Notes from the Global Education Innovation Initiative Conference

EWC Executive Director Ana Perona-Fjeldstad and senior advisor Iryna Sabor participated at the Global Education Innovation Initiative Conference at Harvard. In this article they summarize the main ideas they brought back home.

By Ana Perona-Fjeldstad and Iryna Sabor

The Conference was organized by the Harvard GlobaL Education Initiative, with the aim to help educators around the world support development of 21st century competencies – such as problem solving, critical thinking, communication, collaboration, self-management, flexibility, adaptability, Initiative, responsibility, citizenship and conflict resolution. It was a very thought-provoking and rich professional experience. It is extremely inspiring to meet outstanding and devoted educators from all over the world, who are pushing the global change forward. Here are some ideas that we are taking with us:

• Competences as critical thinking, respect to human dignity, self-efficacy, civic responsibility are key to reaching Sustainable Development Goals as set out in the UN Agenda for Sustainable Development 2030.
Evidence from various programs proves that knowledge-based education is not enough. To be able to deploy the knowledge and succeed in life, learners have to also acquire socio-emotional skills and interpersonal skills, foster positive attitudes, self-discipline. By providing access to such education for all, the world contributes to reducing the inequality and poverty, preventing conflicts, fostering innovation and economic growth, as well as reaching other SDGs.
One of the ways of effective teaching the 21st century skills may be to build stronger links between “traditional”, subject-related, and 21st century skills, skillfully combining both goals in the teaching and learning process.

• Collective action is needed for educational change, both bottom up and top down
Governments should be made aware of the benefits learners get by learning 21st century skills. At the same time, both international organizations as UNESCO, OECD, Council of Europe and individual countries have recognized the importance of the 21st century education, by adjusting their policies accordingly, while many schools and communities still don’t. Thus, collective action is needed both for seeking governmental support across different countries, and for gathering and sharing evidence on effectiveness global education among schools and educators at grassroot level.

• Partnerships are important if educational change is to be successful
As one of participants brilliantly pointed out, when setting out to make a difference, one cannot expect credit. In order to support education reforms across the world and spread learning of the 21st century skills, partnerships with local actors are highly important, common goals rather than those of an individual organization.

• Spreading and scaling up of the 21st century learning is successful when adjusted to local needs and priorities
Democratic competences, 21st century skills, life skills, peace education – different government use different words and focus when integrating global education into their educational systems. Countries go through various challenges, build on various traditions and history. Evidence shows that 21st century education will be most effective if deeply rooted in the local narrative.

• Whole school efforts are important to create a learning environment that enables learning 21st century skills
Combined efforts across all areas of school life and in cooperation with all the stakeholders – both students, teachers, parents and local community – help create safe and inclusive learning environments. Whereas, active involvement of parents has proved to greatly influence student performance and life satisfaction (PISA2015). Such an environment helps learners practice participation, respect, cooperation – all the skills that are necessary to live a meaningful life, work, interact with others and participate in the community. That is why a whole school learning is necessary for educating “a whole child”.

• Professional development of teachers and educators is essential to provide all children with an education that empowers them to become architects of their own lives and contributing members of their communities
Pouring tons of money into educational systems is not a solution to the 21st century education. Many successful policy initiatives have shown that in-service opportunities structurally embedded in the school setting, like peer to peer training, mentoring for new teachers, are most efficient in equipping teachers for delivering a high quality education. School principals have a key role to play in this regard.

• Diversity and inclusion should be practiced in the educational institutions
Education reflects the society we live in, as much as it generates change. And opinion polls show that as globalization is spreading, we are getting less open-minded and tolerant. If our children build walls on the playground, or if we exclude or segregate minority learners in schools, we cannot anticipate a peaceful and prosperous future for generations to come. In order to learn how to live in a 21st century diverse democratic society, diversity and inclusion should be built into the school system, it has to become an everyday practice.

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