From the Principal

Planning an education for an uncertain future

A cartoon of a boy standing on top of a pile of books looking through a telescope.

Today more than ever, a time machine would be useful to assist in planning how our school should/could evolve to meet the needs of our current and future students more effectively.

We have a sector where many schools are still debating whether they should change to assist their students in meeting the challenges of the 21st century—in a century that is already heading into its second decade!

At St Columba, we are immersed in the various predictions of what tomorrow’s workforce will look like and what our students will need to succeed. However, we acknowledge that making changes to meet the evolving future can be quite confronting.

If you have not been in a school classroom for a decade or so, the changes already wrought can be alarming and astonishing—and this is only the beginning.

I recently attended a School Governance Symposium, organised by the Association of Independent Schools. The keynote speaker focused on predictions of where and how the world is evolving and how schools will need to rethink and re-envision education to remain relevant.

In summary, her message was:
Where in the world are we going?

  • Urban populations growing by 65 million every year
  • Urban consumer class growing by 150% per year
  • Emerging economies growing 75% faster than developed nations
  • More and more families are mobile (not just vacationing) and will experience international education
  • 1 trillion objects will be connected to the internet by 2025
  • Technology growth areas → mobile internet, automation of knowledge work, internet of things
  • Continuous lifelong learning will be the new normal
  • Edublocks coding will become more common
  • The gig economy will continue to grow
  • Skills and adaptability will replace formal knowledge learning
  • In 2014 there were more Facebook users than people in China
  • By 2030, 33 countries will have a severe teacher shortage
  • 25.8 million teachers need to be recruited to provide every child with an education
  • 22.6 million teachers are about to leave the industry and hiring will get more difficult as the market gets tighter

The New Educational Model may look like this:

  • Student as driver
  • Less face to face lectures
  • Non-traditional teachers
  • Project-based learning
  • Fewer support structures
  • Less physical plant
  • Higher technology use
  • For-profit growth
  • Networking of schools
  • Wildflower or micro-schools

Schools will have to be prepared to think differently, design their learning spaces differently and teach in a different manner just to remain viable, let alone be successful.

An example of the 21st century learning space.

If you think you are alone in being worried about how quickly and radically the world of work is changing, be assured that the people running the big companies are equally as concerned and confused as you:

The world of work is changing rapidly, and technological advances are permeating all aspects of the workplace. Universities are preparing students for jobs that currently do not exist, and for using technologies that have not yet been invented. Several industries are already witnessing acute skill gaps. At the same time, talented workers are becoming increasingly mobile, and their behaviours are changing fast.

Jobs for life no longer exist. Some 25% of workers have been with their current employer for less than a year, and it is estimated that today’s students will have 10 to 14 jobs before their 38th birthday. But the jobs are changing fast too: the Top 10 in-demand jobs in 2011 did not even exist in 2004. And ever-growing technology will significantly change the way people work. It is estimated that, by 2020, mobile will be the world’s primary connection tool. People will no longer need to look for jobs; the jobs will find them, through social media and online networks. And with an expected global shortage of skilled workers of 46 million by 2030, employers will need to focus on attracting the scarce talent available and retaining the best and brightest.

The Harvard Business Review identifies the following forces shaping the world your children will soon find themselves in:

  • New technologies replacing or augmenting human labour
  • An increase in skills and knowledge needed to complete work tasks
  • New jobs with the need for new skills constantly appearing
  • Manufacturing becoming increasingly robotic
  • The increase in a flexible and self-directed workforce
  • The rise of remote work, freelancing, contract work and the gig economy
  • Greater economic and political volatility impacting on the movement of goods, skills and services.
Each of these trucks is the size of a small two-story house. None has a driver or anyone else on board.

However, these are just informed guesses. The reality is that predicting the future is still more of an art than a science.

So, what is your school doing to addresses the potential tsunami of change facing your children?

Well, we are:

  1. Refusing to hide our professional heads in the sand and hope that these changes will go away.
  2. Looking to those who have best adapted to change and learning from them (and avoiding the mistakes and missteps made by others).
  3. Acknowledging that things cannot stay the same if we want to keep up with the demands your children will face in their careers. Schools will have to make some significant changes in what we do and how we do it.
  4. Offering our staff ongoing professional development to ensure that they can provide a sound fundamental education in the essentials (literacy and numeracy) while also developing the skills and attitudes needed for ongoing success (the 6Cs).
  5. Re-envisioning our learning spaces so that they offer an adjunct to modern learning, rather than limiting it.

And we are doing all of this while working to graduate happy, well developed, community-minded and positive future citizens.

We realise that now, more than ever, parents take a leap of faith when enrolling a child in school.

Will the school care about their aspirations?
Will the school care for them AND prepare them for a successful life?
Will the school be able to adapt to the new world or try to pretend nothing needs to change?

All we can offer in response is:

At St Columba, we are agile, aware and determined that our educational model will adapt to meet the world head-on. The future will not be a peaceful ride, but we can make it exciting!


Mr Terry Muldoon
Principal, St Columba Anglican School
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