The need for a renewed mindset in secondary education

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Progress is often accelerated by unexpected circumstances. Secondary education has been changed, perhaps irreversibly, by school closures and the need to adapt to them. Teachers and school students had to quickly adapt to new teaching and learning environments, acquire new skills, and develop new habits. Educators and others had to innovate to make distance and online learning easier to implement and conduct for extended periods. Greater flexibility was often required, from teachers, students, and families. Naturally, all of this led to the asking of new questions, innovative solutions, and the widespread adoption of new technologies.

We are now seeing virtual campuses being set up, e-learning appears to be on the verge of becoming an integral part of education going forward, and different teaching methodologies like project-based learning and gamification are witnessing increased popularity.

Considering the role of digital technology in education

In the United Kingdom, the widely criticised handling of exam grading caused many people to rethink their faith in the nation’s education system. The government had initially opted to use an algorithm to predict grades, but eventually abandoned it altogether when the results were called into question and a public outcry ensued. Instead, they decided to have teachers give out grades by assessment. The government’s decision to abandon the wildly unpopular algorithm-based grading system ostensibly nipped the problem in the bud, but it also led to considerable reflection on the relationship between teachers, students, and technologies in education. The virtual and physical sides of education are probably going to be more interconnected in future, and this is going to lead to some very important debates and decisions.

While the pandemic did bring about some problems, whether directly or indirectly, it also necessitated a surge in innovation. This has been particularly notable in areas like ed-tech, classroom design, teaching methodologies, school management, student assessments, and teacher training. Even the mentality and general approach to teaching are being rethought among educators across the globe.

The need for a ‘growth mindset’

A growth mindset is one of the approaches that is gaining favour. This is about embracing positivity and optimism to increase student motivation, engagement, and general mental wellbeing. This can have significant implications for student achievement, and could be particularly important for students with learning difficulties and those from disadvantaged backgrounds. The reasoning for this is partly due to the fact that disadvantaged students often have more barriers to overcome, even on a psychological level, and that a growth mindset can motivate them to push past this. This is also an approach that transcends cultural boundaries, doesn’t require significant financial investment, and can be good for teachers as well.

Naturally, this necessitates a look at the mindsets of educators, as these are the individuals whose actions are going to most directly influence students. Intuition tells us that if a teacher is positive, optimistic, and energetic, they’re more likely to motivate their students and imbue them with the same positive energy. Student autonomy and making them feel that their future and educational achievement is in their own hands can be a great approach for making this happen. For example, a case study about some secondary schools in the United States found that they were able to close the gaps in student outcomes. This was evident in students who came from underserved backgrounds, who were encouraged by practices and policies that allowed them to take ownership of their own learning experiences.

How motivation can overcome learner disadvantages

The same study derived certain conclusions and recommendations based on the schools’ experiences. This was organised into five important characteristics for encouraging a growth mindset: shared leadership; open communication; collaboration and shared learning; clear and realistic goals and support for teachers and learners; and supporting and valuing all students. These recommendations could be introduced into multiple aspects of the education process. For instance, when making a statement about the attainment of goals, it was recommended to always add the word ‘yet’ at the end. This implies that every goal is achievable with sufficient effort, and develops a sense of optimism among students and teachers.

This would all be coupled with introducing an increased feeling of challenge for students. By creating space for students to actively strive and struggle to build new skills, while simultaneously offering support and providing a positive atmosphere, students can increase their own confidence and drive to learn and succeed. Teachers would then need to make sure that they always frame failures and setbacks as learning opportunities and challenges that can still be overcome.

Rethinking cultural and educational ideologies

UNESCO and the Society for Intercultural Education Training and Research (SIETAR) in Switzerland jointly published a report on the future of education. This revolved around assessing what is learned, how this is achieved, and where changes to learning are going to come from. The report identified many challenges and problems. Among these are the ‘dominant ideologies’ of competitiveness and performance, which the report cites as contrary to human values like collaboration. An excerpt from the report is as follows: “By its irresponsible consumption behavior, its ego- and ethnocentric views, decisions and actions, humankind destroys the planet and itself. It is crucial to rebalance individualism and collectivism.”

The report also touches upon the critical issue of globalisation, where different cultures are increasingly coming into contact with each other. It also stresses that the network of globalisation is increasing, but “without taking into account everyone’s values and the family structures that bear everyone’s own cultural identity.” Additionally, it tackles the issue of digitalisation, and how this has transformed relationships between people, how they relate to knowledge, and more besides. This led to the identification of three missions for schools: developing citizens of the world, accompanying learning processes, and training employability.

Developing a strategy for moving forward

An important thing to bear in mind, which brings this article full circle, is the need to define the roles and limits of digitised education. This is vital for the future of children’s learning. New digital technologies have a potentially incalculable contribution to make to education across the world, but even this must be limited to a degree. Effectively utilising and making the most of technology is not the same as becoming dependent on it. Regarding the need for a mentality shift, the report concludes that interdisciplinary and non-linear educational approaches need greater emphasis.

“Therefore, a fundamental challenge for 21st century education is to build upon life-embedded learning to extend and transform learners’ lifeworld experiences. This implies a systematic reform with the aim of including language and cultural diversity as a social/learning resource of cohesion, solidarity, and economic development.” This section deals with the need to move beyond the past of education and develop a more cohesive future. This future will be marked by, among other things, “additional competencies such as resilience, stress tolerance and flexibility.”

The need to rethink the mindset that drives education globally can therefore be split into two distinct parts. The first is the need to utilise new digital technologies for the improvement of education, but to do so in a manner that doesn’t cause education to become dependent on it. Just as the digital and physical worlds must be kept in balance, so too must in-person and virtual education. The second priority is for greater interdisciplinary learning, coupled with helping students become more motivated, capable, and culturally aware. The benefits of this renewed, two-pronged approach to learning innovation could end up being an unprecedented revolution in education.

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