Students are being prepared for jobs that no longer exist. Here’s how that could change is an article by Sarah Gonser, the first in a series entitled Map to the Middle Class, about how schools can prepare students for the good middle-class jobs of the future. The article gives the example of Lowell High School where educators are scrambling to prepare kids for the future, while acknowledging its fundamental unknowability. “We’re preparing kids for these jobs of tomorrow, but we really don’t even know what they are,” said Amy McLeod, the school’s director of curriculum, instruction and assessment. “It’s almost like we’re doing this with blinders on…. We’re doing all we can to give them the finite skills, the computer languages, the programming, but technology is expanding so rapidly, we almost can’t keep up.”
On the topic of preparing students for the jobs of the future, Mr. Hesham Metwalli, a Public Policy and Education Reform advisor in MENA and Australia, has graciously accepted my invitation to share his views on what this means and looks like for the Middle East Region. Mr. Metwalli is a Senior Fellow at the Australian Graduate School of Leadership. He is a founding member of the Dubai School Inspections Bureau where he worked as Senior Inspector and led community partnership projects. He then moved to Abu Dhabi as the Director of Inspections and Education Quality with Tribal Group. He inspected more than 350 schools in the UAE and MENA.
It is common to hear “schooling today is preparing learners for jobs that don’t yet exist”. There are issues with that statement. The most obvious one is the assumption that the whole purpose of schooling is to prepare “employees” rather than transforming students’ lives through the exploration of their maximum potential and the best development of their abilities. The other issue is the assumption that learning within the school system is seen as the main source of knowledge. But most importantly is the fact that preparation is only possible when there is a clear view as to what those skills that will be required in the future will be and what will they be used for.
I believe the most important component in a school is its curriculum. It carries the DNA of the whole system by which many aspects are defined from teacher development and recruitment all the way to assessments and exams. Interestingly, the definition of a curriculum is still vague in the Middle East.
When I moved to Australia from Egypt, my biggest surprise was the absence of textbooks “written” by the ministry or government bodies that oversee the education system. This was a life changing experience. It made me work a lot harder as a teacher to design a “learning program” for my students. That was my first experience in designing a curriculum. I still meet many teachers and school leaders in the region today who strongly believe a textbook is the curriculum and refuse to accept anything else which constitutes a significant challenge to any serious reform in education systems across the region. On the positive side, many Arab teachers especially in the UAE are now using thematic units and designing their own programs. These are very promising early indications of transformation.
Yet the most common question about curricula is: which one is best? This is a relative matter related to many factors. From a parent’s perspective, usually the most important one is a student’s trajectory to university. Most parents try to ascertain best value for money in paving the way for a good future for their children ultimately leading to access to good universities.
From a professional perspective, it is a lot more complex. International research about what makes a “good curriculum” now dominates the discussion. It is nearly universally agreed that a skills-based curriculum is what governments aspire to. This means skills for life and future. Skills that will benefit the individual and the community – a typical outcome of the dominating theme of the knowledge economy era – with a focus on fulfilling the needs of tomorrow’s employment market. This in many cases is strongly influenced by governments. A clear example is the move by the Australian Government to hike fees for humanities’ degrees in an attempt to drive more students towards science-focused specializations aiming at bridging the gap in the employment market by ensuring a future supply of workforce.
I believe trends in international curricula are being strongly influenced by political and economic conditions hence future trends in curricula will be significantly impacted by the transition from a knowledge economy to a wisdom economy and more children will move away from the traditional school system towards designing their own life-learning programs depending on their interests and future aspirations.
In the Middle East, we must be careful. We are taking on a big risk by maintaining the culture of “mandated” textbooks at our schools – a legacy trend from the 1950s which continues to hold back progress in education. More concerning is the fact that we do not have a specific curriculum in the region that reflects its identity and values from a modern perspective, that would prepare children for the future. We rely heavily on “imported curricula” which come with their own challenges. I always say when asked about the best education system in the region, it is the one that will replace its textbooks with a real “learning program” designed by well-trained teachers. This requires a lot of hard work and policy changes with a clear vision of the future for the region.
I see the solution in two words: “learning” and “prosperity”: Schools should help students in the development of the following learning skills and behaviours:
1- Learning using the best tools and technologies.
2- Learning in different and the best ways to learn.
3- Learning with and from others.
4- Learning how to use my learning to improve myself, my life and to help others around me.
5- Learning how to use my learning to enable my community to prosper.
Those are the principles that I use for teachers and school leadership learning and professional development. If teachers do not practice the principles themselves, it is very unlikely that they will be able to instill them in their students.
A textbook dominated classroom takes students in another direction. It limits their abilities and boxes their knowledge into a very limited content. It is not uncommon to see textbooks that are outdated because they were written decades ago and have not been regularly updated or with many errors. To be clear, I am not saying that textbooks are bad. Some textbooks are good and useful but they need to be used merely as one of the many resources for learning. Overreliance on textbooks will not take us very far and they will significantly disadvantage our children. It is exactly like eating one type of food daily expecting it to provide for the complete nourishment needs of a human body.
Another important piece in the solution for a modern region-relevant curriculum is the concept of “prosperity”. It is the foundation I use to help teachers and school leaders design a curriculum that connects students to their communities and prepares them to be positive engaged citizens. It is a curriculum I am currently working on mostly based on the foundations of the Prosperity Index: https://www.prosperity.com/about/methodology
To read more about this, please visit the link below, written by my dear friend and highly respected colleague Ralph Tabberer:
More on Mr. Hesham Metwalli: He studied Business, International Relations and the Political Economy at the London School of Economics and completed executive level courses in Public Policy Economics at the University of Oxford. He is a certified Lead Auditor from PwC, Efficacy Reviewer and Teacher Trainer from Pearson Education and Leadership Facilitator from the National College for Leadership in the UK. He studied professional courses on Diplomacy, International Investment and Wealth Management.
Mr. Metwalli’s life-long and passion project is the development of an international curriculum specific to the needs of MENA aimed at driving prosperity and the quality of life forward regionally.