What do we want education to look like in the future?

The Edge Foundation asks key figures from colleges, schools and beyond what we've learned about education in the crisis

Alice Barnard

Coronavirus: What has this crisis taught us about education?

For the past few months colleges have been closed to the majority of students. Many of us can speak from personal experience in saying that this period has only served to highlight the amazing work that teachers and tutors do every day and have continued to do online and virtually during this period.

It has been a time for trying new things and adapting to circumstances – from online classrooms to virtual work experience to staying in touch with family and solving very practical problems like getting food and medicine to friends and neighbours.

It has also been a period for reflection and for seeing the world through slightly different eyes – changing perceptions of the jobs that "essential workers" do, of what skills our young people need, of what our priorities should be for the future.


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That has been the case in education as much as in our wider lives. This period has brought to the fore many of the challenges that we have seen bubbling for many years. It has shown that exams are not the be-all and end-all of the education system, that we need to prepare young people to be resilient and adaptable and that technical and professional careers are essential to keep our society running.

We asked key figures from across the education sector and beyond what their #EducationWish for the future would be, reflecting on what we have all learned from this pandemic.

How could education change for the better after coronavirus?

Rufus Norris, artistic director at the National Theatre, wished for colleges to be rewarded for their role as valuable community builders, recognising the key purpose of our education system in supporting young people to develop values like empathy and adaptability that have been so crucial during this pandemic.

Gail Bradbrook, co-founder of Extinction Rebellion, reminded us that this extends to the global community, too – we have a responsibility to educate for a future in which life on Earth can thrive by placing climate and ecological understanding at the heart of every curriculum.

As Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, points out, this deep humanity of what our colleges do has been lost amid a fog of metrics and accountability. 

We must change the education system to focus on the outcomes we really want for our young people and for society. Baroness Morris of Yardley, former secretary of state for education, reminds us that this is even more important for disadvantaged students who will have fallen further behind – I hope our determination to overcome barriers to learning doesn’t fade when schools and colleges open again.

As for the content of education, the evidence has shown for years that skills and behaviours are valued just as much as knowledge in adult life. As Gina Koutsika, director of the V&A Museum of Childhood, makes clear, creative learning, imagination, problem solving and resilience should be an important part of all education programmes. Matt Hyde, chief executive of the Scout Association, quite rightly reminds us that this is essential from the early years – it’s not good enough that there is no national extracurricular provision for children below the age of 5. 

If we are to ensure our national resilience for the future – and fill those essential worker roles in healthcare, logistics, education and beyond – we must see a real renaissance in technical and vocational education. Robert Halfon, chair of the Commons Education Select Committee, says he would like to guarantee every young person an apprenticeship that can see them progress all the way from level 2 to level 7, and see 50 per cent of students doing degree apprenticeships.

Whatever your experience of education during the pandemic, what is clear is that if we are to rebuild our economy and society, we must go forward not back. We have to learn the lessons from this incredibly difficult period and help our education system to become more relevant as the world changes more rapidly than ever.

Above all, even when the pandemic ends, we must hang on to the knowledge that teachers, tutors and lecturers are key workers and skilled professionals in their own right. We must trust them and give them the freedom to develop the skills and behaviours young people need for our rapidly changing world.

The final word goes to Kevin Courtney and Mary Bousted, joint general secretaries of the NEU teaching union, which represents them. They say: “England comes third in the international league table for rote learning. How much better would education be if it supported [students] to become independent learners, with a keen interest in acquiring new knowledge and skills, if it developed the personal attributes of optimism, perseverance and resilience? We are sure a better world is possible – and that education staff stand ready to respond to the needs of today’s and tomorrow’s children and young people.”

You can share your #EducationWish with us @UkEdge

Alice Barnard is the chief executive of the Edge Foundation

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Alice Barnard

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