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Strategy sessions I.6 > Content and Values
World Education Forum
Dakar, Senegal 26-28 April 2000
 Designing basic education content to meet the needs and values of society
Issues Paper
Strategy Session I.6
Original : English
  What kinds of knowledge, skills and values are required for successful living in human society as we move into the new millennium? How can countries adapt the content of basic education programmes to meet their particular needs? What actions can the international community undertake to encourage and assist countries
1. Background.
"Given the trend toward more open societies and global economies, we must emphasize the forms of learning and critical thinking that enable individuals to understand changing environments, create new knowledge and shape their own destinies. We must respond to new challenges by promoting learning in all aspects of life, through all institutions of society, in effect, creating environments in which living is learning" (The Amman Affirmation, 1996).

2. New Learning Environments; New Challenges for Learning

Three new dynamics are shaping learning environments, requiring fundamental rethinking of the content and learning objectives of education, the contexts in which learning and the acquisition of new knowledge occur, and the skills required for learning, both initially and over a lifetime.

First is the movement toward more open and democratic societies, globally competitive economies and more active citizenship and participation at all levels. New approaches are needed supporting active learning, critical thinking and collaborative inquiry from the early grades onward. Content at all levels needs to go beyond the academic curriculum and factual knowledge to include exploration of the environment in all respects, open-ended inquiries and consideration of multiple possibilities for design tasks, problem-solving, social and personal choices. In addition to the foundation skills and personal disciplines, essential learning skills include creativity, curiosity and the abilities to work and learn with others in environments of mutual respect and value. The learning environment itself will have to provide room and support for such active learning and open learning in increasingly diverse learning communities as well as provide sufficient governance and accountability to sustain support and encourage further exploration of improved approaches.

Second is the expansion of communications and information technologies, dramatically increasing the volume of information available to learners, the connectedness among communities of learners and the ability of learners to engage in more interactive and exploratory forms of learning. Helping learners to make sense of the available information will be an increasing challenge. The skills of assessing and evaluating information and of relating the information to the context of the learner need to be taught, not just expected. Among the new learning skills will be those of accessing information, sharing knowledge and learning together with others through organisational networks and communications webs connecting learners to broader learning and knowledge-building communities.
Third is the continuing change in all dimensions - social, economic, technologic. Learners, individually and as communities, need to engage in continuous learning and the generation and acquisition of new knowledge over a lifetime. Much of the knowledge needed for productive citizenship over the lifetime of today's children does not yet exist. Essential skills include those of accessing information, collaboration with others, joint problem-solving and the communications skills necessary for continuing learning beyond the school and over a lifetime. These skills build on the values of active learning, including curiosity, personal efficacy and respect for others.
In addition, there is new urgency to ensuring that education at all levels and in all places reinforces a culture of peace, tolerance and respect for human rights; helps resolve conflicts and prevent violence; and supports the emergence of new, inclusive, coherent and resilient communities in societies emerging from conflict. Human Rights must both be taught as essential knowledge and applied in the classroom and other learning environments. A culture of peace must be reinforced through all aspects of education, including respect for other views and recognition of the inherent diversity of all learning communities.
These values must be reflected not just in academic studies and abstract discussion, but also in the arts, in athletics, in governance of educational activities and in all the interactions among members of each learning community. Choices about language of instruction, inclusion or exclusion of minorities, provisions for the effective education of girls, governance and accountability for schools and other value-based decisions about the provision of education are effectively part of the curriculum. They teach and reinforce knowledge and values that lead either to healthy, cohesive, resilient and respectful communities or to communities in conflict, unable to work and live together and wasting resources and opportunities for the common future. These are continuing concerns and ethical choices for all countries and communities, but they are of particular urgency in communities emerging from conflict, or at risk of civil conflict.
3. Choices
These challenges require new content emphases and new pedagogic approaches and raise fundamental questions about how to assess education progress against new objectives and expectations and how to reflect such assessments in education plans, policies and budgets.. At the same time, there continues to be deep concern for how to meet the existing basic education objectives and expectations. As communities continue to focus on meeting basic learning needs, including foundation skills and the skills, knowledge and values supporting individual and community identity in each context, they must also begin to address the challenges of the new learning environments.
All countries face these choices. None can expect success for the future with rigid and closed education systems without re-examining the curricula and reflecting on the values embedded in the education approaches. There remains for all countries and communities an urgent need to address basic learning needs on a continuing basis, but within an inexorable process of new information, technologic change and evolving societies. The key issue is how to make progress toward both sets of objectives through approaches that are cost-effective, feasible at full scale and manageable within the constraints of the system's management, governance and pedagogic support capacities (e.g. teacher training and support, materials development, technical support) at the level of each community. The key resources for this to happen will continue to be leadership, vision, courage and a willingness to explore new possibilities.
4. Issues for discussion:
What are the possibilities for meeting both sets of challenges through new approaches employing content integration and exploratory learning in more open learning environments using technology appropriately to support the new approaches and to facilitate continuing learning?
Does movement toward greater diversity, more openness and more exploratory learning mean less acccountability? Or, are there feasible ways of setting new standards and measures of learning, with new ways for learners to demonstrate competency and be assessed in performance
Are gaps in communications and information media technology the main constraint to more engaged and interactive learning? Or, is the constraint more the difficulties in changing the environment of the classroom, supporting teachers in new ways and managing the transition to interactive learning in more open learning environments?
Does movement toward more inclusive systems, the encouragement of critical thinking and respect for other views and cultures create unacceptable challenges to the status quo? Or, are such changes in the values and culture of the school essential to developing vigorous, cohesive communities with the resilience to manage change, promoting sustainable civil societies and preparing new generations of active learners and active citizens?
Are the new learning approaches necessarily more expensive and more difficult to manage and implement ?


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