The constant change

In almost every country globally, there is rapid change occurring to what education is and will be, based on both the desire to produce or uphold economic growth and the constant development of new technologies. At the same time, our traditional systems for education are equally quite unchanged. With these colliding perspectives we need to discuss what kind of education we want and what kind of society we seek to develop.

We will, prior to EFF16 at Education World Forum try to raise three reasoned questions, all of which we consider to become more important as we move our educations systems towards being part of a globalized, knowledge based economy.


The world has economically and educationally been divided for a long time. Some countries have taken steps each decade, to improve their public and private economies, which has in turn lead to promotion of the ‘economic league system’.  Education ministries will say that both a reason for and result of this is “an improved education system”. In China we have seen strong educational results in public schools following the economic growth of the bigger southern cities (Shanghai and Hong Kong). In Vietnam we have seen a leap within the international education rankings, which we will probably see resulting in economic growth within the next 10-15 years as students become innovators in industry and technology. These will be the pervasive narratives of our time, educational data, league tables and correlations with innovation. But is it correct?

We still live in a divided world, where, in many countries, students are not given the opportunity to become contributors to economic growth and participate in a globalized market; some are not given education at all. Some have been sold a dream of education that hasn’t delivered as was promised because privilege is still prevalent. The rapid development of how information is shared and how education is distributed only adds to this picture.

The technological developments have disrupted this divide, but also sometimes magnified it. The divide is now not only between countries, but also between classrooms. A class in the suburbs of Johannesburg can receive better learning possibilities than a class in the more wealthy parts of Oslo, given that they have a school funded for infrastructure, innovation and knowledge-based inquiry learning. The student next door can be given far more development opportunities, given that her teacher is structured towards problem solving, collaboration and critical use of new media and technology, whereas my own teacher is amongst those 75% of the world’s educators that still cling to the delivery of a ‘set of truths’ or the filling of a pail rather than the ignition of a fire.

Can we say that a testing regime, developed over the last three decades through the NPM-lead transformation of our economies; has contributed to upholding a ‘delivery’ regime in our schools? We believe so. This phenomenon has been explored in depth in the work of Professor Peter Tymms at Durham University and dissected in Chapter 8 of John Seddon’s ‘Systems thinking in the public sector: the failure of the reform regime and a manifesto for a better way’ expertly, yet we have persisted because as Mark Johnson points out:

 “Who’s problem does ‘deliverology’ solve? The answer, to me at least, is obvious. It is the politician’s problem. They want to get re-elected. Moreover, they don’t want to think too hard and have a clear ‘position’ on any of the immensely complex issues they have power over. So if they can bluff their way along without upsetting anyone, regularly taking the political temperature, that’ll do nicely.”           

If we focus too rigidly on the results target, we produce for the results and any teacher who is measured under this regime will use methods he or she is certain to master in order to provide the student with the necessary knowledge measured in the tests. The standardization of tests can imply the use of known and ‘standardized methods’. At it’s worst it can lead to activity like the Atlanta public schools scandal of 2009.

The evolution of the information society is an ongoing process of change. In most schools of the world, the struggle of time and resources is a constant fight where the teachers’ personal development and the development of learning organization (Senge: The Fifth Discipline, 1990) CAN become the loser.

Most learning organizations have few and narrow development projects going at the same time. Many leaders build their change management on the theories of Kurt Lewin, as shown in the model below:

Kurt Lewin – change management model (1947)

Lars Blog Image




This is a model which implies that change takes time and that changing is something an organization can only handle if the change is project-based with a clear goal.

But what if the goal – or desired state – is in constant change? How can education contribute to the direction of the change, being the catalyst for modernization of society it once was? 

Question #1

Is the goal of our education systems to contribute to change (and by that do we accept to be in constant flow) or be a stabilizer of values in order to secure a slower and more manageable transformation of society and the economy?

The reflection (it doesn’t necessarily have to be a swift answer) to this question will have much impact on how our education systems will evolve over the next 5 to 35 years. And the evolution of our educational institutions in this period will decide if we, by 2050, have an education that feels legitimate or obsolete.


Even with the emergence of MOOC’s we can see that primary and secondary education is changing somehow faster than universities and colleges. Sir Ken Robinson has often talked about that there is no longer a guarantee for a meaningful job by having a degree. Innovative students are often far more adaptable to new environments and technologies then their lecturers or teachers.

Nobel economy price laureate Joseph Stiglitz describes the challenge:

«The notion that every well-educated person would have a mastery of at least the basic elements of the humanities, sciences, and social sciences is a far cry from the specialized education that most students today receive, particularly in the research universities.»

It is therefore very important that we try to make ourselves informed of a wide definition of what knowledge is, which leads to our next question.

Question #2:

How do we define knowledge in a knowledge-based economy? Is it: a) something every person own and brings in to the labor market, b) something we can manage to seek for and master, by understanding the concepts of where and how knowledge is distributed and how it fits to the problems we seek to solve, or c) something we produce to give meaning to society and bring meaning to our lives?

How will all of this balance with the increase of machine learning and it’s disruptive innovation in the very field of human cognition and knowledge work as outlined in The Future of Employment (Frey and Osborne, 2013) ?


Stiglitz has also contributed to our next question

“It’s actually a tribute to the quality of economics teaching that they have persuaded so many generations of students to believe in so much that seems so counter to what the world is like”

More and more voices also call for a change of learning methods used in schools, as they are not in tune with how students will work in their labor career. On the contrary, many methods are far from the objectives of a knowledge economy and seeing students as individual learners with a potential to produce knowledge, alone and in networks. Could there be a danger as Graham Brown-Martin has pointed out that we could head “to a government and media influenced by a group of unelected advisors, profiteers and showmen supporting a narrative that allows the homogenization of our schools and as a result our culture” resulting in a curriculum of content  that is

“Cultural transmission, cheaply distributed into the minds of children by service providers who have cost efficiently mastered their processing to provide tailored output to meet the demands of the economic development plan.”

Question #3

Do we continue producing knowledge by standards and curriculum or do we want to create an innovative and flexible mindset of our students? (A similar question would be to refine question #2 and ask if we should consider knowledge as something we can define or something that evolves and accumulates by production)

We initially had a fourth question; private or public education? But we found Stiglitz to already have answered that question:

«I recognized that information was, in many respects, like a public good, and it was this insight that made it clear to me that it was unlikely that the private market would provide efficient resource allocations whenever information was endogenous.»

Which in other words means that education only can be distributed equally and the democratic rights to information only can be fully appreciated if there is a public funding of education. That the knowledge can never be owned by either a company, or a government. Yet is this what we see in evidence as we look at out global institutions of education?

The excellent documentary ‘Schooling the World’ details how we globally built our education systems, exported and forced them upon cultures in an act of perceived neo-colonialism.  With this is mind we may wish to examine closely what we mean by “knowledge economy” and our ideas of “global competency” through an inter-connected world. If we set levels of knowledge attainment to be met, we must be sure to be able to deliver the rewards promised. We are not sure as we look at economic migration, regional displacement and graduate employment opportunities that this is happening.

When building new literacies for the future, the factor of constant change has to be implemented into any form of education.

By Lars Persen (EFF Fellow and pedagogical leader of Scandec Systemer, Norway) and Jon Harman (EFF16 debater and lecturer in media, design and digital competences in learning at Volda University College, Norway)

The following two tabs change content below.

Lars Persen

Latest posts by Lars Persen (see all)