Friday, January 24, 2014

Changing high school education: Equinox Summit and Learning 2030

I recently re-watched a program on The Agenda about high school education and what needs to be done to make it better. The broadcast was from the Perimeter Institute in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada and it featured the results of a conference on learning called the "Equinox Summit" organized by the Waterloo Global Science Initiative in collaboration with the Perimeter Institute. You can watch the final episode of the TV show at: The Agenda: What's Necessary? What's Possible?.

If you are interested in this subject, as I am, you should watch this show since it gives you a good perspective on what the "best minds" are thinking. You can make up your own mind about whether this is encouraging or not.

Here's a short video on the summit ...

The communique from Equinox Summit: Learning 2030 isn't very long so you can read it quickly. Here are the goals that this group decided on.
In order for high school graduates to reach their full potential in life, they need to be:
  • lifelong learners who can identify and synthesize the right knowledge to address a wide range of challenges in a complex, uncertain world
  • literate, numerate, and articulate
  • creative, critical thinkers
  • able to collaborate effectively with others, especially those of different abilities and backgrounds
  • open to failure as an essential part of progress
  • adaptable and resilient in the face of adversity
  • aware of the society they live in and able to understand the different perspectives of others
  • self-aware and cognizant of their own strengths and limitations
  • entrepreneurial, self-motivated, and eager to tackle the challenges and opportunities of their world

To achieve these goals, we require a radically di fferent structure for learning in 2030, one in which traditional concepts of classes, courses, timetables, and grades are replaced by more flexible, creative and student-directed forms of learning. This develops deep conceptual understanding, which can then be applied in other contexts.
There's nothing radical about these goals. They're pretty much the same goals that any conference in the 1960s would have come up with. The only really new buzzword is "entrepreneurial"—that's borrowed from business and it wouldn't have been popular in the 1960s. Today every high school student has to be an entrepreneur because by 2030 nobody will be working for anyone else. They'll all be running their own businesses.1

I've been trying to teach creative and critical thinking for a long time and I haven't come up with any really good ideas. It's probably because I'm too old. You should watch the Agenda show to see how young people are going to solve these problems.

But here's a question that occurs to me as I'm thinking critically about this problem. Let's assume that we can achieve all those goals. Let's assume that in order to graduate from high school you have to have learned how to think critically; be literate, numerate, and articulate; be able to collaborate, be entrepreneurial, be adaptable, etc.

They are laudable goals that I support, but what percentage of students entering high school can achieve them? I'm thinking that, with lots of resources and excellent teachers, it might be possible for about 50% of high school students to reach these lofty goals. The rest are going to achieve the goals of learning to be "open to failure as an essential part of progress" and how to be "adaptable and resilient in the face of adversity."

I think we might have trouble convincing most societies, and most governments, that a 50% graduation rate from high school is the price of higher standards.

I'm not even sure that all of the students graduating from the University of Toronto are literate, numerate, articulate, critical thinkers.

1. This will save enormous amounts of tax dollars because nobody will be working for the government.


  1. I beg your pardon,
    Larry, Can you or have you ever done a subject on dolly and why she died so early in regards to genetics? It's not a downer is it?

    1. She died early because, being a clone, she had no soul and therefore did not believe in God and was unclean and etc. Obviously.

    2. Does that mean that "natural born" sheep have souls ?

      Does that also imply that if one does not believe in god(s) then one has no soul ?

      Could we get some "non dismal" philosophers to weigh in on these very important questions.

    3. CC, the first cloned cat, is 12 years old and still kicking. Dolly died of cancer -- it could happen to anybody. I wonder what point (if any) Quest is trying to make.

  2. Sometimes the best thing a teacher can do is get out of the way of learning, and simply provide a rich environment for learning to take place. From my experience, education often stifles much more than it encourages growth.

  3. I missed this post on Friday, so I'm pleased to find it now. I am constantly looking for ways to encourage my students to read and especially, read critically. I would like them to use reading to learn grammar, punctuation and good writing skills. I did create a short piece that outlines my vision of how good readers can become good writers. I'll share it with Larry's permission.

  4. just hit me,...Thanks to you guys who believe in an immortal soul, I now know why the Catholic Church objected to cloning....
    Their teaching of immortal soul for men and beast goes out of the
    Thank you guys for pointing it out.....

    1. The Raping Children church also objects to artificial insemination and in vitro fertilization. It also objects to the use of condoms to prevent the spread of AIDS in Africa and covers up the mass rape of children by priests. It is the largest criminal conspiracy on earth.

    2. I hope one day the Catholic Church will go down for all this and more...

      I can bet a lot of money that this is inevitable... (see below why)

      BTW: I left the church long time ago....

      Unfortunately... one of my remote family members is a very high official in Vatican.... who is being worshiped by the naïve in my family as if he was God himself...

      When I met him in 2011 at a family function, he was very surprised to learn that I had left the church... He is one of the supporters of evolution, so we go into talking about that.... However this conversation didn't last long, as it became clear to both of us, that he could not substantiate his believes in evolution not to mention consolidating them that with bible teachings...

      When I mentioned the child sex abuse by the clergy and the protection they have been getting from the church and Vatican, at first, he got really defensive.... However, later on, when he realized that I was not accusing him personally, but the system, he told me that that very year (2011) there were so many child abuse cases coming out, that almost everyone at the Vatican thought that the church was going to crumble....

      Because it didn't, they (Vatican officials) came to unanimous agreement, that God must have saved the church from collapsing....

      He is a link to the article about those events: