Lifelong learning starts at school - Education Matters Magazine
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Lifelong learning starts at school

Andrew Smith

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) recently published Learning for Life: the latest edition of their Skills Outlook Report, Education Services Australia CEO Andrew Smith discusses.

The report finds that lifelong learning is an important factor in a person’s ability to succeed in labour markets and societies that are being shaped by mega trends such as increasing life expectancy, environmental change, globalisation and rapid technological change.

A key feature in this year’s report was the impact of COVID-19 on students who experienced lengthy periods of remote learning: a very important topic, which Education Services Australia (ESA) also examined in an Australian context last year.

The OECD finds that the skills needed to continue learning during the COVID crisis are also key to developing a lifelong learning mindset. Teachers, schools and education systems have an important role to play in promoting positive attitudes toward lifelong learning.

An estimated 1.6 billion students globally were forced to make the transition from a traditional learning environment to a more challenging alternative: remote schooling. While some students were able to keep up with the transition to remote learning, many others, particularly young and socio-economically disadvantaged learners, experienced large learning losses. It is commonly accepted that unless these learning losses are tackled, these children’s long-term social and economic prosperity will suffer.

Factors that contributed to learning loss include lack of digital infrastructure in homes, lack of previous experience with digital tools, differences in parental support, and variations in teacher capability and confidence. These were all factors that ESA found similarly prevalent in Australia.

While teachers have always played a particularly important role in the educational development of students, the pandemic has highlighted the creativity and resourcefulness demanded of teachers in a digital society. The increased need for teachers to provide social-emotional support to students and to collaborate with parents in supporting students’ learning goals during distance learning are trends that will likely continue into the future.

The OECD report found that in the short term, the pandemic could lead to an increase in early school leavers. In the medium and long term, lower engagement could result in the current generation of students failing to develop positive learning attitudes at a time of profound structural changes that will require people to upgrade their skills throughout their life.

Beyond the impact of the pandemic, today’s students will need to be successful learners in the digital world. Research shows that there are two key roles for education here. First, to drive student uptake of digital technologies for learning, and second, to  develop students into discerning and critical users of technology.

As technology advances, it is increasingly important that young people are prepared to take part in a workforce that is increasingly shaped by technology. Given the rapid rate of technological change, students today must develop a set of broad skills and perspectives that support lifelong learning in novel and unfamiliar digital environments.

Teachers, schools, and systems have been creative in adopting digital and technology-based strategies as alternatives to the traditional classroom. Following the experience of COVID-19 and the resulting digital transformation across education and schools, we can expect systems to accelerate their efforts to address challenges and harness opportunities in digital innovation more widely.

To combat these risks, teachers in classrooms across the country are working hard to identify the learning and wellbeing needs of their students, because when teachers know what students need, they can plan and teach in a targeted way.

Teachers themselves are lifelong learners. Providing access to high quality professional learning that is made freely available through trusted online platforms is vital to supporting classroom teachers.

Teachers looking to enhance their understanding and skills in supporting student wellbeing can find self-paced online professional learning available on the Student Wellbeing Hub.

For those with an interest in developing engaging programs that embed digital technologies into classroom practice, the Digital Technologies Hub has an array of resources to expand teacher’s repertoire.

Working together to meet the needs of teachers, we can help ensure that young Australians establish the habits that will make them lifelong learners from the early days of their schooling.

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