How should education be structured to meet the needs of students in this 21st century world? How do we now define “School”, “Teacher” “Learner” and "Curriculum"?
Schools in the 21st century will be laced with a project-based curriculum for life aimed at engaging students in addressing real-world problems, issues important to humanity, and questions that matter.
This is a dramatic departure from the factory-model education of the past. It is abandonment, finally, of textbook-driven, teacher-centered, paper and pencil schooling. It means a new way of understanding the concept of “knowledge”, a new definition of the “educated person”. A new way of designing and delivering the curriculum is required.
We offer the following new definitions for “School”, “Teacher” and “Learner” appropriate for the 21st century:
Schools will go from ‘buildings’ to 'nerve centers', with walls that are porous and transparent, connecting teachers, students and the community to the wealth of knowledge that exists in the world.”
Teacher - From primary role as a dispenser of information to orchestrator of learning and helping students turn information into knowledge, and knowledge into wisdom.
The 21st century will require knowledge generation, not just information delivery, and schools will need to create a “culture of inquiry”.
Learner - In the past a learner was a young person who went to school, spent a specified amount of time in certain courses, received passing grades and graduated. Today we must see learners in a new context:
First – we must maintain student interest by helping them see how what they are learning prepares them for life in the real world.
Second – we must instill curiosity, which is fundamental to lifelong learning.
Third – we must be flexible in how we teach.
Fourth – we must excite learners to become even more resourceful so that they will continue to learn outside the formal school day.”
So what will schools look like, exactly? What will the curriculum look like? How will this 21st century curriculum be organized, and how will it impact the way we design and build schools, how we assess students, how we purchase resources, how we acquire and utilize the new technologies, and what does all this mean for us in an era of standardized testing and accountability?
Imagine a school in which the students – all of them – are so excited about school that they can hardly wait to get there. Imagine having little or no “discipline problems” because the students are so engaged in their studies that those problems disappear. Imagine having parents calling, sending notes, or coming up to the school to tell you about the dramatic changes they are witnessing in their children: newly found enthusiasm and excitement for school, a desire to work on projects, research and write after school and on weekends. Imagine your students making nearly exponential growth in their basic skills of reading, writing, speaking, listening, researching, scientific explorations, math, multimedia skills and more!
It is possible. It has happened, and is happening, in schools across the country. I have seen this first-hand with my classes, and I have seen it at other schools with whom I have worked. And there is growing evidence of schools everywhere having the same results when they implement a 21st century curriculum.