instance situations where two innovations with limited potential when operating alone making remarkable frog leaps through education when combined. The catalog on the other hand extends the much needed overview of what the diverse education innovations community looks like.
What have we found out so far?
Over 85% of the countries in the world have produced innovations included in the catalogue, of which the majority focuses on poor and marginalized children. Also, most of the innovations aim to transform the teaching and learning process through play-based learning practices. The education innovations community also collaborates with governments, civil society groups and the private sector to kickstart their approaches.
However, there are significant gaps in for instance providing teachers’ with professional development, innovations led by governments or those that are focused on children living in crisis and conflict, or with disabilities. There also appears to be a lag in finding new ways to recognize learning, use technology to transform education and to make effectiveness data publicly available.
Where do we leapfrog from here?
The future of education innovation is truly optimistic. There’s an energetic, diverse and widespread community enabling kids and schools from all backgrounds and parts of the world to create, participate and share new approaches. While the education innovations community tackles the gaps discussed, governments should provide increasingly conducive environments. Together it is possible to leapfrog through education, reduce the 100-year gap and solve the paradox of addressing skills inequality and skills uncertainty, in the near future.