Q&A with Charles Fadel

Charles Fadel is a global education thought leader. He’s the Founder of the Center for Curriculum Redesign and Visiting Practitioner at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education. He asks us to consider what skills our children need to thrive in the 21st century and how education will need to change in order for everyone to succeed.

In this post, I share a recent Q & A session I had with Charles, ahead of his 2017 Australian visit.

Why do we need to transform the education that today’s children receive?

Today the world of work is changing fast and so are societies. Jobs are disappearing as automation replaces the need for people and new jobs are emerging that demand transferable skills and capabilities. This is affecting manual labour, and white-collar jobs too. Global trade boundaries are disappearing too, which presents opportunities – and risks – for Australian workers.

Research suggests that a school student in 2017 can expect to have up to 17 jobs and five careers after they leave school. These factors, and others, are why education must shift to give our children what they need to thrive in the 21st Century.

What qualities do children need, in addition to knowledge, to become a competent adult?

Children and young people will need not only a strong foundation in the 3Rs but skills such as problem-solving, collaboration and communication. They will also need character qualities such as resilience, agility, compassionate and respect in learning.

The New Success learning will concentrate on:

  • focusing on problem solving, learning from mistakes, engaging with challenges and creativity;

  • using digital tools;

  • working with others: at school, in the community … and even with the world;

  • building deep learning around each child’s interests and passions;

  • ensuring growth at every level, allowing top students to zoom while assisting all students.

How can we create an education revolution?

By educating the population about how inaction is endangering us all, students included.

What is required is a massive rethink about modernizing What students learn as an imperative. Where Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths matter increasingly but Humanities and Arts remain essential, each borrowing from the other, for a deep and versatile education. Where working with others, at school, in the community, and in the work place is as vital as ensuring growth at every level, allowing top students to thrive while assisting all students in areas where they are struggling. Where young people are given the skills and character qualities they need to thrive in work and life.

There is general acknowledgement around the world that to equip young people for success we need to shift from a knowledge-only based education towards incorporating skills such as creative problem solving, collaboration and character qualities such as resilience, courage and ethics. These elements are central to the New Success.

No country has done a comprehensive redesign of their education – no one has adapted to a world of search and artificial intelligence.  Australia has a unique opportunity to lead the world as it has an entrepreneurial spirit, coupled with a cogent education system willing to consider adapting.

Do you agree with Ken Robinson’s sentiment that a bottom up revolution (with teachers leading the way) is possible?

Teachers must be part of the solution, but they do not know the demands of the real-world, as teaching is an isolated profession.  The requirements must come from department of education, in sustained consultation with labor and industry, along with new assessments to drive new behaviours.

What needs to change in Australia?

We need an Australia that believes that the safest option we have for our kids is to educate them to learn, unlearn and relearn in our fast-changing world. We need forces beyond school to assist, not hamper, this process.

The secrets to the New Success for today’s and tomorrow’s child are:

  • a move to competencies, rather than scores, with broader measures of success to monitor students’ capabilities… and the quality of our education system

  • teachers supported to teach for future success

  • parents who understand what success looks like today and tomorrow.

  • universities that broaden their entrance requirements to reflect the capabilities that matter to future success.

  • politicians with the courage to plan long term – “cathedral builders”

Is technology the answer to our education woes?

Technology is an amplifier of human capabilities, good and bad – it is amoral and agnostic.  Used poorly, it is a waste of time.  Unfortunately, most parents and politicians are lured by the shiny objects and thirst for a panacea, rather than the tough, invisible slog of quality content and teacher training which must accompany technology deployment (as budgets are mostly spent on technology not content or training).

Digital devices are important but only if used as part of transforming education: as digital literacy, and to give young people the depth of understanding they need to succeed. We need to make sure that children have a strong foundation in the 3Rs but that they also embrace the transferable skills they need, such as problem-solving, collaboration and communication. This can be helped by digital devices.

A podcast conversation with Charles

While Charles was visiting Australia, I had the opportunity to record a podcast conversation with him. You can listen to that here. 

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