Preparing teachers for 21st century challenges

By Andreas Schleicher
Director, Directorate for Education and Skills

Preparing today’s students to thrive in their society is no easy task. The skills and knowledge they’ll need to succeed in the future are constantly changing, while others are quickly being digitised, automated or outsourced.

This puts teachers in a difficult position. Not only do we expect them to have a deep and broad understanding of the subjects they teach, and to adequately prepare their students for 21st century challenges; we also expect them to be passionate, compassionate and thoughtful, and to ensure that students feel valued and included in a collaborative learning environment.

Our expectations of teachers are high and rising, yet our education systems are not keeping pace. Most schools look much the same today as they did a generation ago, and teachers themselves are often not developing the practices and skills required to meet the diverse needs of today’s learners.

So what can be done to support teachers to meet the formidable challenges of 21st century education? And how can they take advantage of new opportunities? Those questions will be at the heart of the 8th International Summit on the Teaching Profession (ISTP), which will be held this week in Lisbon. Hosted by the Portuguese Ministry of Education, with support from the OECD and Education International, the Summit brings together education ministers, union leaders and other teacher leaders to share their insights and reflect on public education policy.

Charting a course forward will not be simple or straightforward – but it is absolutely necessary.

Over the course of two days (22-23 March), attendees will address three interrelated issues. The first session focuses on schools, and how policy-makers and the teaching profession can strengthen links between schools and their communities. Schools are vital to the social health of their local communities, and the most successful schools are often those that are at the center of their cities, towns and neighborhoods. Engaging with local communities is therefore key to success, as it is clear that no school exists in a vacuum.

The second session gets to the heart of education: pedagogy. Many teachers have a good sense of the kind of pedagogies on which 21st century learning hinges, but there is still a significant gap between intended and implemented practices. The challenge for education systems is to create conditions that will encourage teachers to initiate, share and evaluate innovative pedagogies – including new technologies — and to anticipate any impacts such pedagogies may have on the roles of students and teachers.

In the third session, we will turn our attention to teachers themselves. There is a growing recognition that in order for teaching and learning to be most effective, teachers need to have high levels of well-being, self-efficacy and confidence. How can governments, in partnership with teachers’ unions, create evidence-informed strategies on well-being, efficacy and effectiveness as part of their teacher policies?

Over the years, the ISTP has established itself of the most unique and successful education summits in the world – in part, because it explores difficult and controversial issues on the basis of sound evidence, provided by the OECD. The 8th edition of the Summit will be no different, and I am very much looking forward to the discussions and debates. Charting a course forward for teachers will not be simple or straightforward – but it is absolutely necessary. Today’s students will face vastly different challenges by the time they reach adulthood. We should do everything we can to make sure they’re prepared.

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