Landmark report from the United Nations organisation urges governments to invest more in the future of education.

To call the UNESCO ISEE Assessment thorough would be an understatement. This is a piece of work that brings together the thoughts and opinions of more than 300 experts across 45 countries, with a pagination topping 1000 pages.

It is also required reading for those invested in the future of education. To aid us, a summary document is provided for decision makers and it is to this that we refer.

Building a future in which we all flourish

The preface by Stefanie Giannini, UNESCO Assistant Director General for Education, calls on us to examine today’s processes for a better tomorrow:

Ms Giannini says: “To build a more peaceful, just and sustainable world tomorrow, we must diagnose the current failings of our development model and mobilise one collective intelligence to reimagine our future together.”

The forward is jointly provided by colleagues familiar to this journal, Sir Kevan Collins and Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, former Minister for Education, France. They explain that the international assessment on which the report is based is groundbreaking, collating its evidence from experts in fields such as neuroscience and philosophy and not just education. In order to draw its conclusions, it also uses an evidence-based approach, which we in England associate with the Education Endowment Fund.

Their approach is shaped by an imagined future where the skills necessary to be an effective citizen include, alongside those relevant to any job, “emotional resilience, empathy, and compassion” which will allow us to deal with a rapidly changing world. They propose that in order to prepare for this future we need governments to take action now to “reorient curriculum and pedagogy”, increase spending on education and create resilient and sustainable education systems that allow all to flourish.

The key questions addressed

The report builds on the UNESCO pillars of learning: Learning to be, learning to know, learning to do and learning to live together. The conclusions made in the report are derived from addressing five ambitious key questions:

  • Has education evolved over the past 50 years for the betterment of society?
  • How has context shaped educational policies and practices over the past 50 years?
  • How has context, together with education policies and practices, influenced what we learn, how we learn, when we learn; and where we learn?
  • How can education be reimagined to maximise human flourishing?
  • Which gaps should be addressed in future research?

The key findings

The summary report lists what it refers to as its seven key take-home messages:

  1. Every child learns differently.
  2. For humans to flourish, a whole-brain, learner-centric approach is required.
  3. If we are to provide an education system which allows all to flourish then context heavily influences it. Over time the outcomes of this will also shape the context.
  4. Learning needs to be active, with teacher-pupil relationships being bi-directional.
  5. How the success of a learner is judged should be through their potentiality as measured by their rate of learning.
  6. Investment in education should be directed to a whole brain learner-centric system.
  7. Education should be guided by a multidisciplinary approach.

We realise that some of our readers will have already read the UNESCO Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Education for Peace and Sustainability Development report – Reimagining Education (to give it its full title). However, as we head to the end of another disruptive school year shaped by our response to the COVID pandemic, we know that time is at a premium, and we are aware that many of our readers are extremely busy in addressing the day-to-day issues in their schools. We therefore hope our summary will help to keep them informed until they have time to fill this gap in their reading.

In our next article, we use the key findings of the reprint to reflect, learn from and where necessary, modify our own approach to school improvement.

Take care and stay safe.