Future of K-20 Education – NEASC

“Our children are not necessarily poorly educated— they have been miseducated— we have educated them for an economy that may or may not exist anymore.” -Zhao
In attending the NEASC annual conference for the first time, I expected to hear about learning as it relates to accreditation.
It was refreshing to find a rich discussion about the future of learning across the K-20 pipeline as presented by Yong Zhao. Zhao was a very engaging speaker in the plenary session on Thursday, making some powerful points about, at its crux, the organization of our educational system for a different sort of economy— one which creates good employees— but for jobs of the past, not jobs of the future. Also some humorous points about the main “readiness” he is concerned with is “out-of-basement readiness” of college grads, ie, the financial, emotional, and social independence of college graduates to embark in the workforce.
In attending the student panel organized with or by Zhao on Friday as well, first— it’s always refreshing to hear learners’ perspectives on the teaching and learning process. We did that at our own Summer Tech Institute (thanks to one of our designers who organized it) and it was really eye-opening to faculty and really shifts the power of student voice in a pivotal way. So first, it is great to give voice to the student experience by putting students on the stage to discuss their learning experience.
In the course of the student panel, Zhao challenged the students to describe opportunities where they have engaged in authentic problem-solving, which connects to their community and demonstrates their talents to the world. The students conceded that for the most part, most of school is about contrived problems that meet the needs of the teacher (employer) but not the greater society.
I was glad too, that Zhao made mention of the difference between learning and credentialing. A challenge for disrupting the education system is that schools, by and large, exist as credentialing organizations, which as a greater mission seek to educate, but do so by identifying and breaking down milestones along the way which generally reduce learning to credentials. There are also real barriers to creating authentic problems for students— not insurmountable ones— but real logistical challenges, depending on the subject area. Really, the only path towards making this vision realistic is new ways of working across education — collaborations, partnerships, interdisciplinary etc. that will also fundamentally disrupt how we teach and administrate schools. Lastly is always for me the question about whether society (all stakeholders, including students themselves) really is ready for everyone to have this sort of empowering education.
For me, this feels like a topic that is often at the fringes of educational discourse, and it was great to see it front and center at NEASC.
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