Future-proof education to deliver industry needs, and equity
The constant challenge for educators has always been to prepare young people for the future of industry.
With the world changing at a more rapid pace than ever before, the challenge has escalated. Which specific skills tomorrow’s professions will call for is uncertain, as technology transforms the professional landscape at an unprecedented rate. Not just individual jobs but entire sectors are . While technological advancements are opening up new specialties elsewhere, they will be available with those who are equipped with the skills to seize the opportunity.
Over the past three years the proportion of job advertisements requiring ‘critical thinking’ has risen by 158%, ‘team work’ by 19% and ‘creativity’ by 65% (). Along with increasing innovation across economies there is a rising need for people entering the workforce to contribute both technical skills as well as soft skills ().
Education is now called upon to deliver not only core knowledge but flexibility, creativity, communication and collaboration – a suite of attributes that facilitate the kind of adaptivity required as work pathways are less defined.
Industry has been explicit in what it is calling for, but it is to succeed in gaining work in this new innovation driven environment.
This is not the first time that has affected the workforce. But it is perhaps the first time that formal education has been cast into the spotlight. Approaching this challenge requires framing the argument through specific questions: How can we prepare our young people to be able to operate in a fast-paced challenging environment? What are the skills and knowledge required to ensure students successfully access further education and work? And how can we ensure equity in access to learning necessary for success?
Project Based Learning
The use of Project Based Learning (PBL) is becoming more widely used across the world in all levels of education. PBL uses authentic projects as vehicles to encourage deeper student learning through collaboration that culminates into a final product or event.
Key elements of PBL includes intellectual challenge, project management, reflection, authenticity, collaboration and development of a public product. PBL is different to traditional methods of teaching in that the teacher takes on the role of facilitator, and learning is a more collaborative, hands on process, driven by real world connection to industry and the community.
Students are empowered through the process to drive their own learning, having a voice and choice in the process, supported by the teacher. PBL takes an active approach to build competencies such as problem solving skills, digital literacy and team work, which a by the Foundation for Young Australians highlighted as important for employability, and likely to be in high demand in the future.
In order to meet the demands of current and future employment, teaching and learning must focus on ways to build both 21st century skills and academic knowledge. PBL builds these skills by allowing students to drive learning, find solutions to real world issues and reflect on their work while building problem solving skills, interpersonal skills and digital literacy. It also primes them to apply what they learn to real world situations.
Project Based Learning to address inequity
Research shows that using PBL is an effective method to promote inclusion in education. Not only does it allow and encourage a range of diverse perspectives in creating projects, but studies have shown big improvements in diverse classrooms.
A strong argument can be made that PBL is an effective tool to increase academic achievement of students from diverse learning backgrounds (Belland, Glazewski & Ertmer, 2009; Lee, Buxton, Lewis & LeRoy, 2006; Ravitz, 2010; Gordon, Rogers, Comfort, Gavula & McGee, 2001). An and focusing on two social studies classes – one classed as low socioeconomic status (LSES) background and the other of high socioeconomic background – revealed a significant difference in achievement prior to enacting PBL. After a PBL approach was used with the LSES group, the end of the year achievement was statistically equivalent between them and the high socioeconomic group, showing a decrease in the achievement gap between these groups. In support of this finding, a longitudinal study in 14 schools in the Detroit area serving 91% African-American, 4% white, 1% Asian and 4% Latino students collected data from 8,000 students over three years. They found that through learning inquiry-based science, students had statistically significant improvements on standardised tests, and that this improvement grew every year (Marx et al., 2004). Evidence also suggests that this approach can make a positive impact upon student attendance in disadvantaged areas, which may be due to increased interest and relation of school work to the real world (Creghan & Adair-Creghan, 2015).
Project Based Learning in NSW schools
Schools in NSW are already using PBL and seeing results.
One school reported a decrease in truancy of 300% in 2017, and a huge reduction in reports of behavioural issues. Here are some further examples of the work being done in NSW schools.
Campbelltown Performing Arts High School
Students at Campbelltown PAHS have focused on their local community through collectively tackling issues such as ‘How can we create gardens in under-utilised spaces?’ and ‘How can we, as students, promote positive and sustainable community engagement with a local reserve?’ The project involved Year 8 students working with Campbelltown City Council to redesign a local parkland area and promote positive community engagement with the area.
Students visited the reserve and conducted a site study with the support of council experts. They identified particular areas of the reserve needed improvement, and created products or services to promote community engagement with the area. In groups, students pitched their ideas to council experts and drew on the expertise of other businesses to inform the design of their final product.
Bush tucker gardens, community facilities, Indigenous railings, signage and redesign of playground equipment and outdoor learning areas were all project outcomes. Meanwhile students attained key outcomes in English, Science and Technological and Applied Studies (TAS).
The students then held an exhibition where they shared their ideas which were then included as part of Campbelltown City Council’s Plan of Management to redesign the reserve.
Oberon High School
Students at Oberon were tasked with designing and producing an information kit for two local landforms in the Oberon area: Jenolan Caves and Kanangra Walls. The communications they produced focused on a value that the landform has to the environment or society, and was presented to reflect the needs of the target audience.
Students learned how each attraction formed, and how this allows its current use. They were given access to expertise from local organisations including Oberon Council, National Parks & Wildlife Service and Jenolan Caves. The media kits they produced included maps, directions and relevant information for their audience, and had to be appropriate to display in the community and available to access in the offices of the above organisations, with exhibition of the projects held at the relevant organisation. Students also exhibited their work at the local Visitors’ Centre and the National Parks & Wildlife Service office. The Mayor, General Manager and tourism staff attended the presentation along with community members.
Doonside High School
Doonside HS students in years 7 and 8 have undertaken a number of projects including ‘How do we encourage 12-18 year olds to make healthy choices?’ through which students created a healthy chocolate alternative, a task that combined English, TAS, ICT and Art.
Earlier this year students also focused on the question ‘How do we make Harry Potter come alive in the 21st century?’ This involved students in English/LOTE learning fanfiction writing, history of Hogwarts along with places and livability within the Harry Potter universe. Students in TAS/ PDHPE/ ART focused on herbology (a subject available to Hogwarts students) through paddock to plate. In Maths and Science students plotted coordinates measurements on Hogwarts maps, and focused on plant reproduction through ‘herbology’. Music and ICT students were also engaged through playing Harry Potter songs and creating their own Hogwarts on Minecraft.
Granville Boys High School
Students worked on the challenge, ‘What does it take to be first place in a Formula 1 race?’ by designing and developing a miniature F1 race car, powered by a CO2 canister. Working in groups, students simulated creating a Formula 1 race team. The teams were responsible for design, construction and branding and culminated in an effort to win first place in an upcoming F1 miniature race competition.
Further examples of Project Based Learning are available on the on UTS Futures.
A review of the NSW curriculum is currently underway, the first since 1989. This presents a platform from which to make changes to the current curriculum which take into consideration the rapid changes that have taken place in technology and society, and to implement plans which equip students with the kind of skills which we can predict will be in demand. Feedback can be provided for curriculum review here: