Last year, we asked students from all over the world to take part in our global youth survey as part of our research report, Every Child To Flourish. These conversations and research endeavours rarely include children so young people don’t have many options to make sure their voices are heard. Traditionally, adults are the ones who decide how education should be innovated to suit the world’s current needs and the student's voice is totally overlooked.
In today’s world, this is simply unacceptable. Through social media, we can now see and hear voices that were previously silenced, so it's about time we started listening to young people’s concerns and incorporating their voices in our education policies so that we can create an education system that works for everybody, including every child.
So with no further ado, here are today’s students top five concerns (and the educators who are already doing something about it).
1. Career Readiness
In at number one, with 83% of youth voting for it, is career readiness. Students overwhelmingly feel unprepared for the world of work and want their education to involve more focus on learning the skills needed to help them in their future careers. According to our findings, young people feel unprepared for the ‘real world’ and are concerned about their lack of preparedness in facing what comes after school.
One way of helping students to feel prepared is to give them the work experience and internships they need in order to see what it is like to work in different environments. Cities of Learning makes this possible by connecting schools to their localities and the opportunities available in their immediate environment. The initiative helps to capture and evidence the skills acquired via informal learning paths, through the use of digital badges, which create a universal language exemplifying the real-world skills young people need in order to gain the job they desire, skills which are often unrecognised or not captured in the traditional assessment.
Similarly, CommunityShare is a US-based project that connects schools with the expertise in their local area, transforming cities into ‘human libraries’, and helping young people to learn more about the fields they’re interested in working in once they leave school. CommunityShare uses an online platform to match professionals and local expertise with the goals and needs of students and teachers. The project has already connected seven thousand students with community partners who take on the role as mentors, project collaborators, guest speakers and internships hosts.
2. Learning Environment Design
Surprisingly, the second most important educational concern for students is improving their learning environments, with 61% of students voting for this option. This is something which is frequently neglected when talking about the future of education, however, design and environments can completely transform our ability to feel calm, feel inspired and can enhance our learning. Learning environments can both be about improving the design of schools, and also recognizing that learning happens everywhere, not just within the school walls, and incorporating these environments into the school day.
As mentioned above, cities can provide a magnitude of opportunities for today’s young people to help them feel ready for the world of work, but they are not the only environment outside of school that can enhance learning. Nature can be a wonderful teacher, particularly for preschoolers and young children. That’s why we’re seeing a global phenomenon in nature-based learning.
In Seattle, Tiny Trees Preschool uses the city’s green spaces to provide children with a nature-rich childhood, something that is particularly powerful for the marginalized children that the preschool serves. Across the world in New Zealand, Talking Tree Hill have made nature-based learning accessible by taking children one day each week outside to learn and broaden their range of skills, including their socio-emotional skills, eco-literacy and creativity. Through providing nature-based learning just one day a week, Talking Tree Hill hopes to make nature-based learning a viable reality for every school and they even have plans to make it part of government policy, bringing their approach to every New Zealander.
Design of learning environments can also help to inspire learning and get young people in the mood to engage with their lessons. HEI Schools brings the Finnish approach to learning to the world, even down to the design of their buildings. They take inspiration from Nordic, minimalist design, to create holistic learning environments that are calm and that are designed specifically to boost learning and inspire creativity.
For those within existing schools and want to learn how to make their schools more learning-friendly, Danish-born Learning Space Design Lab is a great option to explore. Run by leading education-consultants, Autens, Learning Space Design Lab uses workshops to help educators to create joyful, meaningful and personalized places for learning that work in today’s world. All staff from the school come together to co-create a new learning environment on the basis of a shared vision for learning, resulting in an environment that works for everyone at the school and helps to provide students with an environment where they can truly thrive.
3. Learning Life Skills
Slightly different from career skills, life skills embody those all-important characteristics that help us to move through life more easily, such as empathy, collaboration, and communication, and 58% of students wanted more focus on this in schools. These skills don’t only help us be better at our jobs, but they help us to build meaningful connections with others and to be more respectful too. These skills can’t be brushed aside as simply ‘soft skills’, as they are often called, as we are seeing monumental levels of mental health issues in today’s young people, and through these skills we can help children to understand both themselves and others better, contributing to better mental health.
Along with nature helping children to build the bedrock of their socio-emotional skills, reading can also play a huge part in helping children to understand their own complex emotions and those of others. Ginnie and Pinney is an engaging set of books which are accompanied by videos and teaching resources to help open up the world of emotions for young children. For older children, Global Oneness Project provides beautifully made documentaries, photo-essays, and articles that explore the world’s most pressing issues, including migration, climate change, and poverty. Through GOP’s media, children practice empathy skills, listening skills, critical thinking, and inquiry; all skills that young people will need to take forward in every area of their lives.
Socio-emotional learning isn’t just for those in more privileged scenarios however, BRAC brings holistic education to children in some of the direst circumstances, making sure that no child falls behind due to their unfortunate circumstances. BRAC’s Humanitarian Play Labs are currently reaching children in refugee camps in Bangladesh, where their play-based learning programme integrates playful learning with child protection, psychosocial support, as well as linking children to critical services and incorporating relevant cultural traditions. Through their innovative work, BRAC ensures that the whole child is catered for and that just because these children have unfortunately been displaced, it doesn’t mean that they have to fall behind or receive a ‘lesser’ education.
4. Personalizing Education To Each Student’s Needs
Personalization has become a bit of a buzzword in education, and for good reason too. Students are now able to teach themselves about their own interests thanks to unlimited resources on the internet, so how can education systems capture children’s imaginations in the more formal learning environment of the school? It all comes down to personalization, which 56% of students voted for in our survey.
Personalization is out of the question for many educators, with large class sizes and squeezed resources. To make personalization more manageable, Big Picture Learning splits classes into ‘advisories’ of fifteen pupils who have one teacher (their ‘advisor’) follow their educational journey for four years. The advisor meets regularly with their advisory and helps them to find ways to incorporate their passions into their education. This includes arranging internships to gain real-world experience and helping students to realize their talents and interests so they can pursue life after school that suits them as an individual.
At MUSE School, personalization also plays a huge part of their educational practice through the use of their Blueprints. Blueprints are a new assessment method that aims to fully capture a child’s unique attributes and talents, including character skills which may otherwise not be recognized through traditional assessment methods. The Blueprints aren’t just used to assess a child at the end of each learning period but used as a continual resource to help guide a child’s educational journey. The Blueprints are used for goal-setting, self-reflection, passion-based learning, self-efficacy, communication, and sustainability; and allow for students to create a clear action plan to pursue their own passions whilst also developing their socio-emotional skills.
5. Learning to Live a Sustainable Lifestyle
Hot on the heels of personalization, learning how to live sustainably was voted for by 53% of students, and with climate change becoming a larger part of our global narrative, we can only expect this number to grow. The youngest generations in our current societies, and ones that aren’t even alive yet, are the ones who are going to have to deal with the fall out of climate change if nothing is done quickly by today’s politicians, so it makes sense that this is one of their top concerns, and really, we should all be learning how to live sustainably.
Unfortunately, sustainability hasn’t been placed as an important factor in mainstream education in the past, so today’s educators may not know how to educate on this important issue. That’s why innovations like Green Educator Course can provide a useful lifeline to educators who want to brush up on their skills and pass on their knowledge to their students to help them live sustainably. Hailing from Bali, Green Educator Course gathers teachers from around the world to learn with and from their own Green School teachers, as well as local and international experts. Attendees leave with a new toolbox of innovative teaching strategies and resources that they can go on to implement in their own teaching.
There are of course some schools that have already put sustainability at the center of their design, and which can help to inspire others to do something similar. MUSE School isn’t only known for their personalized assessment model, they’ve also structured their whole school system to exemplify how to live sustainably, from the materials used in the classrooms, to having plant-based school meals, to powering their school almost entirely off their own solar panels.
For other schools, this huge leap to making every aspect of the school sustainable isn’t presently a possibility, which is why it's important to learn about sustainability through educational projects instead. Global Oneness Project, as mentioned above, provides resources that tackle the issues surrounding sustainability, helping children to learn more about it and why it's important for us to do what we can to live more sustainably.
School projects such as Yes To Taste, No To Waste engage students in learning how to take small steps to live more sustainably, by introducing them to the everyday things they can do such as how to dispose of food waste in the appropriate manner and how to limit their food waste, as well as activating them to educate their communities on this issue. Go Global! is another example of how children can learn to live sustainably by learning from each other. Go Global! is a virtual school exchange program which gives learners the possibility to share their experiences and thoughts across national borders, to educate and discover from each other how to live a more sustainable lifestyle. Both of these projects were picked for our Spotlight on Sustainability, where you can find other projects from around the world tackling this important issue!
Across the world, there are already inspiring individuals, schools and organizations that are focused on making an educational experience or system that works for today’s students. If we listen to what students want, their concerns and their aspirations, and learn from the people who are already doing something about it, we can help today’s young people to feel inspired, supported and prepared for the world once they’ve completed their school journey, and to achieve our goal of making sure every child can flourish.
To learn about the Every Child to Flourish Report, click here.