Tech revolution 'could make arts more important than maths'

Pisa boss Andreas Schleicher also tells MPs that exams in England should become less high-stakes for teachers, but more high-stakes for pupils

Key points from Andreas Schleicher's evidence to MPs about the fourth industrial revolution.

Arts subjects could become more important than maths, one of the most influential voices in world education has said.

Andreas Schleicher also said that UK private schools excel in teaching 21st century skills.

The head of the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa), today gave evidence to the Commons Education Select Committee about the fourth industrial revolution.

He told MPs that the role of teachers would become one of mentoring pupils. Here are four key points from his evidence:

1. Arts could become more important than maths

Mr Schleicher told MPs: “I would say, in the fourth industrial revolution, arts may become more important than maths.

“We talk about ‘soft skills’ often as social and emotional skills, and hard skills [being] about science and maths, but it might be the opposite.

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“The science and the maths might become a lot softer in the future when [the need for such knowledge] evaporates…whereas the hard skills might [turn out to be qualities such as] your curiosity, your leadership, your persistence, your resilience. So I think we need to be really, really cautious about how to design our curriculum around these sorts of needs.”

2. UK private schools are better at 21st century skills

He said: “The challenge for education is not to develop a kind of second-class robot, but to focus on those skills where humans have an advantage, which is perspective-taking, which is looking at problems from multiple angles, making judgement."

He added: “The fact [that such skills] don’t get recognised in exam systems means often that teachers treat them as a ‘nice to have’ except, of course, in your private schools; if you look at the big differentiator here, what they [independent schools] are largely about is those kinds of 21st century skills. It’s all about character development.”

3. Pupils will learn things that adults don't understand

Mr Schleicher was asked how schools would explain to parents what their pupils were being taught if they changed their curriculum to prepare them for the new world.

He said: “I think that’s one of the biggest challenges the fourth industrial revolution poses to us, namely, that as parents, we will have to accept that our children learn things that maybe we no longer understand and that our children no longer learn things that were very important for us. I think that’s a real dilemma that we see in many systems.”

4. Make exams less high-stakes for teachers

Mr Schleicher responded to concerns from Lucy Powell MP that high-stakes tests lead to teaching-to-the-test in England.

He said: “The stakes for students of testing are actually not that high, but the stakes for teachers and schools are high, and I would actually think it is the opposite that you should be aiming for.

“Make the stakes for students higher so that they actually have a strong incentive to study hard, to work, but as soon as you start to make the stakes for teachers high, you get exactly that effect, and that’s basically universal.”

He added: “The biggest issue is really the huge variability in student performance within schools, even high-performing schools, but this is something you don’t address with those high-stakes accountability measures.”

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