Marc Fuster Rabella
Analyst, OECD Directorate for Education and Skills
In 2011, thousands of protesters took to the streets of Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and other countries to demand civil rights and far-reaching institutional reforms. Although the Arab Spring story did not end well in many countries, where protests were followed by repression and war, media outlets in OECD countries portrayed a clear (if nuanced) story: ”this revolution will be tweeted”.
Twitter, Facebook and other social media services filled the vacuum of a free press in Arab Spring countries, and were key in helping activists to organise protests and evade governmental control. Social media delivered important information to people on the ground and encouraged many to participate in the demonstrations – even those who never engaged in public matters before. The rest of the world, meanwhile, benefited from a constant stream of instant information as events unfolded.
The Arab Spring is a powerful example of how digital transformations have changed the ways we engage socially and politically. These developments have revolutionised the ways in which we obtain information, while opening new possibilities to make our voices heard. These changes raise important questions for education as well. What kinds of knowledge and skills do citizens need in this changing environment? Which attitudes and values should education foster in a world where social relations are much more dynamic and complex?
We take a closer look at these questions and others in our Trends Shaping Education 2019 report. The report, released earlier this year, examines the social, political and economic trends shaping our society and institutions – including trends around socioeconomic inequality, civil and political rights and participation, and changing governance structures in an increasingly global and urbanised world. It discusses the impact these trends have on education systems and how education may influence the trends.
The combination of reflective, hands-on and deliberative experiences is key. Through these experiences, students realise they can make a different in tackling real-world problems…
Civic education is part of the curriculum in all OECD countries. Civics at school usually focuses on building students’ knowledge on basic rights and duties, key features of political institutions and the voting process. This approach dovetails with the idea of representative democracy, where civic education aims to ensure that future voters are ready to evaluate public officials’ performance and fitness for duty.
Yet key indicators of civic engagement – such as citizens’ trust in government and voter turnout – are decreasing across many jurisdictions. And those most affected by political decision-making – the youngest, the least educated and the most socioeconomically deprived – are also those who are least likely to show up on election day.
Education has the potential to reverse these trends. An international study released in 2016 highlights the role of particular strategies. Classrooms that are open to discussion around real-life issues and direct student engagement – whether at school or in the community – can have a positive effect on students’ interest in civic matters and their expected engagement as adults.
In technology classes at Chile’s Colegio Concepción, for example, students design solutions for real community problems, such equipment for the rehabilitation of children with disabilities. Since these classes began, the school has seen an increase in student engagement in community activities. These classes have had other positive effects, as well: improved academic performance and school climate, and greater interpersonal relationships among students.
Indeed, building close links between students and their communities benefits education, as well. The Irish programme ‘Trinity Access 21’, for instance, aims to increase participation in higher education among students from underserved communities in Dublin. Through community engagement, mentorship and teacher training, it is already showing significant results.
The combination of reflective, hands-on and deliberative experiences is key. Through these experiences, students realise they can make a difference in tackling real-world problems, and develop the knowledge and skills they need to do so. As a result, they develop greater self-confidence, expand their social networks and attain the necessary motivation and persistence to bring about change. Educators can play a key role in encouraging learners to engage in public matters, respectfully and with sound arguments, both online and off. Young people do not want to be disregarded or patronised; they want to have a say. Digital technologies have made that easier than ever. Now, it is time for education to catch up.