Education for the 21st Century: Time for Open Schools to Raise their Game

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Daniel, John
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Commonwealth of Learning (COL)

I shall start by explaining the personal journey that stimulated that interest and led directly to my new book Mega-Schools, Technology and Teachers: Achieving Education for All, which was published in English and Chinese earlier this year.// As I wrote that book I came to the conclusion that those of you who work in open schools are far too modest about the role that open schools should play in 21st century education systems. Maybe you have toiled for so long in a part of the education system that has low status that you have failed to observe how things have changed. For large parts of the world the 21st century belongs to open schools, so my purpose today is to encourage you all to hold your heads higher and be more ambitious. That’s why I’ve titled this address: Education for the 21st Century: Time for Open Schools to Raise their Game.// I shall suggest several ways in which you should be more ambitious. First, open and distance learning, or ODL, is booming. You shouldn’t let university people have a monopoly on research into this vital phenomenon of our times. I suspect there are ten papers – maybe even a hundred – published on ODL in higher education for each one on open schooling. Yet at the moment research on open schooling is more important – and more interesting – than adding extra embroidery onto the already considerable literature of higher distance learning.// Second, you should take on a more central role in curriculum development for your national school systems. Open schools are national leaders in translating curricula into learning materials, which can be useful in the regular schools as well as for the open school pupils. You should arrange to be involved on a permanent basis in the processes by which your national curricula evolve. This would at least avoid the situations that some of you have experienced where a major curriculum change was announced and your open schools were left high and dry with quantities of obsolete materials that had to be scrapped.// But your central role in contemporary education goes wider than curriculum. In nearly all countries, even very small ones, the education system is terribly compartmentalised. Different ministries and departments often do not coordinate their efforts and institutions at different levels of education live in their own solitudes. To be effective we need to take inspiration from biology and think of education in terms of an ecosystem. Open schools should a major node in such a system.

Education for All,Open and Distance Learning (ODL)