Student disengagement continues to be amongst the top issues for the education community, regardless of whether it’s at the school, district or country level. The acceleration in the number of young people not in education, employment or training, commonly referred to as NEETs (Not in Education Employment or Training) is worrying governments around the world. In the Arab world there may be as many as 20 million young people in this category in the coming years. Large parts of big cities around the world have unemployment figures of over 80% in the younger age groups and in one top-performing PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) country students are dropping out of class at alarming rates.
“The global youth unemployment rate remains—stuck at crisis peak levels, and is not expected to come down until at least 2016”
~Global Employment Trends for Youth 2012 report.
The curriculum doesn’t seem to inspire students as much as it did; it’s failed to keep pace with the demands of the 21st century and the expectations of students. When students see siblings and friends unable to get work despite achieving at school, engagement in the education process slows, and too often stops. The OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation) claims that in the UK, 20% of 16-year-old students drop out, and in Egypt only 50% of children complete 6 full years’ education, and with the recent strife there, it most likely won’t get better.
“It is increasingly difficult to reach those children who remain excluded from education.”
~Kevin Watkins, Director of the Education for All Global Monitoring Report.
It isn’t just about the curriculum or life after school; it goes deeper than that. Sir Ken Robinson spoke, in his famous RSA (Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce) talk, about the difference between student lifestyle out of the classroom and the regime inside the classroom and how this gap leads to disruptive behavior. So why has the gap become so big?
One answer is the rapid adoption of communication technologies, which is virtually universal and is particularly pervasive amongst young people. Technology allows them to be dynamic, last minute and adaptive. It feeds their needs as individuals, giving a personalized experience, and at the same time enables collaboration, real time and asynchronously with different social groups. Individuals can have different personas with different groups. Compare this to school, where they sit in rows, and at 11 AM learn geometry.
The issues we face today are not new but surely we have had long enough to tackle them. Education systems are inert; this inbuilt inertia to change was a virtue in the past and represented wisdom, stability and comfort. It also led to respect for educators, which is still relevant and important today. Education did change over time, serving agricultural and industrial societies, but this change has been slow and gradual. The information society has accelerated the need for the education system to change, but there is an unwillingness to change in many systems; the gap between educators and their learners, which has always been there, has now reached breaking point. And it’s not just about the gap between students and teachers. It’s also the need for the curriculum to change to meet the demands of skills needed today and 20 years from today.
Jim Wynn is Chief Education Officer at Promethean and is responsible for the company’s education strategy. Jim has been head teacher of two secondary schools in the UK, in which he pioneered the use of ICT.