European schools need to prepare for the future

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

This article is part of our special report e-Skills.

Recent studies reveal that European schools are not adequately preparing themselves for the future. A pan-European project, iTEC aims to help plug the gap, writes Roger Blamire.

Roger Blamire is senior manager of policy and Practice with European Schoolnet

“Schools are surely in the futures business – after all, their role is to help children become their future selves – but do they think about their own future in a changing world enough? Evidence in the Survey of Schools: ICT in Education’, the largest survey of ICT in schools since 2006, suggests that many do not.

The survey found that fewer than half of secondary school students are in schools with a change management programme – typically, sessions to enable teachers to cope with changes in schools and the educational environment generally. While an encouraging 80% of students are in schools where the principal reports initiatives to encourage innovation, almost all school heads and teachers feel this may not be enough to take full advantage of the possibilities afforded by technology.

Such evidence seems to suggest that in some schools a ‘business as usual’ approach is being adopted, with little thought given to the future; in others, innovation is encouraged; and in a larger number, there may be a feeling that bigger changes are needed, but that making it happen is outside schools’ control. However, what principals and teachers – and students even more so – have in common is a highly positive attitude towards the benefits and importance of ICT, and this is consistent between countries.

It’s a truism to say that we live in an era of rapid change, much of it brought about by technology. Amidst this turbulence, schools are expected to be a point of constancy, helping young people chart their way through it, by both transmitting enduring cultural values and preparing them to be actors in an unpredictable future. Much will change in the coming decades, but one probability is that there will still be schools, even if the future of other institutions is less secure. And most will be more autonomous and free to determine their own future than in the past.

This gives school leaders the responsibility to think and plan ahead for the long-term: schools are not going to disappear, but the form of education that they offer – pedagogy, and use of ICT – needs to be relevant. Yet, in recent interviews with policymakers engaged in the scaling up of the iTEC project, the point was made that public debate on education in many countries tends to be backward-looking – making comparisons with the previous year’s examination results, harking back to a ‘golden era’ in the past, doing what has always been done – rather than forward-looking.

Enter iTEC, a four-year project in which European Schoolnet is working with education ministries, technology providers and research organisations to transform the way that technology is used in teaching and learning. In the words of one interviewee, iTEC “allows schools to seize the future”, challenging them to engage existentially on the big issues: forecasting, identifying trends and challenges, plotting where they are in terms of a maturity model, and designing scenarios and activities to bring about the future classroom. Crucially, iTEC makes the teacher the agent, not the object, of change, providing a framework for experimentation, allowing schools a degree of risk-taking within safe limits, and to exercise a degree of self-determination.

The tools developed in iTEC are designed to help schools create and manage change, and to bring about, not just the future classroom, but the future school."

EU Commission

EU Projects

  • Innovative Technologies for Engaging Classrooms (iTEC): web site

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