Critical skills key to future;FE Focus

24th April 1998 at 01:00
The RSA says that only a revolution in education will ready Britain for the 21st century, reports Ngaio Crequer

Britain's education system will need to be "re-engineered" to redefine work as an activity rather than a place, and stress the importance of acquiring skills before knowledge, according to a new RSA report.

"There is no point in preparing people for a world which no longer exists," states Redefining Work, to be published next week.

"Education in the new world will need to reflect a redefinition of what it means to be a well-educated person. This will demand a revolution in our education system not unlike the revolution which many businesses have had to undergo in recent years."

The report says the structures, standards, processes and outcomes of the system need radical reappraisal, from nursery education through to universities.

"The incessant education reforms of the 1980s and 1990s have simply bolted change on to a system which is essentially a 19th-century one, serving the social and cultural norms of that period. That will not do for the knowledge society, whose demands will be very different from those of the past."

The report says the re-engineering will take 10 years and will lead to students at all levels being recognised as learners - not pupils or students - and grouped by stage of progress rather than age. Teaching will become a research-based profession because changes in technology will demand constant reappraisal of function and content.

As individuals take more responsibility for self-management in all aspects of their lives, the skills for work, citizenship and a satisfying life would converge. New competencies would have to be developed, including high-level literacy; understanding of ethics and values; scientific method and the concept of proof; how to take charge of your own learning; how to manage your life, including your financial affairs; and how to manage risk.

"There will be no premium to be gained from the acquisition of information, for people will have easy access to quantities of information beyond our present ability to grasp. What will be important is the development of critical skills (in all senses) to use information and to evaluate it," the report states.

The RSA says compulsory education should be extended to the age of 18 and that from 14, students should have access to a mix of activities based in schools, colleges and workplaces aimed at developing key skills and competencies required for life and work. Schools will become learning centres for the whole community: "It makes no sense to leave them unused for most of the time."

The report envisages new IT-based teaching and learning methods, developed by education specialists, psychologists, technologists and business people. The education process will need to be built around technology and go "well beyond wiring up schools to the information superhighway or setting up the National Grid for Learning".

Teachers of the highest ability will be needed, paid at levels to match the standards required. There will need to be the right balance between professionals and supporting technicians, who will be needed in greater numbers. "The overall aim should be that 'those who can, teach', the report says.

The report calls for the establishment of a Learning Institute which would distribute research funds for projects to generate information on the skills and competencies people need for life.

It would also develop assessment methods at all levels and run a database of good practice. The institute would include teachers, academics, business people and representatives of Government. It would subsume those bodies currently responsible for determining the curriculum and assessment arrangements in schools.

The institute should publicise a set of competencies for adults, including the management of uncertainty, how to cope with competing demands, how to navigate the electronic world, and financial literacy. "In 20 years' time the need for 'lifelong learning' must be as commonly understood as the fact that there are no jobs for life."

The Government should develop private-sector partnerships to expand the National Grid for Learning, with packages for homes, schools, colleges and workplaces linked to the Internet and TV.

Redefining Work, pound;25, available from Lesley James, RSA. Tel: 0171 930 5115. Free summary.

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