During Philanthropy Ohio’s Philanthropy Forward conference, I had the opportunity to chat with Caroline Hill of 228 Accelerator and Cecilia Render of the Nordson Corporation Foundation about how the COVID-19 pandemic has illuminated long-standing challenges and how to design an equitable education system. As Hill emphasized, we need the courage to create the vision of the world we want. Racism and inequity, she explained, are products of design and can be redesigned.
KnowledgeWorks has been forecasting a future in which the spread of smart technologies and significant social shifts present the opportunity to image new kinds of education structures, practices, roles and programs that support the healthy development of young people, effective lifelong learning and community vitality. As we explore such possibilities, we need to consider several implications of the changing landscape for education:
- Our use of smart technologies will rewrite age-old assumptions about free will, consent and intention
- Young people could become vocal agents of change or silent passengers to the changes happening around them
- The cognitive profiles of tomorrow’s learners will look like no prior generation’s
- How we gauge success will either deepen or shrink systemic inequities
- Our streets, neighborhoods and communities may look as they never have before as we experience new waves of migration, changing employment structures, an economic recession, the ongoing public health threat and environmental volatility.
COVID-19 occurs in the midst of an era shift. Combined with today’s heightened awareness of the need for racial justice, it has opened a window of opportunity. Because we cannot educate children in many of the usual ways – and because we increasingly recognize that we should not do so since those ways are inequitable – stakeholders have been identifying other ways of approaching instruction and meeting learners’ non-academic needs. A system that has typically been regarded as being slow to change has shown tremendous capacity to adapt to crisis. Now, we face the question of whether educators and other stakeholders will keep flexing that innovation muscle to pursue new visions for learning.
People are exhausted, yes. The immediate challenges loom large. But now is the time to pursue shared visions for the future of learning, considering possibilities presented by emerging trends alongside timeless needs and current values. Education stakeholders can use insights about the future of learning to inform shared visions and can then consider strategies to close the gaps between what education looks and feels like today and what they would like it to look and feel like tomorrow.
Some key insights from our Philanthropy Forward conversation highlighted that orienting education systems toward new visions for learning will require:
- Working at both the local and systemic levels
- For those who have traditionally held power, ceding and sharing it
- Cultivating the capacity of education systems to engage in long-term transformation
- Putting in place policies that enable flexibility and allow room for innovation
- Revamping quality assurance to reflect a broader view of human development than today’s accountability systems do
- Reframing approaches to learning to allow for increased collaboration across organizations (for example, shifting to competency-based education could enable learners to engage with learning providers across community learning ecosystems instead of having to learn within the confines of what we have traditionally called “school”).
As we formulate new visions for learning and work to make education equitable, we need to consider ways of creating human-centered learning systems that provide each person involved in education – both kids and adults – with the opportunities and supports that they need to thrive.