Envisioning the 21st-Century Christian School
- What knowledge, skills, attitudes, and values will today’s students need to thrive and shape their world?
- How can instructional systems develop knowledge, skills, attitudes, and values effectively?
These two questions are the focus of “The Future of Education and Skills: Education 2030,” a position paper by the international Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
The OECD identifies that significant global trends are leading to rapid and profound societal change that, in turn, create a number of challenges (including environmental, economic, and social). More than ever, it is recognised that schools need to be preparing students for much more than the world of work. The students we are preparing need to be equipped with the capacity to “transform our society and shape our future” (OECD 2018, 5). This same sentiment is echoed by Valerie Hannon (2017) in her book, Thrive: Schools Reinvented for the Real Challenges We Face, when she states that “today, education has to be about learning to thrive in a transforming world.”
Education: What’s Changed?
For much of the 19th and 20th centuries, the dominant narrative around education has been an economic one that sees education as what “enables individuals to be successful and nations to compete to ensure economic growth” (OECD 2018, 19). However, viewing economic growth as the measure of success, and competition as the means of achieving it, does not fully prepare students to respond to the complex problems facing our communities and world. Rather than the default goal for students being acquisition of material wealth and increased consumption, the broader field of education is recognising that schools need to produce globally competent students who “actually know something about the world – its cultures, languages and how its economic, environmental and social systems work” (OECD 2018, 5). Students need to be taught not just knowledge, but also how to take action.
According to Mark Treadwell (2008, 2017), young people will need the skills to navigate the complexities of relationships, moral questions, and the myriad bourgeoning ethical decisions that will face their generation. Similarly, Hattie (2017) contends that schooling needs a “reboot” and that it is time to “intentionally change the narrative that frames our definition of ‘success’ in education” (17). Hattie claims that key to this change is increasing focus on progress, rather than just on achievement. He argues that schools need to “step outside of complacency and carefully consider what to keep, what to modify, what to throw out, what to prioritise, what to aim for” (30-31).
What Does This Mean for Christian Schools?
The broader field is recognising that the future depends on young people being equipped, not just with knowledge and skills but, importantly, with values, attitudes, and a moral compass which will enable them to address society’s most complex challenges. The OECD framework, along with other current literature around the purpose of schooling in the 21st century, serves to highlight the enormous opportunity and responsibility for the Christian schooling sector to step up and take a lead in contributing to the reshaping and reconceptualising of education across the globe.
It’s an exciting time to be in Christian education! Christian schooling has long held a “transforming vision” for education. Our core purpose has always been to see young people prepared for a life of biblical flourishing. Our desire is for each young person in our care to discover God’s unique calling on their lives and to go forth into the world with a sense of purpose and a desire to use their gifts and skills to serve God and their communities, as ministers of reconciliation, pursuers of peace, and good stewards.
How Should Christian Schools Respond?
Now is the time for all schools to re-examine their mission statements and rethink their purpose. Now is the time for Christian schools to audit how well their lived-out practices actually align with their espoused biblical ethos. Now is the time to reconceptualise Christian education in light of the opportunities, challenges, and needs of this generation and those of the future.
The OECD has listed items such as spiritual identity, justice, respect, hope, purposefulness, integrity, and compassion as key, actionable constructs which should underpin curriculum and which it identifies as essential to equip young people for their futures. Surely now is the time for Christian schooling to shine.
- Hannon, V. 2017. Thrive: Schools Reinvented for the Real Challenges We Face. London: Innovation Unit Press.
- Hattie, J. 2017. “Time for a reboot: Shifting away from distractions to improve Australia’s schools.” In T. Bentley and G. C. Savage (Eds.), Educating Australia: Challenges for the decade ahead. Carlton, Vic: Melbourne University Publishing.
- OECD. 2018. “The Future of Education and Skills: Education 2030.”
- Treadwell, M. 2008. The Conceptual Age and the Revolution: Schoolv2.0: A Selection of 35 Professional Learning Readings. Heatherton, Vic.: Hawker Brownlow Education.
- ———. 2017. The Future of Learning. New Zealand: The Global Curriculum Project.
About the Author
Maria Varlet currently serves as the head of Research and Innovation at Crest Education in Melbourne and is a board member for ACSI–Australia. She has been involved in Christian Education for over 25 years, holding positions of head of Learning and Teaching, campus principal, and executive officer for Christian Schools Australia. Her doctoral research investigates how professional learning can help teachers navigate tensions between biblical ethos and assessment practices in the Christian school context. She can be contacted via email at email@example.com.