Why teaching matters more than ever before

by Stavros Yiannouka, CEO, WISE – World Innovation Summit for Education and Andreas Schleicher, Director, Directorate for Education and Skills

Teaching and learning lie at the heart of what it means to be human. While animals teach and learn from each other through direct demonstration, observation and experience, humans are unique in their ability to convey vast quantities of information and impart skills across time and space. We are also, as far as we know, unique in our ability to engage in and convey our thinking around abstract concepts such as governance, justice and human rights.

Technology has always played an indispensable role in this process. Starting with language and then writing, humanity was able to separate the process of teaching and learning from the constraints of direct demonstration, observation, and experience. The invention of paper and ink, and then the printing press, exponentially increased the quantity of knowledge that could be captured, stored, and disseminated. In this context, modern information and communication technologies are no more than extensions of a trend that began several millennia ago.

Technology however was not solely responsible for advancing teaching and learning amongst humans: abstract thought has perhaps played the most important part through the development of concepts such as education and knowledge. Formal education may have begun as an exercise in training royal accountants and scribes but it very soon expanded to incorporate literature, if only so that those accountants and scribes could, in their writing, emulate the great authors and poets of their time.

Much has changed in how we think about and practice education. Although in theory we still expect education to serve the dual purpose of imparting useful knowledge and skills, and instilling values, in practice most modern education systems place far greater emphasis on the former over the latter. The reasons for this are manifold. In large part it has to do with the pressures placed on education to support social development and thus to demonstrate ‘a return on investment.’ But it also has to do with the rise of moral relativism in some countries, the belief that values systems are inherently subjective and therefore best left to parental and cultural upbringing.

This overtly utilitarian view of education lies at the heart of the modish idea that information and communication technologies can to a large extent replace teachers. If education is viewed solely as a process for imparting useful knowledge and skills then it is likely that technology will render traditional teaching redundant in the not too distant future. But education is always more than this, if its purpose is also to impart values, to inspire, and to socialise, it is one of the most enduring relational activities. It is no accident that high performing education systems from Finland to Singapore, all place the teacher at the heart of the enterprise. Much is expected from teachers but much is also given in the form of professional development, autonomy, and respect.

Technology alone cannot perform this role. But technology can amplify great teaching. And it can build communities of teachers to share and enrich teaching resources and practices. Imagine the power of an education system that could meaningfully share all of the expertise and experience of its educators using digital technology. What if we could get our teachers working on curated crowd-sourcing of educational practice, wouldn’t that be so much more powerful than things like performance-related pay as an approach to professional growth and development? Technology could be used to create a giant open-source community of teachers and educators outside schools and unlock the creative skills and initiative of its teachers, simply by tapping into the desire of people to contribute, collaborate and be recognised for it.

Throughout history, teaching was viewed as a noble and even spiritual calling. In the age of accelerations, it can be even more so.

2017 WISE Summit: “Co-Exist, Co-Create: Learning to Live and Work Together”
For more on education and education policies around the world, visit: http://www.oecd.org/edu
PISA 2015: Compare your country

Join our OECD Teacher Community on Edmodo

Photo credit: @Shutterstock 

Leave a Reply