teachers in Australia (4037), Teachers that travel (4026), 21st century education (4045)

Our future fragility

Graeme McDonald

‘The future is rarely just a smooth continuation of past patterns. Moreover, we do not know in advance which trends will continue and which will change course.’ (OECD Report - Trends Shaping Education 2019)

Rarely do we have the luxury of looking at education in a global context and seeing all the challenges facing education and conversely the potential of education to influence these identified developing trends. The OECD Report provides the reader with an opportunity to reflect on education in a global context and helps policy makers to inform their strategic thinking.

The 109-page report makes some interesting observations about what it describes as the 3 megatrends in our world, globalisation, digitalisation and ageing.

Within the next ten years it claims that the majority of the world’s population will be middle class, a trend which will be largely driven by China and India. This will of course produce pressure to provide better education for more people. Herein lies an opportunity for Australia to provide high quality education for a large emerging Asian market. However, this large income generating potential for our country will be hard earned, because attracting the best students in an increasingly competitive market will require far greater commitment than we have put into this venture so far. Already many U.K. Independent schools are entering this market to ensure that they get their share of this very lucrative market; we cannot afford to be left behind.

Technology as the report comments is now so much a part of our lives with 3 out of 4 internet users aged 16 to 74 using this resource daily. With the internet increasingly being used to search for jobs, accommodation and even love it is important that we train our population, not just our children but our adults as well, to use this resource wisely. For schools here, the answer is not simply to have more use of technology in curriculum delivery.

‘PISA results show that more time online in school does not automatically translate into improved student achievement. In fact, intensive use of the internet in school is linked to poorer student performance.’

Two issues of real concern here are cyberbullying and privacy. Australia is making significant strides forward to deal with the former issue, but the challenge is immense and it will require ongoing commitment at all levels in society, government, school and family. The second issue has risen to prominence in the last few years and is just as worrying.

‘In 2018 the number of stolen and hacked data records was the highest ever in one year and the need for cybersecurity experts is growing.’

We live in a world where there is no shortage of information but the reliability of our sources can be questionable. As the report observes there is –

‘no guarantee that search results are accurate. In fact, the ubiquity of social media platforms has made it easier to disseminate inaccuracies and outright lies.’

This trend is already starting to worry governments with its potential to have a major impact on election outcomes.

Finally, we come to the issue of life expectancy with the percentage of the population in OECD countries over 65 years of age growing significantly. It is likely that many adults will have to work longer because the affordability of a retirement of more than 20 years will be beyond the reach of most adults’ superannuation entitlements. The need for high quality re-skilling and upskilling for our older workers to enable them to stay in the workforce is an important education and economic priority.

Our world has changed dramatically in the last 30 years and the shift of economic power to Asia is obvious for all to see. Between 1990 and 2016 China more than quadrupled its share of world GDP from 4 to 18% whilst in the same period the US share dropped from 21 to 15% and India increased dramatically from 3 to 7%. Little wonder therefore that the USA is worried about the rise of Asian power.

Growth of course is creating enormous problems to solve. In 2016 we generated more than 44 million tonnes of E-waste equivalent to the weight of 4400 Eiffel towers and only 20% of this was recycled and climate change is now one of the most urgent issues of our time. We continue to live beyond our means with household debt as a percentage of disposable income continuing to rise and savings continuing to fall – clearly the need to improve financial literacy must be addressed.

If we choose not to monitor trends closely, we do so at our peril. Some trends do of course develop slowly (global temperatures went up around 0.8 degrees Celsius in the last 100 years). However, until very recently we did almost nothing about it. Other trends are more dynamic with the number of active Facebook users going from zero to 1 Billion in 8 years. The full impact of social media is yet to be fully understood.

So where are the great minds to solve these perplexing problems?

They are in our schools and universities and we must support our students and academics as we strive to become clever nations who can work together and adapt to change quickly before some problems become insoluble.

Author: Graeme McDonald M.Ed, B.A

Graeme has held a distinguished career for over 20 years as Principal of Independent schools across Australia. His involvement in education has been extensive both in and outside school walls, which demonstrates his commitment to education excellence. Graeme is a long serving member for ACE and ACEL and has also been a key member of AHISA, IBSC, and GPS.