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21st century: What Schools Should Teach

Jarosław Kordziński

Today we face the reality of modern society: neither education nor production systems are tailored to develop 21st century competences. Neither in schools nor at work do they teach us how to learn, think and interact[1].
/Jérémy Lamri/

Before we start…

Before starting an inquiry about any issue, it is worth asking yourself why we are doing it. For example, when considering the development of school in the 21st century, to answer the question, whether do you need to look for answers about what it should teach? Especially if we assume that: “While the very forms of acquiring knowledge tend to change over the years, the understanding of the concept “school “seems invariably the same [2]”. Numerous studies, including social studies involving students, their parents and teachers indicate an urgent need to focus not so much on the area of learning content (this is readily available in web browsers), but on formulating development goals, critical selection of content and methodology of work, the ability to assess the results achieved in the context of both real benefits and the possibility of their various application and planning of further development.

Helpful in developing proposals for solutions to modify the modern school, or more precisely: building a learning space for students, there are two books discussing the results of several studies on the organization of education and paths conducive to achieving specific outcomes of education. First one is by John Hattie, Visible Learning for Teachers.  Maximizing impact on learning (Warsaw 2013) and the second one is by Andreas Schleicher, World Class Education (Warsaw 2019). Hatti’s book is a synthesis of the results of more than 900 studies involving millions of students and is the most extensive focus on observations, what actually affects students’ learning. Andreas Schleicher portrays the experience of observing seventy different education systems over the last two decades, backed up by the presentation of very detailed research results and conclusions. Although the mentioned items, in general, seem to be noteworthy for the purposes of this study we will focus only on two quotations that define in their own way the framework for interpreting the state of the modern school and the possibilities for changing it. First, let’s have a look at what Hattie has to say: “Goal-oriented learning consists of two elements: a clear representation of what to learn in a lesson or in a cycle of lessons (learning goal) and ways of verification, if the desired learning has actually taken place (success criteria). (…) Teachers need to know how to make sure that all students in classroom stay on track for achieving their goal and they also need to evaluate the students’ progress on their way to this goal. Clear teaching intentions can also build mutual trust between student and teacher, resulting in both parties becoming more committed to the challenges and pursuing the goal.[3]” And Schleicher adds: “A high-class education system can be shaped by setting right standards, creating precise, targeted and consistent content, limiting repetition in curricula across groups, reducing differences in how curricula are delivered in different schools, and — what could be perhaps the most significant thing — reducing inequality between different socioeconomic groups[4]”. In both cases, we are talking about the organization of learning for a specific reason — in order to achieve certain results that can be used in different ways in the future. In both cases, we are talking about the responsibility of teachers for such an organization of the learning process of students, which will have a purpose (determined by desired competences that form the basis for a wide spectrum of diverse activities) and which will enable students to verify on an ongoing basis their newly acquired competences, enjoy and avail at the same time of their brand new opportunities.

The thought on how to organize students’ learning process with different sets of competences in mind has accompanied work on the development of education system for at least half a century. One of the most spectacular endeavors in this regard was the recommendation of the European Parliament and the Council covering a set of eight key competences:

  • communicating in the mother tongue,
  • communicating in a foreign language,
  • mathematical, scientific and technical competences,
  • IT competence,
  • the ability to learn,
  • social and civic competences,
  • sense of initiative and entrepreneurship,
  • cultural awareness and expression.

A few years later, performed analyses and perceived needs led to the development of a new set[5] of the competences, this time formed on the basis of:

  • competences in comprehending and creating information,
  • linguistic competence,
  • mathematical competences and competences in natural sciences, technology and engineering,
  • digital competences,
  • personal, social and learning competences,
  • civic competence,
  • entrepreneurship skills,
  • competence in cultural awareness and expression.

Alongside the formal solutions, it is worth mentioning one more proposal, this time put forth by a prominent NGO active in the education sector in Poland[6]. According to the authors of the project, the key competences are:

  • independent thinking,
  • cooperation,
  • problem solving,
  • self-management,
  • leadership.

The proposed solutions advocate the line of thinking, which is probably most reminiscent of the solutions suggested by HTT. The authors of the project point to the imperative of developing pro-innovative competences.  It is important for the changes to be the result of a planned process and to be shaped by the current experience of students at school. The purpose of implementing new solutions should be the creation of culture conducive to the development of students brought about by ongoing development of selected competences within the framework of subject teaching and the organization of school activities.

“What School Should Teach” (WSST) list

From the overview of “What should school teach?”, it follows that the starting point was to engage in Internet research based on the accepted key concepts of “what school should teach” and “how school should teach it”.  Indications were arranged according to the adopted structure, which, on the one hand, organized the records in relation to teaching techniques and methods described by researchers as being used in schools, and on the other hand assigned them to selected areas of skills or specific subject matter. In effect of performed analytical work, it turned out that: “Some [results] were not within the realm of “what school should teach “, and instead, they were within the realm of ”how school should teach.” Yet another category of texts, despite the fact that it was supposed to indicate the content that should be taught in an average school, completely omitted specific skills. Hence, some of the findings had to be rejected, as they simply failed to meet the criteria described by the research team”. To improve the performance at the level of preliminary synthesis, a special format (“flash”) was developed, which allowed to collect and compare the gathered findings. These were once again processed with respect to the adopted set of categories, which allowed to generate a list of ninety-three skills that school should teach in particular areas. The quantity and repeatability of certain elements of the findings meant that gathered information was processed once again, thus yielding, first, twelve areas for the WSST list, and then, after yet another synthesis, ten areas in the final version of the WSST list:

  • tackling challenges (formulating, decomposing and solving problems, collecting and organizing data, critical thinking)
  • relating to the outside world, nature and one’s body (devising specific patterns, abstraction and creation of models, understanding of causal relationships and links of past to present and future, maintenance, care for and equitable use of natural resources and cultural heritage, making choices based on the idea of common good);
  • the idea of study and learning (respect for the achievements of science, analysis of sources, positive attitude towards learning and an attitude of openness towards new experiences, knowledge that offers autonomy in specific areas and which is a source of further knowledge, self-regulation of learning);
  • functioning in society (participation, respect, ability to self-reflect, dealing with conflicts, prejudice and privilege recognition);
  • aesthetics and cultural education (assigning meanings, aesthetic skills, sound awareness, conversational analysis, creativity);
  • functioning in environment characterized by diversity (dealing with differences, awareness of local and global issues, global literacy, effective and constructive relationships with others);
  • relating to the state (social justice, social responsibility, democratic actions);
  • entrepreneurship (financial decision-making, proactivity, planning, hope, perseverance);
  • interpersonal communication (communication skills and the ability to change one’s point of view, verbalization of thoughts, understanding the culture of language);
  • self-development (pre-emptiness, humanitarianism, awareness of one’s uniqueness, self-esteem and self-evaluation, self-awareness, intellectual humility, orientation to life).

Facing Challenges

One of the key challenges that school faces is developing students’ learning skills. Here, first of all, it is important to set a given goal (in conjunction with the student’s experiences – knowledge, skills, aspirations), and secondly, to determine, what result would provide evidence of the achievement of set goal. We are talking of work addressing the key question: “what for?”. It’s about determination of the reason, extent, and effects of the expected change. Facing the challenge is to see own development potential. It’s ascertainment of the possibility of reaching yet another milestone on the way to adulthood The measurement itself assumes recognition of a specific scale and the process of verifying the results. Hence, analysis, synthesis and customization skills are needed, allowing the acquired results to be used in various situations. This is a reiteration of the set of goals adopted in Bloom’s taxonomy, crucial to the learning process. Going all the way from the level of simple achievements, like: memorizing, understanding, using, to more complicated ones, like: analyzing, creative assessment (evaluation) and using for new applications. When student faces challenges, it sets him free from the restrictive framework of remembering and reproducing data or using simple algorithms. The inclusion of the learning process in the structure of information processing or testing new solutions broadens the scope of acquired competences and makes them more useful and effective in practical application in various life situations. Moreover, this framework translates into other, highly modern solutions, namely the SAMR model developed by Ruben Puentedura, which defines several levels of technology integration in the education process allowing a better understanding of opportunities for using digital tools in the learning process. SAMR stands for:

  • Substitution
  • Augmentation (enlargement, extension)
  • Modification
  • Redefinition

At the first level – S, we refer to the first two levels of Bloom’s taxonomy (knowing, understanding), in the next level – A, we proceed to the level of application (use in typical and unusual situations), the next level — M includes analysis and evaluation to reach the highest level — R described by taxonomy author as creation. As a result, using the above solutions, students will be able to learn any new content and at the same time practice using it in highly diverse situations. And by assuming that learning is not so much about memorization but about processing content (experiences), students will develop faster and more broadly.

Critical thinking is also crucial to this area – especially important in times of unlimited outright access to desirable content (both real and false or aimed at manipulating users). This competence is emphasized by numerous entities presenting key skills of the 21st century. One of them is Jérémy Lamri, who in his book “ The 21st Century Skills ” defines critical thinking after Diane Halpern as a way of using cognitive abilities to increase the chances of achieving desired results, as a basis for the mental factors (strategies and imaginations) used for problem solving, decision-making and learning. Described predispositions or more specific skills are centered around the following four aspects:

  • observation — collecting and analyzing arguments as well as perceiving differences,
  • identification – identifying dependencies and creating links between elements resulting from observations,
  • relevance – assessment of weight based on criteria such as truthfulness, usefulness, positive or negative consequences,
  • decision making – proposing the most appropriate response resulting from synthesis leading to the most logical conclusion[7].

The presented account also fits in somewhat in the gaining in popularity as a learning scheme of students – the Kolb cycle, which first refers to individual experiences, later to sharing and verifying the results obtained and finally, to find opportunities for specific applications. Critical thinking is one of the basic parameters of active learning that enables combining knowledge and experience with reflection and choices when trying out novel solutions.

Suitability for education

Learning as a process of facing up to challenges is one of the more valuable ways to engage, inspire and sustain students’ desire to work both during their classes and out of school. Studies of the brain of children and adolescents show that the efficiency of its work is greater when confronted with new challenges. The brain of students does not like routine, repetitive, restorative, every day and ordinary activities. When preparing classes, it is worth remembering that they should offer a surprise, so that the student may expect some new challenges, and his activity may be as manifold as possible. This is a special feature of children and adolescents who by nature are curious about the world and want to explore its secrets as fully as possible. This makes all things unknown, unusual, mysterious, not entirely explained – attracting attention.

On the other hand, it is worth making sure that what is new may be combined with what has already been explored. So that students can refer to their experiences on the one hand, but also to their operational knowledge and to learned skills. Most of all, it is worth developing critical thinking skills — binding facts, testing actions reinforcing selected processes, using skills and the attitude of reflective practitioner. Here, a separate reinforcement should come as team work (preferably, with a single partner) as well as ongoing practice of providing feedback. It forms the basis for exercising formative evaluation, which enables reinforcing the responsibility and commitment of students and assuming their responsibility for reaching their goals consistently and confirming and celebrating their successes.

Functioning in relation to the world, nature and one’s own body

Preserving an active relationship with the world, nature and one’s body is a challenge that is especially significant for building the attitude of responsibility. This is an important aspect of learning to live in harmony with nature, including the reactions and consequences of our organism to the actions we choose and take. Now we enter the sphere of solutions defined by the acronym STEAM or right now, maybe more adequate term would be STREAM, covering the areas identified by subsequent letters of the acronym, namely:

  • Science,
  • Technologies — technologies, digital solutions,
  • Robotics,
  • Engineering,
  • Arts,
  • Mathematics.

It is about the organization of the learning process in line with the premise that the world is one, that everything depends on each other, that we are able to get to know and preserve the principles of sustainable development when we follow the rule: “Think globally, act locally”. The cited slogan, which is very popular in circles dealing with pro-environmental activities, is at the same time one of the main messages of the Youth Climate Strike — a circle of young people who perceive the link connecting people’s actions and the changing condition of the planet Earth. Participating actively in the Strike is a foundation for binding together various forms of work contemplated by different subjects, fields of knowledge or forms of activity. A good way of preparing for finding in oneself and reinforcing this type of attitude is the aforementioned work using the STREAM model, which is predominantly based on active work of students using the project method and organizing workshops, which promote better assimilation of knowledge and cause students taking part in classes to focus on finding solutions and creating new things that they can explore, test and verify, acquiring crucial competences in the process, such as teamwork, action planning, ability to analyze, as well as the ability to draw conclusions constructively. Moreover, education with the application of the STREAM model in addition to activities tuned specifically for given subjects (mathematics, physics, biology, chemistry or computer science) tests the possibilities of using digital technologies in everyday life, thus promoting the acquisition of such skills as the ability to think logically and creatively or the development of computational thinking, which is highly desirable both in the labor market and in everyday life.

A significant challenge within this area is to focus on the responsibility for sustainable development taking into account personal progress while respecting cultural and natural heritage. This is about the respect for the legacy continuously expanded by migrants experiences and by own migratory experiences, which increase the spectrum of development challenges with resources shared by other cultures or communities. A notable threat to the development in this dimension is the ever greater availability of all kinds of goods and excessive consumerism as well as an attitude characterized by drive towards immediate satisfaction of own needs which is especially pronounced among children and young people. Therefore, it is extremely important to expand the educational offer by knowledge and experiences, including decision making process in the context of the needs of maintenance, care and fair use of natural and cultural resources. Significant is reinforcing the sense of personal accountability for self-development, including the consequences of disregard for nutritional norms, the need for movement and thoughtless use of stimulants. 

Suitability for education

Education system more and more so takes on the role of teaching successive generations how to function in the global area. This is also the case when no traveling is done to other places or no direct contact is made with representatives of other cultures or nations. Learning how to be responsible for own actions in a particular way promotes testing, exercising, and participating in workshops and even more so it enables implementing projects. Each of these forms of activity is not merely possible, but really advisable for use in everyday schooling practice. It would be beneficial to encourage schools and teachers not only to work using these methods, but also to shape a culture of research, proactive behaviors and evaluation of specific student activities.

It is also worth promoting the idea of activating solutions through the use of digital technologies, by availing, on the one hand, of the opportunities of free communication using various environments or communication channels. On the other hand, there can be applied selected programs or ready-made applications to involve students in the learning process. An example would be Action bound — a smartphone field game[8] that hinges on the students’ ability to act independently, penetrate specific locations, develop group work skills and practical application of knowledge acquired in school.

The idea of education and learning

The competence especially positively perceived and expected in students by teachers is a set of learning skills. In the first set of key competences proposed by the Parliament and the Council of the European Union, it was[9] included in personal and social competences and was understood as the ability to self-reflect, effectively manage time and information, constructively work with others, as well as maintain resilience and manage own learning and professional career. These competences include the ability to cope with uncertainty and complexity, and the ability to learn.  They represent the ability to determine own capabilities, concentrate, cope with complexity, reflect critically, and make decisions. They refer to the ability to learn and work in a group and individually, as well as to organize own learning scheme, persistence in learning, its evaluation and sharing knowledge. They allow you to effectively seek support and effectively manage your own career and social interactions. On top of that, they include showing tolerance, expressing and understanding different viewpoints, as well as creating a sense of certainty and feeling empathy.

Competences in learning should be considered not only as a set of simple techniques or working methods, but rather as a kind of attitude, including, among other things, the desire to engage in lifelong learning and its consequences. The starting point is respect for the achievements of science and analysis of information sources.  This is where the ability to think critically comes in once again. Widespread information and relatively easy access to information and, in part, also to knowledge, means that we do not always critically avail of the above resources. The ability to use scientific knowledge mainly is to do with the principle of verification of information sources and data. It is a particularly challenging issue at the level of school education, when the independent work of students is sometimes reduced to the unreflective acquisition of the information used in a given task without any verification. Sometimes teachers are troubled by textbooks or recommended information sources. A considerable challenge is also learning in ideologized systems, where not only specific sources but also their suppliers impose ideas that would require critical verification or at least clarification. As a result, what is of key importance, is to organize the learning process in such a way, which would allow the discovery of knowledge gaps and that would set development objectives based on knowledge promoting readiness for lifelong learning. It is also important that such choices are autonomous and allow you to search for knowledge and experience verifying other people’s proposals and allowing you to make personal decisions optimal for life, development or career.

Suitability for education

Given that learning is the key challenge posed to students, it is worth focusing on this set of skills as the main challenge facing the school and teachers. Especially since more and more often it is being said that students are being forced to learn, but there is really no one teaching them how they should do it. Moreover, a part of the academic community, parents and even teachers, voice the opinion that students’ stay in school should be conducive not so much to learn what adults (mainly teachers) offer them, but to their personal involvement in the learning process. On the one hand, this practice requires good planning of student achievements, on the other hand, it requires tutoring support from teachers and on the third hand, practicing methods that allow students to experience activities supporting their commitment and the ability to achieve the expected success in the very learning process. One such solution is the practice of the so-called reverse lesson. This method involves changing the rules of work during classes. It assumes that students first get acquainted with the provided new information, and then, in the lesson that they would deepen and consolidate their knowledge, practice their skills by solving problems with the help of the teacher’s knowledge. This way of working requires an extra involvement of students, but it also presents serious challenges for teachers who, in order to encourage students and engage them in their work, must themselves find or prepare a variety of materials and make them available to students. These can be videos, animations, articles, presentations, sound materials, interesting websites or applications. Moreover, both teachers and students themselves know a number of platforms on which such resources can be found. They prepare such material and combine it with the information contained in textbooks sold by specialized publishing houses.

Practicing reverse classes is possible for most subjects. Yet another benefit from its application may be the individualization of the learning method of individual students, including the ability to adjust the requirements posed to students. In addition, students learn to use online resources intentionally and critically and develop their social competences, including skills to present, argue or explain questions of doubt during classroom activities.

Functioning in society

Social challenges, defining the social position of students, are determined, on the one hand, by natural developmental aspects inscribed in the development of children and early adolescents, while on the other hand, by social factors, and in particular, by values that determine typical views, beliefs and stereotypes. A series of guides[10] developed under the guidance of Prof. A.I. Brzezinska describes the social functioning of children as a peculiar process. Starting with early childhood education:…it is the stage of greatest importance from the point of view of the child’s social development.  The start of school education is associated with significant changes in the social environment of the child, and consequently, also in the way of its functioning. The nature of the relationships that the child establishes at this stage of development largely shapes the course of his further life in the context of relationships with other people, cooperative skills and attitude towards work[11].”  In turn, adolescence is the time of creating different spheres of autonomy. “In the context of social relations, you can talk about different types of autonomy:

  • functional autonomy: solving own problems independently without seeking help from parents,
  • emotional autonomy: no excessive solicitation of parental acceptance and proximity,
  • autonomy concerning attitudes: the extent to which an adolescent expresses own opinions and values being different from those held by his parents and other adults important to him.[12]

This overlaps a special type of relationships that young people build with representatives of peer groups, that are especially important and determinant of the essential part of their views, attitudes or behaviors in early adolescence.

The second dimension of factors determining the functioning of children and adolescents in society is defined by a system of values, stereotypes and beliefs set to an important extent by belonging to a specific social bubble by both children and adolescents and, to no lesser extent, their parents, and by their parents’ authority.

The process of socializing students is best activated by the specificity of the organization of classes. Specifically, in this context, it is worth following the constructivists approach in encouraging to strengthen students’ co-responsibility for the learning process on an ongoing basis and reduce the direct burden of the teacher’s responsibility in this regard.  This, of course, imposes on the teacher greater responsibility for developing the intellectual maturity of students, reinforces the need for and practice of acquisition of knowledge in cooperation with others and promotes the formation of the skills of self-processing and selecting information. The formation of social competences during classes is promoted by teamwork, frequent exploratory dialogues conducted both in small groups and in pairs, as well as by ongoing monitoring of the results achieved and by giving each other (also in student pairs) feedback.

The second action area for the social functionality of students is the issue of norms and values. Norms and values shape students’ attitudes in response to their challenges, especially in such spheres, as diversity, relationship building, opening up or even in showing empathy towards others. This is a serious challenge because it is linked with developing a myriad of attitudes and actions in adult life, which can lead to the formation of barriers, various forms of exclusions or merely conflicts.

Suitability for education

The issue of the functioning of students in society is largely a consequence of formative (or educational) activities undertaken at school. Legal indications impose on the environment of teachers the requirement to undertake the main objectives, values and key actions that define school pedagogical work together with parents. Partially, it is also emphasized to engage students themselves in this area of action. The aims and objectives of teachers with respect to working on students’ attitudes define key provisions of the law[13]. They should also be described in detail in documents governing the operation of school, such as the statutes or the preventive and educational program.

Practical shaping of the social functioning of students should be strengthened, on the one hand, by observing democratic procedures and involving students in as many participatory activities as possible which are important from the perspective of goals, values, work and general principles of school operation. It is also worth extending the offer to include various forms of possible involvement proposed by NGOs. Of special importance is also a given place and scope of possible activities of student council or other – formal and informal groups involved in joint activities.

From the perspective of school subjects, these measures may be realized as part of any type of class. Fair reinforcement of social practices in the classroom could be the preparing of lessons with recourse to the principles of formative assessment. It would also be valuable to use the project method or encourage students to cooperate in the reverse classes.

Aesthetics and Cultural Education

The dimension of the school’s activities in the area of aesthetics and cultural education is related to at least two dimensions of work with children and young people:

  • formation of sensitivity to various forms of intercultural communication continuously provided by the media, but also resulting from everyday interpersonal contacts;
  • reducing susceptibility to consumption mechanisms that determine a significant proportion of our aesthetic choices.

Living in a global village with widespread access to highly diverse information and ever greater autonomy in selecting effective and potential media providers, results in increased autonomy, which is limited by certain digital solutions. A key challenge for schools in this respect is strengthening awareness of the area and practices of autonomous activities and, at the same time, of the risks caused by the influence of the Internet and media, reinforced by our own decisions to share our personal data.

Once again we turn back to entertain the options provided by the practice of critical thinking, which, combined with the challenges that define the next levels of Bloom’s taxonomy, allow us to organize the learning process of students not only in the dimension of receiving, memorizing and identifying meanings, but also in making qualitative assessment of their relevance and in making independent choices, analyzing received information from the media and determining its real usefulness, just like the various possibilities of using it.

A considerable challenge, but also a resource, is the readiness and to a considerable extent the ease with which children, and in particular teenagers use different signs and codes that govern the transmission of information, interplay with it, and the linking of certain meanings with given emotions. This is the case in all forms of street art, rap or various individual or group provocations. In most cases, it is about the quest for own expression, various forms of intertextual activities are involved, often it is about having fun, but also it’s presenting own values or a way of personal description of selected aspects of reality. The last thing worth dealing with in this regard would be to analyze the so-called “youth language”. What seems to be particularly valuable is to engage in a dialogue with students about the causes and forms of creating currently used forms of communication by them. They show identifiable constructs of the language of transmission and communication, and make it possible to reach social mechanisms, which often in a very non-obvious form depict current determinants of attitudes, choices and, in some sense, the values that determine the behavior of present day teenagers.

Suitability for education

The language of art is a form of metacommunication. One of the methods of working in school using this type of competence are metaphor-linked activities. It is an incentive for students to present content, associations, their own assessments, reflections and positions, but not explicitly. We are talking here about skipping tables, diagrams or juxtapositions, and creating digital solutions, open social events (performances, flash mob or live installation) or various forms of communication using the specifics of graffiti or rap. What seems to be of key importance is the question of how students perceive the world, the attitudes of certain characters or heroes, and the values presented in the cultural texts discussed.

Given that the language of art is not restricted to a given subject, it is worth using it in various subjects, building generalizations or a message that clarifies the messages discussed. The use of this type of message can be seen in various activities undertaken by students such as Youth Climate Strike – on the one hand, focusing on a very precise and traditional form of communication (content development, preparation of classroom scenarios) and at the same time creating various social events using specially created passwords or characters. Practicing various forms of debate in school is also a very interesting issue. Enabling the exchange of views within specific framework and referencing specific content.

Functioning in diversity

The world is increasingly implementing solutions of inclusive education – a system of organizing the educational process providing equal opportunities for children with different educational needs.  One aspect of this type of solution is functioning in diversity. This applies not only to the issues of students with recognized and diagnosed special educational needs, but to all kinds of students who, because of their uniqueness, may have difficulty in exercising full use of educational services offered by the state. Functioning in diversity is obviously an important competence that students should use, but it should be recommended to teachers in the first place. Whether and to what extent students will be able to cope with the special needs of their colleagues greatly depends on their teachers. They should expand their competences in working with students posing a wide variety of challenges to school, and in particular they should work on their own attitudes, so as not to let by their language or behavior communicate that selected students are treated in a unique way, without rules and requirements or in some way that would be perceived as an exclusion, because the uniqueness of the student does not agree with the system of “values” represented by the teacher. In order for the school environment to fully reinforce inclusion, understood as full acceptance of and professional behavior towards every student, an open dialogue on diversity is needed, just like getting along and setting rules that guarantee full satisfaction of the special needs of students, working on to ensure full availability of space, instrumentation and communication so that every student can feel fully taken care of and aware of their resources and limitations and being able to work towards their own development.

Next to those students classified as special cases, i.e. students:

  • with disability;
  • with maladjustment or risk of social maladjustment;
  • with disorders of behavior or emotions;
  • with special abilities;
  • with specific learning disabilities;
  • with deficits of competence and impairment of speech and language performance;
  • with chronic disease;
  • remaining in a crisis or traumatic situation;
  • with the syndrome of educational failures;
  • from neglected environments;
  • with adaptive difficulties related to cultural differences or changes in the educational environment, including students previously educated abroad

in the context of diversity, students with experience of migration, non-heteronormative, with impaired instruments concerning self-confidence, responsibility, autonomy, initiative taking, cooperation, empathy, self-awareness, listening, flexibility or ability to adapt, should also be taken into account. Each mentioned case of diversity and many other manifestations of diversity should be regarded as an educational challenge, a source of inspiration for identifying needs and, if possibly, for their full fulfilment.

Suitability for education

Diversity is creative. Being able to interact with people with an utterly different way of perceiving, interpreting and describing the world is one of the more valuable factors of building our own mechanism of viewing the surrounding reality, of exercising diverse options of achieving planned goals and finally, of the formation of our empathy. Being able to use resources of diversity means an excellent learning environment. It is worth planning classes in such a way so that students can work as often as possible (in pairs, groups) with different colleagues, boys and girls. In order for students to present different experiences, reasons and ways of thinking as part of their tasks. It is also a good way of learning personalized valuation and of qualifying goals, and experience that the same effect can be obtained through different skill sets, typical of the specificity (diversity) of possibilities and limitations represented by different people.

This competence can be formed as part of just any subject. It requires high dose of sensitivity from teachers and possibly some ample knowledge about the limitations, specifics of forms and the way of perception of the world and response to stimuli, as well as specific resources, the involvement of which may be beneficial for the development of others.

Relating to the state

The area in question is the functioning of administration, schools and teachers, which should enable students to directly benefit from the democratic state. This means that the student should have full autonomy of choices made in accordance with the solutions adopted within the school. Autonomy, voting rights, participation, the ability to express own opinions and gather supporters for own cause are basic attributes of the environment building proper relations with any authority (including the state and its administration, but also school management, teachers and even student representation at both school and class level). Valuable tools worth using here are basic communication skills, activities linked to various forms of school or class representation and mediation proceedings.

Suitability for education

The key to shaping, implementing or developing the principles of functioning in relation with the state are the rules developed, verified and accepted by students and teachers, and later on, followed. It is a solution that can be exercised for each subject or in each individual lesson. The starting point is to discuss or to work out various procedures used in the course of a given lesson (objectives, forms of work, feedback), or as part of group work (planning, roles, presentation of results) or else as part of internal resolution of critical situations (principles of hearing out parties, forms of working out how to compensate for losses). One of the more interesting solutions to work through in this area is expediency and practice of so-called evaluation. School grades are often one of the most difficult to accept (and change) oppressive procedures in school. It would be interesting to work out and then practice alternative solutions developed together with students.

Entrepreneurship

Entrepreneurship is an attitude wrapped up by a range of skills, which is mainly associated with undertaking economic activity. Whereas, its immanent qualities have a close relationship with broadly understood competences in the area of learning or even more broadly, with working on one’s own development. It is a matter of precisely analyzing needs, weighing resources and opportunities for acting, specifying objectives and ways of how to proceed, gathering the necessary support, the consequences of actions, identifying the results achieved and the ability to come out strong from crisis or mistakes, but also to enjoy and celebrate successes. It’s in some sense another lesson to work through and the satisfaction of getting the expected results.

The key aspect of entrepreneurship is progression, i.e. according to the dictionary definition of the word “achieving the next stage of development[14]”. Education serves the same way — systematic procedures of teachers and students in order to successively achieve further development stages that expand the possibilities of action in accordance with successive increasingly higher positioned objectives. It is worth to relate the analyzed area to the awareness of goals, resources, costs, but also innovation, creativity, and learning from mistakes. School and education time are a relatively safe context of optimal experiences for each student of spheres and forms of activities for their own development. It is necessary to take advantage of them.

Suitability for education

Educational activities are worth considering as a special metaphor for business activities. This is a kind of game of Monopoly, requiring planning, skillful use of resources, investing, practicing forms of coping with failure or managing emergencies, never entering into cooperation, always being responsible for wrong decisions and celebrating own success, so often as possible. Skills and attitudes inscribed in “entrepreneurship” are actually worth “playing” in line with the rules of gamification, project activities, conclusion and compliance with contracts, conscientious and consistent fulfillment of obligations, repayment of losses and use of the results achieved. An important support for the full development of these types of attitudes and skills would be to provide students with tutor assistance, i.e. people who are able to assist in specifying goals, planning activities, making optimal use of resources or obtaining additional support from outside, people, who at the same time provide supportive and developmental feedback and, using appropriate questions, will inspire more actions.

Interpersonal communication

A key area of effective learning are conversations. When they’re for a reason. When they focus on questions. When they make it possible sharing, clarification and acceptance of newly understood concepts. Every school is a foreign language school. Each subject is a foreign language lesson. Learning is largely about getting to know and experiencing new meanings. Writing your own vocabulary for various fields of knowledge and life activities. In effect, communication is essential. It is worth building it according to the principles of constructivism, in which the following four challenges come to the fore:

  • exploratory speech,
  • peer learning,
  • working with error,
  • self-esteem.

Exploratory speech is a form of thinking out loud, speaking about what is being done, what we are going to achieve, what happened, how we feel about it all and what, eventually, has become the result of our actions. This is favored by peer learning, work done together with peers who similarly call what is still unknown, describe or illustrate what becomes the result of the work performed and who can draw attention to mistakes made, but also confirm the results obtained. Learning errors are one of the key tools for development. Any realized error means overcoming yet another threshold of unconscious incompetence, entering the area of conscious incompetence and ability to trace a path to acquire unconscious competence. That’s how we learn. We are helped by constant discourse, questions, crossing the threshold of misunderstanding and the practice of applying new concepts or solutions. It’s finally a path towards self-identification of self-development. Conscious evaluation of acquired achievements. Ability to use acquired resources in the context of their novel application.

Suitability for education

As Professor Sławek wrote in the preface to his book: “Learning means getting out of the house. Not alone, because we are accompanied by someone who leads us and cares for us to get to our destination. We are talking of pedagogue; according to Greek etymology, pedagogue is the one who leads the child to school[15]”. He’s going along with his man and they’re probably talking. I mean, he’s basically asking questions. He provides the answers and also the child has something to say. And this principle is worth practicing as a key aspect of using and developing communication competences. Focus on questions. Listen actively —  paraphrase, reflect on issues and clarify them. Encourage independent reflections, conclusions and generalizations. Promote taking responsibility for your own line of thought. Sometimes inspire with questions or facilitate in finding additional support.

Communication in school is the area of the teacher’s work characterized by special responsibility. Sometimes, it can be tutor, other times, a facilitator, perhaps a coach. Using the same framework, it is worth consolidating the development of students. Of those students who pose questions. Who can name things and verify the relevance of applied terms. Who learn though conversations with others. They seek and they find. And once they end up finding, they explain things to others, and look for new uses of things. In relations with the others. Exceptionally, in “dialogue” with oneself, but always in order to better prepare for a conversation with others.

Communication is an essential tool in learning any subject. For teachers it’s important to formulate the goals, practicing a conversation and the way how it is conducted. However, it is always worth focusing on inspiring dialogue, perhaps a debate, maybe a game using metaphors or the non-obvious application of certain concepts. In order to make students better remember, to let them find the poise in using a new language, and finally, to let them become owners of newly acquired concepts. 

Self-development

Many years ago, Abraham Maslov has put forth a scheme called the pyramid of needs. Initially, it was considered to describe a certain hierarchy of needs and set a certain direction of the determinants of the functioning of each individual all the way from the satisfaction of physiological needs, through the needs of security, belonging, and up to the needs of recognition and self-development. Over time, the legitimacy of the hierarchy of the described elements or stages has been undermined, no less the scheme itself actually indicates a set of needs and for many reasons it can be considered that the needs of hunger, thirst, sleep and sex to a large extent belong to the basic group, and the needs of recognition and development require some special commitment and, in essence, are not the variables determining the life of every person. Meanwhile, school should actually focus on them. From attending classes, students should gain satisfaction and appreciation. As a result of learning, they should reinforce in themselves the need for continuous development, nurture the imperative to work on themselves in accordance with the principle of lifelong learning, and focus on subsequent goals and activities to achieve the goals.

However, in order for this to happen, it is necessary to act at the school to meet the remaining needs indicated by Maslov. Physiological needs include, among others, issues of space, its functionality, aesthetics, access to light, and fresh air. All this should be taken care of by the school and teachers. The issue of security comes as the guarantee of the right to make mistakes, the restriction or better yet the elimination of making judgments, the abandonment of any grounds for exclusions. The sense of belonging continues to contribute to inclusion, but it also provides opportunities for building relationships, open communication, conducive to the development of the role and the position accepted and used by student. Finally, the need for recognition means full awareness of one’s strengths and weaknesses, the ability to use available resources and to cope with limitations. It’s adequate self-evaluation and assertiveness in relationships with others.

Suitability for education

Strengthening the readiness to work for the sake of one’s own development is yet another key sphere of school and teacher activity. A great reinforcement for its effective implementation are the principles inscribed in John Hattie’s conspicuous learning described as: “… a clearly defined and explicit goal, being an appropriate challenge in which both teacher and student (in their own way) seek to determine whether and to what extent this ambitious goal has been achieved. We deal with visible teaching and learning when actions are consciously taken to ensure full achievement of the goal, when feedback is sought and delivered, and when actively involved and full of enthusiasm people (teacher, student, peers) participate in learning process. It’s about teachers looking at learning through the eyes of students and students who see teaching as key to their learning[16].  These principles fulfil formative evaluation strategies defining not only the principles of organizing school lessons, but the work of the school as a whole, cooperation between teachers and parents, the principles of communicating in a group and with individual students, etc.

The development of the student is inscribed in every subject taught and in every action of the teacher. It requires satisfaction of all other spheres and determines what in learning (and probably also in life) is the most important, it also determines that we grow up, become more and more valuable and responsible, bring to the world and to others the reasons for satisfaction, which allows us to perceive ourselves as someone, who most certainly had the purpose to appear in this world.

Recommendations, proposals, reflections…

The authors of the preface to Jérémi Lamri’s book “The 21st Century Skills,” Michel Barabel and Oliver Meier noted quite accurately that: “When it comes to the skills, there is a conclusion that must be drawn in the first place: hypercompetition, shortage of strategic resources, globalization and technological progress will make us work differently. (…) Initially, the changes will concern data management, their processing, optimization of tasks, process coordination, performance monitoring, and planning resources and activities. This inevitable reality forces us to rethink the concept of learning and moving away from storage (the pursuit of knowledge accumulation) to flow (constant renewal of knowledge). The ability to “learn” thus becomes a key skill of the individual, enabling him to maintain high quality competence, preserve continuous improvement and thus gain yet another competence, that is, employability[17]”.  What is of key importance in the statement quoted is the suggestion of abandoning the accumulation of knowledge in favor of its continuous renewal, understood, among other things, as daily practice of information management, coordination of processes and monitoring of effects. These types of results are difficult to achieve in the routine of weekly lessons, program implementation and evaluation of student performance. Who knows, maybe a solution would be to focus the engagement of the school, teachers and students on a selected set of competences — for example, the Holistic Think Tank’s “What Should School Teach” (WSST) list of areas?

It is unlikely that national education reform may be sufficient to implement this type of solution. It doesn’t work like that. Having said that, in each country, there are opportunities to undertake various innovative measures. It is a matter of designing and launching a program that would enable schools or even individual groups of teachers to take on the challenge of working against the formal rigors of organizing daily activities for students. In Poland, one such example is the movement initiated by one of the largest NGOs focused on activities in the field of education (Centre for Civic Education) and implemented under the name of “Shaping Assessment”. However, opportunities for innovative activities in school also include individual initiatives. Schools may come up with a solution deviating from the formal requirements of the law and propose an original solution. In Poland, an example can serve the Primary School in Radów Mały, where for many years classes have taken place as part of a coordinated series of projects and activities of students and teachers undertaken to shape specific competencies. The least expansive project, to an extent following some implementations of the “Formative Assessment”, could be innovations implemented under the common name “HTT Competences in Lessons”, which would refer to individual classes and teams of teachers employed to work in them. The optimal solution would be to apply such a measure to a given class in a given education cycle (in Poland, that would preferably work for grades 4-6 or 7-8, and even 4-8). Implementation would require providing teachers with additional training preparing them for work in the WSST area. In Poland, this type of solution was implemented in the years 2019-2022 as part of the national project “School for the innovator[18]”.


[1] J. Lamri, 21st Century Competences. Warsaw 2021, p.149

[2] After: Katarzyna Pająk — Załęska, How was formulated “What Should School Teach (WSST)” list? The genesis of the first milestone towards the change of modern school

[3] J. Hattie, Visible Learning for Teachers.  Maximizing impact on learning.  Warsaw 2013, p.94-95

[4] A. Schleicher, World-Class Education .  Warsaw 2019, p. 84

[5] Council Recommendations of 22 May 2018 on key competences in lifelong learning (2018/C 189/01) https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/PL/TXT/PDF/?uri=CELEX:32018H0604(01)&from=en , i.e.

[6] https://szkoladlainnowatora.ceo.org.pl/

[7] After: J. Lamri, The 21st Century Skills.  Warsaw 2021, p.128-129

[8] https://www.superbelfrzy.edu.pl/pomyslodajnia/actionbound-smartfonowa-gra-terenowa/#comment-13348

[9] Recommendation of the European Parliament and of the Council of 18 December 2006 on key competences in lifelong learning (2006/962/EC)  https://sip.lex.pl/akty-prawne/dzienniki-UE/zalecenie-2006-962-we-w-sprawie-kompetencji-kluczowych-w-procesie-uczenia-67655312

[10] A Must-Have for a Good Teacher. Series 1. Development during childhood and adolescence http://eduentuzjasci.pl/publikacje-ee-lista/214-niezbednik-dobrego-nauczyciela/seria-1-rozwoj-w-okresie-dziecinstwa-i-dorastania/1171-niezbednik-dobrego-nauczyciela-seria-1-rozwoj-w-okresie-dziecinstwa-i-dorastania.html

[11] A. Kamza, Child development. Early school age. Warsaw 2013, p.23

[12] K. Piotrowski, B. Ziółkowska, J. Wojciechowska, Development of adolescents. Early stage of adolescence. Warsaw 2014, p.20

[13] According to Art. 6 (4) and (5) of the Teacher’s Charter, teachers and educators should: “educate and form young people in love of the Motherland, in respect of the Constitution of the Republic of Poland, in an atmosphere of freedom of conscience and respect for every person, and promote moral and civic attitudes in students in accordance with the idea of democracy, peace and friendship between individuals of different peoples, races, and worldviews”.

[14] https://sjp.pwn.pl/slowniki/progresja.html

[15] T. Sławek And if you don’t need to learn. Katowice 2022, p. 7

[16] J. Hattie, Visible Learning for Teachers.  Maximizing impact on learning.  Warsaw 2013, p. 40

[17] Michel Barabel, Oliver Meier in: J. Lamri, The 21st Century Skills. Warsaw 2021, p.12

[18] https://szkoladlainnowatora.ceo.org.pl/

About the author
Jarosław Kordziński
Expert, author and lecturer in the field of education. Jarosław has broad experience gained in key educational projects provided for the Polish education system.
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