The problem we’re trying to solve
21st century education is facing the most extraordinary challenges. There’s globalisation, digitalisation and increasing marginalisation. And now there’s COVID-19.
Back in early 2019 a small team of people from Cambridge Assessment and Judge Business School had already been thinking about how we design and deliver education, and whether it was fit for purpose. The question we were asking ourselves was:
Is education continuing to meet the needs of young people, and preparing them for the type of world they will face when they leave school?
There is a lot of important and high-profile research on this topic that strongly supports the view that some fundamental changes in education are needed:
- The Future of Education and Skills OECD report makes clear that education needs to be transformed not reformed.
- A focus on compliance is driving innovative teachers from the profession according to the Director of Education and Skills at the OECD. He says education is ‘losing its relevance’ in an increasingly digitised world, with creative teachers often restricted by the curriculum they are expected to teach. Furthermore, he says, ‘there is a big gap between what the world needs and what our education systems are designed for’.
- Four out of five CEOs say that skills gaps in creativity and problem solving make hiring difficult and nearly half of job tasks may be lost to automation within the next two decades. We need to start thinking differently about how we prepare young people.
- A recent Global Learner Survey clearly demonstrates perceptions that education systems are out of step with learners, and highlights the huge opportunity to reinvent learning to meet the needs of a new economy.
- The crisis in mental health is getting worse. Neglect and under-investment in addressing young people’s mental health needs have been exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
What we can do about the problem
As well as reading all the research, the team in Cambridge was also going to lots of education conferences. We noticed that there were ‘siloes’ of activity at these conferences.
This meant that there would be a conference for teachers, where only teachers talked to each other. And conferences for policy people, where only policy people talked to each other. And research conferences for research people. And so on.
What we also noticed was that entrepreneurs, start-ups and innovation teams did things differently. Fundamentally, they looked outside their own worlds. They built things in a cross-functional, iterative way. So we asked ourselves:
Could we borrow that model and apply it to education?
The start of SHAPE Education
We wanted to do more than just ask questions and talk about problems. We wanted to do something. And so we started SHAPE Education.
We realised it’s not practical or sensible to try and change something as complex as education from the top down. In the same way as entrepreneurs and start-ups, the approach which has a realistic chance of bringing successful change is to:
- start with properly understanding where the issues and problems are
- form some ideas and hypothesis about how to address them
- build a coalition, or community, of people who want to be involved in those changes
- run some experiments
- make some things happen.
This idea of creating a process of discovery, and ‘learning as you go’, is how change happens in society, and we know we can apply that to education.
Our aim was to:
- find a way that Cambridge could adopt this approach to solving the problems in education
- make this approach a cross-functional, collaborative, iterative way of working, meaning that teachers work alongside, for example, tech developers, researchers, learners, etc.
If you agree with this approach and you want to be part of SHAPE Education, then please visit shape-education.org to sign up to our mailing list and see how you can get involved in helping make education more connected to your community. We’d love you to join us. Together we can tackle this challenge.
SHAPE Education is an initiative between Cambridge Assessment and Judge Business School.