Dr. Tony Richardson, Freelance Educational Specialist

Dr Tony Richardson (PhD) is a freelance educational specialist with over 35 years of teaching and research experience. Over the past 10 years Tony has been an education consultant for various government and non-government bodies, within Southeast Asia, focusing on education; primary, secondary; tertiary and VET.  He is currently the Project Director for the Integration of Financial Literacy into Cambodian government schools. Tony has co-authored a number of peer-reviewed journal articles on topics relating to teachers, learners and pedagogy across several international landscapes, and also co-authored a book on preservice teacher education. He has previously presented and continues to present, at international conferences on education topics throughout Southeast Asia.

 

In June 2020 the influential World Economic Forum (WEF) meet for its 50th annual conference in Davos, Switzerland. Some of the keynote speakers were Charles, Prince of Wales and Kristalina Georgieva, the Director of the International Monetary Fund. The WEF’s conference focused on promulgating a roadmap, for a future society, based on emphasizing the cooperation of global stakeholders to address a changing world in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. This roadmap was predicated on the WEF’s belief that the world needed to undertake The Great Reset.

The WEF based their belief on the plethora of inconsistencies, inadequacies and contradictions by governments to effectively address key systems, for example, Health, Education and Monetary. The WEF view was that the COVID-19 crisis had exposed major flaws in these key systems by impacting the political, economic and social lives and livelihoods of billions of people. In an effort to address these major flaws, in a post-COVID-19 world, the WEF suggested the world needed a reset.

The WEF outlined three key tasks that were required to commence this reset; the third task addressed education through ‘Harnessing the innovations of the Fourth Industrial Revolution’ (4IR). This focus on education, via the 4IR, emphasized teaching, research and service by relying heavily on technology to develop massive open online courses, virtual classrooms, laboratories and libraries, and eventually the inclusion of virtual teachers.

Some of the overarching concerns associated with the 4IR are 1) the paradigm shift from the current use of an 18th-century educational model and 2) addressing the social and economic disruptions created by the possibility of widespread unemployment as humans are replaced by technically advanced ‘machines’ in a future workforce.

The dilemma for society is of course the challenge of planning a future world for students who are yet to be born and require an effective education to operate successfully in a global economy. Consequently, many of today’s, and future, students will be working in jobs that are yet to be created and taught within an education system targeting skills necessary to thrive in the 4IR.  Central to this education system will no doubt be a focus on a student-centred learning model.

Possibly, the greatest challenge in addressing the above might be the initial lack of inertia by institutions to effectively impact on the continued dependence, and perceived success, of an 18th-century educational model that owes its genesis to a factory-growth model. Unfortunately, this 18th-century learning model, which is still largely in use today, has educated the majority of students through a teacher-centred learning model punctuated by high stake tests, facilitated by rote learning and memorizing. However, in a post-COVID -19 world, acknowledging the vision of the WEF, this learning model should be viewed as a complete anathema to educators.

There is no question that Singapore’s education system has received many praises, and is considered to be among one of the best in the world; pre-COVID-19. Based on the outcomes of previous global achievement testing Singapore’s students have constantly been considered as some of the world’s best. However, with the possibility of The Great Reset and the corresponding impact on learning, via the 4IR, will Singapore’s education system be in a position to continue to maintain its previous successes in a post-COVID-19 world?

One cannot dispel the acknowledgement of Singapore’s education success as the result of extremely hard work. Yet, this hard work was most likely founded on teacher-centred learning, which encourages rote learning and memorisation, and a philosophy espousing a strong emphasis on the institutionalized reinforcing of individual competitiveness through meritocracy.

Unfortunately, while this approach to learning has been successful in providing some of the world’s best high-stakes test results there could now be challenges in a post-COVID-19 world. For example, one of the important skills associated with thriving in the 4IR is Service Orientation, which in summary focuses on:

“giving the best quality of a core service through optimum user experience by putting customers first . . .  by letting them know they are the main focus.”

If, for example, the core service of Singapore’s education system is to provide all students with a quality education possibly future challenges could arise via student wellbeing?

By maintaining a dependency on teacher-centred learning and therefore, fostering high stakes testing, inordinate hours of homework and a dependency on external tuition the core service of education is significantly impacted upon by creating for students, and their parents, extremely high levels of anxiety and stress. Clearly, it could be suggested placing students, and their parents, in this position does not convey they are the main focus exemplified by being provided with the best quality of a core service through optimum user experience.

In recent times the Singapore Ministry of Education has taken steps to impact, for example, student well-being by ceasing the practice of publicizing school rankings and the names of the top scores for national-level examinations. However, this could be viewed as simply an initial reaction to placate the much greater emphasis to develop a holistic approach to learning driven by acknowledging the significance of achieving outstanding academic results may not provide students with all the necessary skills to operate effectively in a post-COVID-19 world, as seen by the WEF.

While ‘The Great Reset’ may not eventuate, there is mounting evidence to suggest that a post-COVID-19 educational landscape will be shaped by changes to an ageing educational model. These changes:

  • reflect a greater emphasis on a student’s learning journey, which moves away from high stakes testing;
  • a greater focus on student-centred learning;
  • teaching students’ skills to thrive in a 4IR global workplace;
  • with an overall understanding of the need to provide students with a holistic education.

Whatever the uncertainties that may exist in a post-COVID-19 world the major flaws in key systems, for example, Education globally, have initiated changes to student learning. It is now up to institutions to embrace those changes or risk . . .?

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