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Why the UK education system needs a return to deep-learning

UK education policy is failing to prepare pupils for a new breed of workplace. How can teachers prepare their students for the future?

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Over the next 20 years, millions of jobs will become automated, with the rise of the robots predicted to wipe out numerous occupations. However, while many traditional jobs will be lost, it’s not all doom and gloom. New careers will also be created; with today’s pupils already living in a world where half of the jobs of tomorrow don’t yet exist.

The challenge for teachers, is that while the classroom of today is unrecognisable from 20 years ago, much still needs to be done. In the face of the fourth industrial revolution, UK education policy is failing to prepare pupils for a new breed of workplace.

Schools are failing to nurture deep and lasting understanding

According to a recent study by Oxford University, UK schools are among the worst in the world when it comes to nurturing deep and lasting understanding. At the same time, the Institute of Directors (IoD) claims that, rather than preparing students for tomorrow’s workplace, schools are in danger of turning into exam factories; with a focus on short-term knowledge acquisition.

“Worryingly, the skills that are easiest to teach and test method and recall are also the easiest to automate.” Lifelong Learning Report, IoD, 2016

This approach to learning is squeezing out creativity and the joy of learning. Even worse, it’s failing to teach children the very attributes they will need to succeed in our future economy. So, what does the classroom of tomorrow need to meet the real needs of students and employers?

A return to deep learning

The concept of deep learning is not new to teachers; attracting many to the profession in the first place. However, over the years, sustained political interference and policy changes have hindered deep learning in our schools; with a focus on helping pupils to pass exams at the expense of all else. However, to thrive in our emerging and complex economy, a refocus on deeper learning competencies is now a must.

According to New Pedagogies for Deep Learning (a global partnership of researchers, families, teachers, school leaders and policy-makers), students need six core skills to achieve deep learning. These are:

  • Collaboration. The ability to work interdependently and collaboratively with others, with strong interpersonal and team‐related skills. This includes the capacity to make important decisions together while learning from, and contributing to, the learning of others.
  • Creativity. Being able to weigh up opportunities in an entrepreneurial manner and ask the right questions to generate new ideas. Students also require leadership skills to pursue those ideas and make them happen.
  • Critical thinking. Being able to evaluate information and arguments, and identify patterns and connections to construct meaningful knowledge and apply it in the real world.
  • Citizenship. The ability to consider issues based on a deep understanding of diverse values and a worldview, as well as a sincere interest to solve complex real‐world problems.
  • Character. Traits such as grit, tenacity, perseverance, and resilience; as well as the ability to make learning an integral part of living.
  • Communication. Being able to communicate effectively through a variety of methods and tools (including digital) to a range of different audiences.

How to implement deep learning in the classroom

While there may be planning, infrastructure, training, and budgetary issues, the most significant factor to implementing a deep learning approach is whether or not your SMT has the vision to understand and adopt the modern classroom.

Helping schools to refocus on deep learning in the most cost-effective, and most impactful way includes a balance of:

Collaborative learning

Cultivated between and among students, teachers, families and the wider environment, collaborative learning is necessary to develop the 21st-century skills required by employers.

Find out how collaboration can transform teaching, student attainment, and whole-school performance; with some practical advice to help you facilitate group work in your classroom.

Modern learning environments

“A schools physical design can improve or worsen childrens’ academic performance by as much as 25 percent in early years.” University of Salford/Nightingale Associates

In the workplace, productivity has been directly linked to environmental design, with improvements in comfort and access to suitable spaces having a direct impact on employee performance and satisfaction. Why should the classroom be any different?

When space is well planned, well used, and well cared for, students are more engaged, activities can be more easily personalised, collaboration is facilitated, and feedback is more effective.

Find out more about how teachers are rethinking the modern learning environment to ensure effective group work in schools.

Leveraging new advancements in technology in education

Accelerating student-driven access to knowledge in and beyond the classroom, UK schools have seen an extraordinary transition from the single desktop computer to a proliferation of high-tech teaching aids plus handheld student devices.

Find out more about current attitudes towards technology in education, and how edtech can be used to support learning.

Pedagogical practices

“The world is changing fast, and education systems need to modernise and adapt to new ways of teaching and learning and embrace the new opportunities that exist.” Erasmusplus/EC 2

Modern pedagogical methods are driven by engagement, collaborative learning, personalisation, and formative and summative assessment. However, adopting these practices in the classroom isn’t always easy; particularly with policy dictating an overemphasis on testing.

Ironically, while technology caused the fourth industrial revolution, it also provides the answer to its educational challenges.

For example, according to the IoD, soft skills are those current school leavers lack most, despite such skills being at the top of most employers wish lists. In response, allowing students to learn in ways which are relevant to them – and which will serve them well throughout the rest of their lives – edtech is helping teachers to instil the soft-skills necessary to thrive in a world where robots are already replacing humans.

Protecting the teaching profession

Just as important, with the robotic teacher now science fact, a return to deeper learning also helps to insulate the teaching profession against automation. It is a mistake to think that education is immune from its impact, as robots could easily be trained to mark a particular task or set of questions. However, cultivating pupils, developing soft skills, and helping them to flourish as individuals are not things that can be achieved by an algorithm.

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