By Kelly Pfeiffer 

To begin, we need to consider, ‘What has changed in the world that we might need to think differently about so we can best prepare our students for their future?’

The first thing that pops into my head is technology and the impact this is having on the workforce. “Technology has seen the types of tasks we do at work change, freeing up workers to spend more time interacting with people. For this reason, while technical or job specific skills are still important, skills like communication are increasingly in demand,” Foundation for Young Australian’s (fya) Head of Research, Alex Snow explained (McPherson, S. 2019. fya).

Are we doing a disservice to our students by continuing to deliver a traditional style of education based off the industrial model, even though this model is outdated in the workforce? Don’t get me wrong – there is still an essential need for explicit teaching. Teachers still need to ensure students have the skills and knowledge to build on to engage in future focussed educational approaches.

“Overall, whether we like it not, the work(force) is going to fundamentally change. Young people today are going to be the ones who will face the brunt of these changes as they enter the workforce. With change comes exciting opportunities, as well as new challenges. What’s important is that we all, young or otherwise, recognise the change to come and understand how we all can adapt to succeed in a new work reality” (Walsh-Howe, T. 2019. fya).

Schools across Australia are recognising the need for change and are courageously taking steps to address the way curriculum is delivered. For some schools it has meant a rigorous consultation period with all stakeholders, parents, students and teachers so everyone can understand the need to start implementing future focussed educational approaches. In other schools it may be occurring by a lone teacher who can see that something needs to shift for their students to branch out and become the stars of their own future.

You may be wondering what future focussed educational approaches involve?

Future focussed educational approaches must empower our students and teachers to be resourceful, resilient and creative in solving problems and transforming situations. Transformation and innovation in schools requires pedagogy that provides creative, collaborative, critically reflective and communication-rich learning opportunities for students (Jefferson, M. & Anderson, M. 2017. Transforming Schools). But we are certainly not disregarding the need for our students to have subject-specific skills which then allows them to express their ideas and to make them a reality.

One of the best frameworks for creating these learning opportunities for our students is through Project Based Learning (PBL). PBL offers a unique opportunity for teachers and students to join together in the inquiry process. Using protocols, reflective exercises, divergent thinking strategies, and quality design processes, teachers can coach students in mastering the tools and strengths required of lifelong learners in a global world.

PBL is a philosophy of teaching and learning rather than another educational strategy. It is a blueprint for how education could be organised, and this field has been enriched by many sources over the last 18 years as minds around the world have tried to envision how inquiry-based learning can succeed in the unfolding global age (Markham, T. 2019 PBL Global). To adapt to the rapid changes and complexity of new problems and situations in a connected world requires the ability to transfer knowledge. My experience has been that well-structured, high quality PBL allows for the development of transferable skills that prepares our students to go beyond and build new knowledge.

Are these future focussed educational approaches successful?

These future focussed approaches are not full proof (no educational framework is) however the benefits for all stakeholders cannot be denied. Reported benefits:

  • Inviting an authentic audience (industry mentors) into the classroom and connecting it to curriculum brings the real world into the classroom and with it builds greater purpose to student learning.
  • Authentic audience enjoy the opportunity to share their stories, passion and the opportunity to provide feedback to next generation on their ideas and concepts.
  • By connecting learning to an authentic audience, it brings greater student accountability to engage in the learning. During these future focussed educational approaches teachers have experienced high levels of student motivation and engagement. Improved student behaviour has been noticed both inside and outside the classroom and across subject areas.
  • Future focussed educational approaches require students to work in small groups. Students develop empathy skills as they grapple with the complexities of working in a team.
  • Increased teacher collegiality for those invested in the project.

These future focussed approaches more accurately reflect today’s workforce. Innovative companies recruit the best people for the job and require them to work as a team. Yet the question remains, why do we require our senior students at the end of their secondary schooling to sit alone and work in isolation to regurgitate curriculum content while sitting in rows?

Future focussed educational approaches being delivered in schools are often mistaken as strategies for the more academic child. This is a major misconception! It is often the students who struggle with traditional education delivery that thrive when experiencing future focussed educational approaches. Our more academic students often dislike these approaches as they are required to grapple with the content, as the solution to the problem cannot be found immediately.

Alternatively, students who struggle with traditional educational approaches who cannot come up with the answers straight away are used to exploring other options and alternatives to answer the questions. They have learnt to become resourceful, having often experienced failure.

The intention of future focussed educational approaches is to develop deeper learning experiences for all students. This can occur via a PBL framework that empowers our students and teachers to be resourceful, resilient and creative in solving problems and transforming situations.

Many schools are already changing the way they do school to prepare our young people for the future. This film provides a snapshot of just some of the incredible work occurring in Australia.

Three case studies of schools successfully implementing future focussed learning. Featuring The Lakes College, Doonside Technology High School, St Matthew’s Primary

How are you creating opportunities for our students to become the stars of their own future?

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