A great number of the arguments for 21st century learning are economically driven. Once upon a time it was expected that 50% of students would fail and 50% would pass any examination (marking was according to the Bell Curve) and this was considered OK because our industrial society demanded unskilled labour. Until quite recently, it was considered ok for some students to survive through school, disengaged, until they were of age to leave school and get out to work on a farm or the meatworks. However, there are now few jobs available requiring little skill and in the future there will be even less, so the demands on education are much greater. As Cathy Wylie said, "“What we need from our public education system now, and for the even more challenging times ahead, is therefore even more demanding than it was in 1988 [prior to tommorrow's schools]” (p. 3).
While economic arguments make lots of sense and I have no doubt of their validity, I do have difficulty with the idea of education simply being a tool to meet the country's or the world's economic and financial needs. While education would be foolish to eschew the economic and financial needs of the times and of the future, it should not be constrained by them. Being disengaged from school and failing 50% of students may have helped ensure a much needed unskilled workforce, but it was not necessarily best for children.
This is why, at Amesbury School, we talk about providing a humanising education more than we talk about 21st century learning. We believe that schools should be places where, first and foremost, students experience what it means to be fully human. We have developed a framework for thinking about humanising education which has been influenced by humanising care in nursing. In this framework, aspects of being human include insiderness – students being insiders in their own learning, not objects of our teaching and learning; uniqueness - recognition that every student is unique and we honour this uniqueness by providing personalised programmes and organising learning to meet their individual needs; agency - students are enabled to make meaningful plans and carry them out. They have choice, voice and self-direction; a sense of togetherness and belonging but at the same time recognition that each child is also on his or her own personal journey.
Our goal is to ensure that modern learning practices at Amesbury School align with this framework of humanising education. It is something we are working on.
Modern does not necessarily mean new. We have been involved in an ongoing process of deconstructing or “unbundling” the established structures, routines and practices that have characterised traditional schooling to date and we are trying to reassemble them in newer, more efficient and smarter ways that ensure our students experience what it means to be fully human while also being well prepared for their economic and social futures.