Educate for coexistence. Educate to become aware of justice. Educate for equality so that not a single talent is lost due to a lack of opportunities[1]

Mirjana Petrovic-Filipovic. PhD

There is no doubt that the history of education has been as long as the history of humankind. From the first steps homo sapiens made (and even before), humans passed the knowledge onto their children. The knowledge about food (edible food, food migrations, food collecting/hunting), health (risks, treatments, healthy habits), procreation, or anything worth mentioning and related to survival. However, there's nothing strange or glorious about that – every single organism on this planet behaves in a similar manner or, in other words, teaches its offspring to survive. It was a necessity. Thus, we pass on what we know, hoping our offspring will survive. Even very simple organisms do the same.

There is, however, a minor difference between humankind's education and simple organisms. Human beings invented something called – a formal education. And what would that be? According to UNESCO, formal education is “institutionalized, intentional and planned through public organizations and recognized private bodies and, in their totality, make up the formal education system of a country.” What does it mean?

At some point in history, humans stopped living as hunter-gatherers (even those societies had some organization, but, undoubtedly, a very different one) and started living in highly structured, settled groups that later formed states and countries. As such, these highly structured groups recognized the importance of education. Therefore, we can state that the history of formal education goes as far back as the first written historical records. Etymologically, the word “education” is derived from the Latin word ēducātiō (“A breeding, a bringing up, a rearing”) from ēducō (“I educate, I train”), which is related to the homonym ēdūcō (“I lead forth, I take out; I raise up, I erect”)[2]  and as such education is close to or related to a form of breading. When it comes to formal education, it is evident that it becomes more than just breading –  it becomes training. Training to find your useful place as a part of society, or as we would say today – formal education prepares the country's future workforce.

Throughout the course of history, a formally educated population aimed to learn or cover an amount of knowledge that would ensure its place in the structured group it was part of. And throughout the centuries, the history of humankind has seen various public and private educational systems. At different times even the poorest people could educate their children in some societies, but in most cases, only the rich people or aristocracy could afford to educate their youngsters. Accordingly, at different times educators were passing on knowledge that would ensure the success of some particular social model. Depending on times and societies, students would learn higher mysteries, religious beliefs, traditions, laws, poetry, music, sacred geometry, computer science, economics, etc. With time, the model would change, and aristocracy, the wealthy, or the workforce would be taught an updated curriculum.

Today we witness a similar shift in educational paradigm. Educators have been calling for more substantial changes in education for several decades by reminding the public and governments that the current educational system has been established for the needs of post-industrial society (the First Industrial Revolution). As we all know, after the First Industrial Revolution, great masses of agricultural workers were transformed into factory workers, so the school was organized according to the new industrial world principles and needs – students were taught basic literacy and basic scientific (mechanistic) principles. At the same time, students were taken care of while their parents were at work. The school was teacher-centered, and we might say knowledge-based. And it has mostly stayed the same since then.

On the other hand, since the First Industrial Revolution, the amount of knowledge has expanded and is still growing at an unbelievable rate. It is hard for teachers and students to cover all available knowledge that is constantly being updated. What is more, the industry sector is continually changing, and as we are constantly reminded, the Fourth Industrial Revolution is upon us. Therefore, educational reforms have been a hotly-debated topic for several decades. Those unwilling to take the first step are still copying old post-industrial school model with students in rows memorizing from the books for final tests. In best cases, old-model schools are committed to hiring excellent teachers, applying stricter rules, or excelling in curricula planning and materials. In worst cases,  this model faces demotivated students in poor physical condition, unable to compete with a modern workforce.

When it comes to those willing to change, we hear them mostly talking about student-centered skills-based new education models. What does it mean exactly?

We have been aware of significant technological and economic changes for a while (Often called the Fourth Industrial Revolution). The IT sector has grown enormously and tackled almost every branch of industry and people's lives. With it came AI, whose impact we are still unable to see in its entirety. But we can already see and predict significant changes in all professions. In return, those changes are shaping the future workforce. All major international institutions constantly remind us that a waste number of occupations are disappearing.[3] Accurate prediction of the future workforce is almost impossible at this moment; therefore, those who train (educate) the population to become a workforce call for student-centered skills-based education, providing a worker with a set of different skills. It almost looks like altruistic movements have won in the field of education. With respect to philanthropic currents and wishes, student-centered skill-based education should actually bread (educate) a new resilient workforce that will possess a set of skills (primarily digital literacy skills, but also problem-solving skills and similar) which will make them useful in a digital age, but also easily remodeled when needed in order to switch jobs (as they appear and disappear) quickly.

Of course, we are not discussing some hidden agenda that every school worldwide follows. The schools inclined to be skills-based and students-centered try various approaches: modern learning spaces (technology, environment, students’ expectations, etc.), experimenting with the curriculum (merging different curriculums, strict planning, vague planning, no planning, etc.), experimenting with the school organization (students` led, teachers` led, expert`s led, boss led, investors` led, etc.), experimenting with timetables and schedules in general, including other institutions and individuals into the process of education, etc. However, since we lack some winning model in this type of education, quite often happens that this type of education ends up with unprepared and poorly educated or incompetent teachers unable to meet the serious demands of skill-based (project-based, inquiry-based, etc.) methodology.  Similar results are in place when the school`s leaders are not committed to providing experienced teachers, clear educational philosophy, a strong curriculum, etc.  As a result, students are not really acquainted with skill-based student-centered learning. Instead, society gets citizens who lack both knowledge and strong skills.

Regarding skill-based learning, it is also worth mentioning that not all subjects and areas of knowledge can benefit from it. Namely, some subjects profoundly depend on a thorough knowledge and understanding of the facts in order to be able to build (and understand) a broader picture of our human world. Such subjects are history, philosophy, sociology, and other humanities.

And what of a single talent? The sad truth is that most schools are still busy with the masses. And teachers with paperwork.

And what of Renaissance man? He became a historical peculiarity. A dream. And “What happens to a dream deferred?”[4]

[1] Josefina Aldecoa, Spanish writer and educator (1926- 2011).

[2] Check Wiki

[3] Check World economic forum