When searching for a definition of ‘education’ we find two results:
- The process of receiving systematic instruction
- An enlightening experience
While I would hope these two are not mutually exclusive, it is useful to pause and consider if the former leads to the latter in our current global system of schooling. During their 12 years (sometimes longer) at school, students are prepared and equipped with the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in a series of high-stakes examinations. The results of these exams define whether their schooling has been a success or not. However, I believe that learning is the ultimate purpose of education, not exams or tests.
Examinations should be designed to encourage, recognise and reward learning. They should not be regarded as an end in themselves. It is essential that programmes of study encourage students to develop their own strengths and interests, and cultivate an informed curiosity and a lasting passion for learning. These are traits that are important in developing successful students and future young leaders and therefore must be an important part of our education priorities.
Education is most effective when curriculum, learning and teaching, and assessment are closely aligned – this is the Cambridge philosophy. So what are the skills needed to prepare young people for success in a century that has seen changes in all spheres of life? While difficult to define, it appears that the skills most valued by employers belong to three distinct categories:
- Higher order thinking skills – This includes students’ creativity, critical thinking problem solving abilities.
- Interpersonal skills – How young people communicate, collaborate and live in society.
- Effective use of technology – Information and ICT literacy.
I am most interested in the first two. Do our education systems develop higher order thinking skills and strong interpersonal skills? In other words, are our young people learning to apply what they’ve learnt beyond the classroom? Can they solve problems creatively, think for themselves, do their own research, communicate it and work with others on a project they’ve designed together? Have they developed an international outlook so that they are ready to compete in our globalised world? These are fundamental attributes needed for life.
At Cambridge International Examinations, we design all our curriculum and assessments with five key learner attributes in mind. These attributes are our way of recognising that students need to develop attitudes and life skills throughout their education, as well as academic skills. We work with schools to help students become:
- Confident in working with information and ideas.
- Responsible for themselves, and respectful of others.
- Reflective as learners, constantly developing their ability to learn by reflecting on how they learn best.
- Innovative and equipped for new and future challenges.
- Engaged, intellectually and socially, feeling ready to make a difference in the world.
By developing these attitudes and life skills – in combination with the more systematic development of subject knowledge – we can help make sure that students’ experience of education is enlightening and develops a passion for learning that lasts a lifetime. So that when a student reaches the end of their school years, they are equipped to take on whatever challenges lie ahead and thrive in our fast changing world.