07 November 2022

How to make schools catch up with the 21st century?

Author: Karolina Czopek,


Today’s students need a multi-dimensional set of skills: the ones for both their present and future lives, abilities they can use at home and work, traditional skills as well as those associated with the changing world. But above all, whatever students are learning, they should do it in the spirit of cooperation,  strengthening critical thinking and flexibility. That’s what we’re all about.

World complexity

Life is more and more complex and this is why students need to learn to prioritize their lives and how to survive –these words, from one of our respondents in HTT research in the Philippines, can serve as the summary of a very accurate approach to schooling. Not just in the Philippines, because students all over the world – although they live in very different environments and face different challenges – expect the same thing from a school education: solid preparation for living in a dynamic world.

Life-like lessons

And this dynamic world requires us to combine different skills. We should learn this from the very childhood. Schools should teach this. An inspiring example comes from the Philippines. To make lessons life-like, Filipino teachers try to integrate particular skills with others. For instance, cooking lessons are combined with teaching entrepreneurship: students prepare a meal to sell to their classmates. Through this, they learn how to calculate their income. It is a very useful, if not essential, skill in the Philippines, where a large part of the population work in the trade sector (for example, selling their crops at markets and running small stores or restaurants). In this way, schools give students tools to help their parents with work.

Not just dry facts

We can probably all agree that knowledge is a great value. By knowledge, however, we should not just mean dry facts such as dates and definitions. It can be more useful to know how to make an electrical socket yourself. Or how to sew clothes. How to plant a tree. Filipino students learn it all in schools and, according to conversations with our researchers, they value it very much. Modern schools shouldn’t cut off so-called traditional skills, as long as they are useful in students’ lives.

Overarching goal

Of course, the set of useful skills will be different for students in the Philippines and different for those in UK or UAE.  The former often have to take care of themselves in the absence of their parents. For this reason, Philippine education places a strong focus on students’ independent functioning. We learn cooking, experiments, how to take care of our bodies and animals. And how to survive by ourselves, Filipino students conclude. The challenges for schools in other regions will differ in some ways. The overarching goal is the same: to equip students with the tools to cooperate,  think critically, develop their creativity and live meaningfully in a changing world.

Teachers first

School equipment, including computers, is not the same everywhere in the world either. In the Philippines, technology-oriented lessons constitute a part of the syllabus. Sadly, the school we visited in our research does not have the means to provide enough equipment to make the lessons effective. This is a problem faced by many schools around the world and yet the ability to interact with digital technologies is practically indispensable in the 21st century. This obstacle, however, can be eliminated by systemic investments, while more important is the teachers` attitude: awareness of the importance of digital skills and readiness to focus on them in the classrooms. Equipment is important, but if we want schools to catch up with the 21st century, we should think first and foremost about teachers. Their passion, responsibility, and willingness to pass on to the new generation what it needs.