When the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development entered into force four years ago, no one knew about COVID-19 and how it would transform the world. However, even at that time, we understood that the global society should make a shift to fairer world order and that education would be one of the key pillars to building the future. Now, when the pandemic has landed in a humanitarian crisis with millions of lives ruined and distress spreading, we need Building Back Better in education as never before.
The pandemic has revealed more than just the inability of the global education system to quickly adapt to sudden changes while retaining the quality of the learning process. It has shown inequality in education, consequences of the digital gap, downsides of remote learning, and vulnerabilities associated with students’ health and well-being. The pandemic lessons make us rethink education and improve it for addressing current challenges and future crises, including climate change. Education for Sustainable Development becomes a priority, especially when it comes to promoting the ability to establish partnerships, participate in decision-making, understand and expand human rights. It fosters systemic and critical thinking, which helps to assess economic, environmental, social, and cultural aspects as a whole.
The old educational approach that teaches people how to get a job without asking them what problem they want to solve is no longer relevant. Moreover, millions of people were not taught to think about the consequences of their actions, and they are not curious about them either. Instead, they were thoroughly prepared to fill a nice position in a nice company to get a nice living in the world that is continually ruined by poverty, wars, racism, pollution, and other not so nice things.
Now, it is time to push back against this approach and embrace education as a way of survival. The next step will be contributing to life and society followed by having them both thriving. The Great Reset triggered by the coronavirus gives us a chance to achieve these goals, and here is how to do it.
We Have Powers
“We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect” (Aldo Leopold). The old approach neglects the fact that we all are part of a greater ecosystem, which goes beyond a company no matter how large it is. People were trained to work only within their professional area without even thinking about the impact their jobs have in a wider context.
Actually, you can work for both the company and the community, but it is not always the case. The new approach teaches you at least to give it a thought and understand the difference. Furthermore, it encourages you to act accordingly – to stand against unethical practices at the workplace, prioritizing the common good over organizational interests. Students of the new wave should be aware that they are not just cogs in the capitalistic machine and that their social courage does make a difference.
Feeling Pain Is OK
We can draw powers from keeping our senses alive. It is tempting to shut out when we see children suffering from hunger somewhere in Africa, people killed in bombings in the Middle East, or cruelty to animals happening around the corner. Naturally, we feel pain when facing some kind of misery even if it is a couple of blossomed trees cut down for a new development project. And it is all wrong to teach students to ignore the pain or take it under control. They should be taught compassion coupled with critical thinking and global awareness.
We can see pain floating to the surface in the current movement against racism in the US. It shows that we need to learn how to listen to those suffering and appreciate those who speak about things that others don’t want to hear. When feeling physical pain because of injustice done to anyone who is part of our eco-system, we will be able to switch from a personal to a social level and act against the injustice responsibly.
Life without Regrets
There needs to be some life-long goal behind education. And it should go beyond scoring more points in learning, career, or any other activity (even if speaking of sports). In fact, competing with others as a way to personal development lies in the old educational paradigm. Collaboration for the better common future is much more fruitful for self-improvement, just like staying true to yourself leads to fewer regrets than trying to satisfy someone’s expectations. That’s what Bronnie Ware teaches us in her The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, and that’s what students should take on board – chasing material wealth or career advancement may not result in a happier life, while finding an inner talent or staying connected with soulmates may work just fine.
3 Levels of Education
The new take on education is fueled by three types of energies associated with head, heart, and hands. We need to develop each of them and then learn how to use them all for creating a perfect balance and achieving our goals.
- The heart is related to senses, passion, intuition, and involvement, but it is not only about feelings. To keep your senses alive, you need your body to feel alive; so, physical training should be incorporated in the learning process and combined with sensory development. It can be anything from dance classes to sports provided that the activity helps our bodies to stay healthy while triggering emotional vibes.
But it is also essential to work on a deeper level, with shamanic practices included to boost intuition and the unconscious. This skill is required to understand undercurrents in society and to produce an adequate response to underlying emotions and ideas. We need to nurture people with a gut feeling about sore places in organizations and societies; those who care and want to contribute to transforming the world for the better with all heart.
- Hands are associated with actions, but this level doesn’t boil down to handcraft (though it doesn’t exclude it). This part of training deals with developing professional hand-on experience required for finding ways to innovate your area of expertise.
The first step on this path is switching from learning facts to learning how to search for information, analyze and interpret it. In the ever-changing infosphere, there will always be facts and ideas to draw from, but information literacy and critical thinking should go hand in hand with your thirst for meeting new needs and demands.
Besides, professional education should cover daily basics that are often overlooked in traditional training. As a result, we have artists who can create a perfect piece of art but have no idea how to deal with a gallery or doctors who know perfectly well how to cure people without understanding how to set up a practice. Students should be aware of the professional culture and routine they are going to encounter in their fields as well as how to manage their jobs in the most humane way.
On this way, we can use various tools, such as Deep Democracy, collaboration skills, ongoing innovation, hackathons, and other possibilities helpful for developing instrumental and professional capabilities in students.
- Head deals with our thoughts and intellect, and at this level, we need to shape a holistic approach to our world. Based on scientific evidence and system thinking, it has to comprise each part of the huge eco-system, be it history, environment, or society, since we all are part of something bigger.
Moreover, we cannot just stop at scientific facts without digging into the spiritual content of our existence. Though spiritual concepts differ across the globe, they give us a sense of purpose, and they can blend together to deliver the deep insight we need. In the end, students should be able to see what they can do professionally to complement and improve the system.
5 Approaches for New Type of Learning
To educate students at all these three levels, the novel learning system requires five approaches, with each of them attached to every level. It is the way we can bring up a new generation of people capable of fashioning a new reality as opposed to the current world decaying because of pollution and other “delights” of civilization. They will be able to listen to their inner selves, embrace their path, recognize their roles in the bigger world, and act responsibly towards the common good. Though those approaches are not brand-new and can be found in different traditions, employing them when combined in the educational revolution will pay off.
- Play-based learning
Nature created a perfect way to educate living creatures – playing implies active learning, interaction, impressiveness, exploration, meeting challenges, creative thinking, and what-not. It works great for children and adults, people and animals, being a biological drive and a way of survival, according to Stuart Brown. Play makes learning easier, faster, and fuller by engaging both your body and senses. It leaves you more adaptive, unconstrained, and, in some way, happier.
Learning through play has been used since time immemorial (including competitions in music, literature, and the art of rhetoric in Ancient Greece) and up to the present day, when many teachers praise this approach and add it to their armory. However, traditional education raises plenty of obstacles to incorporating play into the curriculum. It underestimates play competencies and ignores the need to integrate playful learning in development standards. The old paradigm finds it difficult to measure progress in playful learning because of its multilevel nature, and we know how the system likes everything to be nicely measured and compared to some norms.
- Seeking wisdom
When educating students at each of the above levels, we need to move from acquiring knowledge to gaining experience and insights. Most educational systems choose to not go further than that. The new take on education should promote seeking wisdom based on the skills obtained. Wisdom means the capability to understand the essence of things and make conclusions proceeding from it. Students should be able to tie together their experiences, gut instincts, numerous views, and possible outcomes to generate perfectly balanced answers to questions important for themselves and the world.
To find this wisdom (or at least to be able to search for it), students need to understand how our society works and what roles they can play in it. It should be explained that both they and society have a choice about what to become. And while there are always some kinds of the Pied Piper who want us to dance after their pipes, we must rely on the wisdom gained, not on the roles assigned by somebody else.
- Expressing yourself through arts
Arts education is no longer viewed as an early stage of specialization but as an essential component of healthy human development. It adds up to the otherwise lop-sided rationalism of traditional education. When students engage in arts, their sensual and emotional sphere is developed based on the spiritual and moral values of mankind, without which any personal competencies can take a destructive direction. Students acquire an experience of creativity in forms adequate for their age to meet the deepest need of a person as an initially creative being and to contribute to their psychological health.
Similar to play, art works on several levels – it allows us to express our inner self and our connections; to see nuances and the overall picture; to develop fine motor skills and grand gestures. It shows our diversity and unleashes our imagination, teaches us to dream and think outside of the box. We can appreciate our talents and see how they influence other people and the world. We can express reality in multiple ways, which is a step to changing it for something more thriving.
- Interacting with nature
Being an integral part of nature, we often forget about it and seldom bother to really feel it. And it comes as no surprise that by tearing ourselves away from it, we start suffering from stress, anxiety, and other mental disorders even without realizing that these things are somehow linked. Vice versa, interacting with nature delivers plenty of benefits extending to physical health, cognitive performance, psychological well-being, social effects, and spiritual outcomes.
Students need to accept that we are connected to nature on the biological level, but it’s not enough just to process this fact by the brains – they should learn to feel it with their hearts and all the senses. We must teach them how to observe nature, find narratives, draw inspirations, and interact with it in the most beneficial and sparing ways. Albert Einstein said, “Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.” And out educational efforts should be geared to training students on how to deep-look.
- Collective responsibility
Our membership in a collective starts from our family and goes further to a school, sports team, workplace, neighborhood, city, or country. But at the same time, we belong to a bigger world and have an opportunity to leave our mark on it. What will it be? We must encourage students to think this way for them to understand their responsibilities and opportunities at a macro-level.
However, let them start with small steps just to choose what role they can play based on this collective approach and what difference they can make. What can they do for a school or a local community to help real people and to address real challenges? Let them engage in action learning, which develops leadership, flexibility, and creativity along with collaboration and problem-solving skills.
When involved in working for a community, the students will better understand why it is important for them to keep learning and gain professional expertise since they can see in the real world what skills they lack. They will appreciate the trust they get by being welcomed to do something for a big group. And when contributing to the collective, they will learn the co-responsibility we need to stop the world from rolling into the abyss.
Endless Combinations for Lifelong Learning
The described approaches and levels produce multiple combinations and destinations for development. For example, art and wisdom connected together give a nice opportunity to reveal the essence of things through various forms of art. It could help to mirror complex concepts and realities while filling them with deep emotions and meanings. Blending art and nature creates a good scope of work for engineers who try to mimic and adapt solutions found in nature to technology development. And we have some space for exploration where nature meets play – physical fitness. By keeping our bodies active, maintaining personal health, and avoiding physical and mental diseases, we can channel our energy to achieving personal and common goals.
Anyway, this new educational model is just a framework and subject to customization since we are all different, and some approaches can be more applicable than others in certain contexts. But we definitely need a shift in education to reveal talent in each student and make it meaningful for the world.
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