A Future-Facing Curriculum

David Price interview

We’re at a unique moment in history when we can look at education from a different vantage point with school closures forcing us to re-evaluate what education means and where it is going.

I set about interviewing some of education’s most interesting people in researching my book, Literacy Beyond The Classroom, in order to get deeper insights on how we might rethink education.

David Price OBE, is a global thought leader, learning futurist and author, specialising in how organisations learn, innovate and make themselves fit for the future. His most recent book, OPEN: How We’ll Work, Live And Learn In The Future made me think deeply about school, so much so that I actually interviewed him as part of our Rethinking Education webinar series which you can see here.

In the interview below, we had a lively discussion on his thoughts about the intersection of education and politics, and what really prepares students for a rapidly changing world.

To what extent do you think that young people should take part in the current political system or bypass it?

If I was a young person, I would be thinking, ‘Why do I want to get involved in this?’ But on the other hand, it’s the system we’ve got and will you have any kind of influence if you just bypass the system? That’s why I love the Parklands kids and Greta Thunberg because they give a lie to this myth of millennials not being interested in world affairs. These are the most morally and ethically engaged generation there’s ever been. They’re passionate about it and frustrated that the system doesn’t allow for their ideas to flourish. Should it be part of the curriculum? Absolutely, but it should be way more radical, to explore values and attitudes. We’re at a point where we cannot take moral and ethical considerations out of the curriculum. That’s not about brainwashing kids to have a certain viewpoint. It’s about encouraging them to think for themselves at a time when the climate is suffering, cultural understanding and politics is in such a mess. It’s not about making them have one particular stance, it’s about them defining their own stance, being able to defend that stance and being able to accept opinions that are different from their own. We’re living in a country where it’s all about who shouts loudest and no one’s listening to each other. If education tries to pretend that that’s for someone else to get involved in, what kind of future are we preparing our children for? How do we expect children to improve the system if we don’t talk about it in the classroom?

So when we’ve got young people who are standing up for what they believe in like the climate strikers, we should be nurturing them, valuing them and giving them an education that enables them to do all of that effectively but instead they are criticised for bunking off one day of school. What a load of nonsense.

What do you make of the current education system’s approach to preparing young people for the future?

I look at students in international schools and it really hits me just how much better prepared they are than the average school in the UK. It’s not just about more arts and sports provision, it’s about them doing the International Baccalaureate, a second or third language, real life experiences with employers etc. They have the freedom to try things and open their minds to things that the average UK state school student will never get to experience. I think that’s about mindset more than money.

In the UK, if the only yardstick we approach the success of an intervention is how well they perform in short term memory tests, then we’ll forever be off track and having the wrong conversation. Of course those children will do well because they’re being drilled to pass tests but will that help them in 20 years time?

Around 40% of workers are freelancers and yet that hasn’t affected how we teach children. I say to teachers, just imagine that 40% of your kids will never get a traditional career. What would you teach them? They say things like creativity, resilience, and how to market themselves. So why don’t we? Why do they have to wait until they’re never going to get a proper job before they learn those skills? What I’m saying is that the future is right now and freelancing is going to be something they’re forced into with all the benefits and negatives that it brings. So let’s get them tooled up to deal with it. How come the curriculum in the majority of schools isn’t reflecting that reality? The same 10 subjects that were around in the 1840s are the same ones that we teach today.

The difference between pupils in schools using project-based learning and developing communication skills and the pupils in your average school, is so significant. They are completely comfortable with presenting and talking to adults, something that employers are constantly complaining about when taking on young people. We’ve known this stuff for 15 years yet it’s not showing up in our curriculum approach.

Young people are communicating to each other using their thumbs on their phones so how can we be surprised if they can’t communicate in person or in front of a group if we aren’t giving them the chance to do it? To me, this is one of the urgent things that we’ve got to do: define what we mean by a future-facing curriculum.

How would you approach designing a new curriculum for schools?

Perhaps the change can start with talking to employers who would be more interested in workers presenting a portfolio CV that demonstrates skills students have mastered. I should allow employers to read supporting statements from teachers and see the actual work that students have done which demonstrated those skills. Change is happening thanks to pressure from employers but governments are not reacting nearly quick enough. Traditionally, we’ve failed to bring business leaders into a conversation but I don’t think it’s entirely their fault.

We’ve put up physical and metaphorical fences around our schools and we couldn’t have done a better job of showing children that this is not real life if we tried.

The School Of Communication Arts is a classic example of how the education system doesn’t match up to the world of work. Backed lock, stock and barrel by the advertising industry, the programme, which is around the equivalent of a [Masters Degree], has never been validated by a university, but not for lack of trying from the founder, Marc Lewis. Every university has knocked him back, saying that he needed a fixed five-year curriculum when the advertising industry doesn’t sit still for five minutes — never mind five years! Now genuinely part of the advertising industry, the industry defines the curriculum itself and they don’t have any teachers or lecturers. People from the industry itself come in and deliver the content [to students] themselves. The students are often not even finishing their course before getting snapped up for a job. It shows just how out of step formal education is with how businesses are working in the real world.

Price touches on an important point about education and its need to pivot from delivery of instruction and test preparation. Schools today must prepare students for a future in which they will be required to interact with different people in a variety of situations — and persuasively deliver answers and solutions to the world’s problems. This can actually be done within the constraints of current school curriculum.

A project developed for Adobe Education Exchange, “Pupil Politics”, prepares students to become engaged and active citizens in the policies and practices that shape their lives and effectively use their voices for change.

Learn more at https://adobe.ly/2CUfUJX.

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