Spoon-feeding students vs. whetting their appetite for learning

When millions of students were forced to learn on their own after classrooms were shuttered, an emphasis on curiosity, persistence and making connections proved essential. “As long as you are spoon-fed in the classroom, it doesn’t matter that much. But when you are on your own learning, those skills matter,” said OECD Director for Education and Skills Andreas Schleicher.

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

Pandemic shows importance of cultivating curious, engaged and persistent learners

In a recent webinar, Andreas Schleicher, director for education and skills for the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, discussed the repercussions to American schools from the pandemic. Schleicher drew on the new data in the OECD’s latest report on global education, “Education at a Glance 2020,” a temperature taking of key benchmarks.

The OCED is an an intergovernmental organization of industrialized countries that produces analysis and statistics on the economy and education, including the Programme for International Student Assessment or PISA.

While most schools around the world are reopening and getting back on track, Schleicher said the pandemic is leaving long shadows on the lives on students and economies. The education systems faring the best are those that invested in social, emotional and cognitive development and had a more holistic approach to curricula development, focusing on a student’s capacity for, interest in and enjoyment of learning, he said.

When millions of students were forced to learn on their own after classrooms were shuttered, curiosity, persistence and making connections proved essential. “As long as you are spoon-fed in the classroom, it doesn’t matter that much. But when you are on your own learning, those skills matter,” said Schleicher.

The industrial, bureaucratic approach often found in the United States is not future-ready, he said. School systems have to be nimble and responsive with a strong collaborative culture and a profession that owns its professional practice, he said. And these systems have to be trusted to make decisions for their students and communities.

The United States may have seen a rockier transition to online learning because its teachers had less first-hand experience with it. While 95% of teachers in Korea and China had learned online in their own professional development, only half of American teachers did.

Hybrid learning is the future, which means teachers must become coaches, mentors and designers of innovative learning environments. “The United States is lucky in that it has lots of money in education, but I don’t think it is using its resources very wisely,” said Schleicher. More money has to go into classroom learning and quality of instruction and teaching. While the United States invests more into school infrastructure, other countries direct more resources into instruction, he said.

There is less resiliency in higher education funding in the United States because a larger share of higher education costs are borne by the individual. In 2017, 65% of total U.S. expenditures in postsecondary education came from private sources, more than double the OECD average of 29%.

A growing push is underway to integrate workplace skills and education, an approach that pays huge dividends for individuals and economies, said Schleicher. The transition to career training has been smoother in other countries, in part because vo-tech historically was cast as a last resort for struggling students in America. In other nations, it has been a first choice for many young people.

While the United States has not lost ground on higher education enrollment, other countries are seeing their numbers rise faster. The United States is now in the middle of the pack in bachelor’s degrees where it once led the world, said Schleicher.

An area where other nations are surpassing America is early childhood enrollment. For example, Schleicher said the United Kingdom now enrolls almost every 3- to 5-year-old, a dramatic increase in the last decade. Poland had about 40% enrollment in 2005 and now is at 80%.

“It is an area where the United States is at the end of the spectrum, not because things got worse,” said Schleicher, “but because so many countries have seen so much evolution in this.” About 66% of 3- to 5-year-olds in 2018 were enrolled in school in the United States, compared to 88% on average across OECD countries

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