Forging an Educational Future for Everyone

A weatherman surveys Pittsburgh’s educational horizon, peering into schools, libraries, museums, factories, and start-ups. His forecast? Sunny—if we want it to be.

A new report, The Future of Learning in Pittsburgh, adapts KnowledgeWorks’ national learning “forecast” for the Pittsburgh region. The social enterprise organization teamed up with Remake Learning to explore the inevitable changes facing the region—as well as the changes local actors will have to make to ensure an equitable future for all residents.

It is no secret that we are smack in the middle of an era of educational change. Digital advances have brought new tools into learning settings and have prompted big conversations about education innovation. Technology has also been at the center of economic shifts in the Pittsburgh region, with advances in higher education and healthcare industries. Meanwhile, scientific discoveries about young brains have challenged fundamental assumptions about learning.

There is a “growing urgency,” write the authors of the Pittsburgh forecast, to thoughtfully consider the potential impacts of these societal changes on our formal and informal education systems. “Equity is not a given,” they write. The digital innovations could create deeper divides, or be leveraged to engage all learners.[pullquote]”Equity is not a given.”[/pullquote]

Members of the Remake Learning Network have been working to make sure the latter scenario is our reality. But the forecast cautions against satisfaction with current efforts alone. The report pulls out examples of great work in our region— “signals” of both likely and necessary changes. Efforts like these will need to be expanded and emulated as the region forges its educational future.

All education providers “need to prepare learners for new economic realities,” the report says. The contemporary workforce values innovation and collaboration. This means the education system will have to assess and provide opportunities for mastery of real-world skills.

The summer employment program Learn & Earn, for example, places disadvantaged youth in jobs across Pittsburgh. The teenagers work everywhere—corporate offices, urban gardens,—developing a range of marketable skills. Throughout the summer, they earn digital badges, credentials that go in an online portfolio cataloging their experiences and skills.

The forecasters predict that learners and families will become “increasingly conscious consumers and architects of learning, seeking out educational approaches that fit their values and lifestyles.”

They point to programs that already encourage exploration and self-directed learning. At Assemble and MCG Youth and Arts, young visitors can experiment and tinker with tools, figuring out their own creative processes. However, the authors warn, greater choice in education could end up only privileging some families. Regional providers need to make sure all families receive guidance, so that the increasingly flexible learning environment doesn’t empower some and leave out others.[pullquote]Learners will need to embrace volatility and complexity.[/pullquote]

The report also calls for an education system that sets learners up to embrace volatility and complexity. In a rapidly changing world, they could be brought along for the ride or they could learn to become instigators of change themselves.

The program Hear Me helps youth have voices in their communities. It teaches them to use digital media to publish their thoughts on social issues and ideas for community change. Along the same lines, Youth Leading Change empowers young people in Allegheny County to educate people in their communities about education reform and social justice.

After all, the thing about the future is it’s never certain. Even if the weatherman predicts moderate temperatures, you might be surprised by a heat wave or a rainstorm. So people—young and old, students and teachers—have to become agents of change, acting deliberately to include all learners in the future of education.

Published June 09, 2016