A new tool for navigating through a complex world

By Andreas Schleicher

Director, OECD Directorate for Education and Skills

Education today is about more than simply teaching students something. It’s also about helping them develop the tools they need to navigate an increasingly complex, volatile and uncertain world.

The new OECD Learning Compass 2030 framework points the way forward. Developed as part of our Future of Education and Skills 2030 project, the Learning Compass puts forth a shared vision of what students should learn to be ready for tomorrow, and a shared language with which to discuss it.

As the Learning Compass reveals, success in education is about identity, agency and purpose. It’s about curiosity, compassion and the courage to put our cognitive, social and emotional resources into action. This will also be our best weapon against the biggest threats of our times: ignorance, hate, and fear.

We live in a world where the things that are easy to teach and test have also become easy to digitize and automate. The future is about pairing the artificial intelligence of computers with the cognitive, social and emotional skills and values of humans. It’s going to be our imagination, our awareness and our sense of responsibility that will allow us to harness technology to shape our world for the better.

Social media algorithms today sort us into groups of like-minded individuals. They create virtual bubbles that often amplify our views and insulate us from divergent perspectives; they homogenise opinions and polarise our societies. Tomorrow’s schools must therefore help students think for themselves and join others, with empathy, in work and citizenship. They will need to help students develop a strong sense of right and wrong, a sensitivity to the opinions of others, and an understanding of the limits of individual and collective action. At work, at home and in the community, people will need a deep understanding of how others live in different cultures and traditions, and of how people think, whether as scientists or artists. And as machines continue to take over tasks at work, the demands on our knowledge and skills to contribute meaningfully to social and civic life will keep rising.

The growing complexity of modern living – for individuals, communities and societies – means that the solutions to our problems will be complex, as well. In a structurally imbalanced world, we need to be adept at handling tensions and dilemmas in order to reconcile diverse perspectives and interests – in local settings, but often with global implications. Striking a balance between competing demands – equity and freedom, autonomy and community, innovation and continuity, efficiency and democratic process – will rarely lead to a single solution, or even a binary choice. In today’s world, our capacity to navigate ambiguity has become key.

Creative problem solving requires us to consider the consequences of our actions, with a sense of moral and intellectual maturity. This allows us to reflect on our actions in light of experiences and personal or societal goals. The perception and assessment of what is right or wrong in a specific situation is about ethics. It involves questions related to norms, values, meanings and limits: What should I do? Was I right to do that, in light of the consequences? Where are the limits?

That brings us to the toughest challenge in modern education: incorporating values. Values have always been central to education, but it is time to move beyond implicit aspirations to explicit education goals and practices. This will help communities shift from situational values – under which an individual’s actions are guided by circumstance – to sustainable values that generate trust, social bonds and hope. If education fails to build foundations for communities, many people will try to build walls.

If we want to stay ahead of technological developments, we have to identify and refine the qualities that are unique to our humanity, and that complement, rather than compete with, the capacities of computers. Schools need to develop first-class humans, not second-class robots. Education has improved our understanding of the world around us, and has even allowed us to explore distant planets. It must now help us understand our own minds and experiences – before an algorithm makes up our minds for us.

The Learning Compass shows us the way forward, but a compass is only a tool, and the road of education reform is littered with good ideas that were poorly implemented. As stakeholders and students meet in Vancouver this week to unveil the Learning Compass and discuss the next phase of our Future of Education and Skills 2030 project, it is important for us to think about how we can build learning environments that empower students; and about how we can support educators in their efforts to help every young person realise their potential.

None of this is easy, and it will not be done overnight. But the good news is that we are not alone. The power of the Learning Compass lies in the people who co-created it – the people who, together, are the future of education.

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