The 21st century presents us with a lot of challenges; rapid changes in technology, lack of jobs, unstable economy, climate change, information overload, life lived at fast pace etc. These cause a lot of challenges in terms of responding to them and solving some of these problems.
The big question is; are we prepared to handle these challenges or are the school systems preparing students for the 21st century challenges?
This is where the British Council training on the core-skills comes in handy.
In many of its training programs one of which was held at Lweza Training and Conference Centre from 13th – 16th December, 2015 for Head teachers and their Deputies under its program of Connecting Classroom, the core-skills needed for 21st century were deeply explored.
The main aims of the workshop were;
To introduce, raise awareness and deepen school leaders’ understanding of why core-skills and competencies are important for their students.
Introduce some appropriate tools to monitor and assess how well core-skills are presently being taught and supported in schools.
Introduce some strategies to help school leaders improve the provision/integration of core-skills into the curriculum thereby improving the learning outcomes for the young people.
It was noted above all that core-skills are being integrated into the Education system worldwide in this 21st century and we cannot afford to be left behind therefore National Curriculum Development Centre is in the process of reforming the curriculum to integrate core-skills.
As a common rule for all workshops, it started with establishing ground rules and several opening remarks key amongst them was an address from the staff of the British Council-Uganda who gave an overview of British Council as a charity organization involved in education, scholarships, art and design etc.
She added that Connecting Classroom program is on its 3rd stage and the focus will be on empowerment of school leaders and teachers.
The first session then kicked off by exploring global and national trends in education of which Sub-Saharan Africa was found to be lagging behind most continents and in Uganda most rural schools were found to be lagging behind urban schools. Access to education was found to have greatly improved in Uganda though there are quality issues.
The strength of a teacher was one area explored; there is need for well-grounded teachers if the integration of core-skills is to work. Most agreed that a good teacher is knowledgeable, a learner, good at questioning, a change agent, have an open mind, provides safe space for learning etc.
Then deep learning vis-à-vis surface learning was one area explored with emphasis that though surface learning helps us start off, we must then go towards deep learning. Here questioning technique is one of the greatest tool e.g. questions such as; What makes us explore surface learning and How many learners search deep and explore unlimited possibilities which does not depend on memorizing only. Other methods such as project based learning, group work, experimentation leads to deep learning as well.
In fact the term” learning and teaching” not “teaching and learning” was preferred to emphasize the learner centered approach as opposed to teacher centered approach.
The six major core skills as expounded by British Council documents are:
Critical thinking and problem solving skills.
Promoting self-directed thinking that produces new and innovative ideas and solves problems; reflecting critically on learning experiences and processes and making effective decisions.
Communication and collaboration.
Fostering effective communication (orally and in writing); actively listening to and engaging with others in diverse and multilingual environments, and understanding verbal and non-verbal communication; developing the ability to work in diverse international teams, including learning from and contributing to the learning of others, assuming shared responsibility, co-operating, leading, delegating and compromising to producing new and innovative ideas and solutions.
Creativity and Imagination.
Promoting economic and social entrepreneurialism; imagining and pursuing novel ideas; judging value; developing innovation and curiosity.
Developing active, globally aware citizens who have the skills, knowledge and motivation to address issues of human and environmental sustainability and work towards a fairer world in a spirit of mutual respect and open dialogue; developing an understanding of what it means to be a citizen of their own country and their own country’s values.
Developing the skills to discover, acquire and communicate knowledge and information in a globalized economy; using technology to reinforce, extend and deepen learning through international collaboration.
Student leadership and personal development.
Recognizing the importance of honesty and empathy; recognizing others’ needs and safety; fostering perseverance, resilience and self-confidence; exploring leadership, self-regulation and responsibility, personal health and wellbeing; career and life skills; learning to learn and lifelong learning.
There were different sessions to explore each core-skill deeply and how they can be embedded in the teaching learning situation or better learning teaching.
For this to take root intentional integration should take place and this is possible if able leadership is provided. The school leadership was asked to go and provide an inspiring and compelling vision for the 21st century requiring a new skill set; integrate it into mission statements and the core values such that the whole body of the school is permeated by the new thinking and readiness to integrate core-skills and move forward.
They are therefore to communicate these new ideas in their meetings and other avenues of communication to get buy-ins before implementation; also to form teams ready to implement but being careful to choose the combination of the team well, the ones that brings different expertise to make the team whole. Also to be sensitive to team development stages and handle each stage tactfully because each stage presents its own challenge. The team development stages are; forming, storming, norming, performing and mourning.
School Heads were also taken through both their management and leadership roles. management roles such as planning, budgeting, drawing strategies etc., i.e. delivering results but also to play the leadership role of inspiring, guiding, giving a vision, encouraging, motivating etc. They were advised to use a clever combination of the two to get results and desired outcome.
Also employing different leadership styles according to circumstance was articulated such as democratic style when you want to build consensus, coercive in crisis situation, affiliative in difficult moments for staff, pace-setting when you want to set rhythm for work etc.
A recap of how these can be embedded in school life was done toward the end. Methods such as questioning technique, child centered and participatory approaches and reflective journaling were amongst the many which were reviewed.
School Heads agreed to go and integrate these into the practice of their school both academic and co-curricular, and also British council agreed to train three teachers from each of the selected schools to provide a nucleus for start of implementation of the change.
These are comments from some of Head Teachers and Deputies interviewed;
“The workshop brought out issues to do with our inadequacies in preparation for teaching and delivery itself which has been bringing about surface learning only therefore deep learning not being explored. This was really key point for me and I will be working to see that deep learning aspect has been handled in our school.
“It was very beneficial for me; my view of administering the school has changed. I will handle the teachers, workers, parents and students with respect and being more ready to listen and learn from them as opposed to being more commanding and instructing because you do not add anything to yourself. I will also start looking at the child as a whole person not only academics, if he/she has some academic challenges they can excel in sports, music, leadership etc. and develop themselves. I will also be committed to training self-reliant, independent students who can contribute to the societal development by integrating the core-skills in the life of our school. My approach will be that of a listener and be down to earth. The training has made me a better listener and I am a changed person
The training dispelled fears, gave us a clear picture of what to do, clear direction of where to go and the right path to follow to achieve great success in education.
Obua Gasper, St. Kizito SS Bugolobi.