Is the UK education sector doing enough to stay innovative?

With innovation in education high on the agenda at the recent WISE summit, we ask some of the speakers where the UK stands in the section sector

In November, delegates from more than 100 countries visited Qatar’s capital, Doha, for the global World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE).

Some of the world’s greatest leaders in the fields of education, technology and media were invited to Doha for the biennial event.

This year’s conference theme, ‘Co-exist, Co-Create: Learning to Live and Work Together’, saw delegates discuss the importance of global educational and social challenges in an uncertain world.

Participants explored and discovered a wide variety of topics shaping the future of teaching and learning, including artificial intelligence, the role of teachers, leveraging social entrepreneurship for innovation, changing attitudes toward migrants, reimagining higher education in the connected world, the impact of nudging, connecting private and public actors and strategies to build future knowledge societies.

Valerie Hannon

Valerie is an expert adviser on education to the OECD, and a frequent contributor to WISE. She is a regular keynote speaker and facilitator at international conferences and workshops. 

In the UK, teachers are under such huge pressure, they have very little headspace, or actual time in their day to do anything other than that which is absolutely required to ensure that they meet their targets. Our high-stakes accountability has so much driven out the space in which teachers can explore options and really move into areas which are more tentative and beyond that which is absolutely required for ensuring that their institution meets their targets. And careers depend upon it, so it’s no secret that teachers are leaving the profession in droves in the UK, and we know why – they would have far more satisfaction in their professional roles if they did have the space to develop new skills and embrace new technologies in ways that enable them to do their job much more effectively.

If I think about the international organisations which I am directly involved with, principally OECD, the UK is hardly represented there. You know, there’s a very important project going on at the moment called Education 2030, which, if it is successful, will promulgate a really imaginative and significant learning framework, but the UK is not to be seen in those discussions, and I think that’s really disappointing.

The UK education system is so heavily focused on assessment – it’s all preparation for the next stage. In the past, if you were part of the working class, education was about getting out of that. And often that meant leaving your community. That’s exactly my experience, actually. But now, I think education should be more about looking to your community to see how you can make it better. But that is not a message we convey. Unless people turn back into thinking about how their community can grow through their skills, ideas and imagination that they bring to it we’ll have an increase in inequity. 

Saku Tuominen

Saku Tuominen is the CEO of HundrED, a community improving K12 education globally by seeking and sharing inspiring educational innovations. His specialty is creativity and innovation, which he has taught in dozens of companies and in Aalto University in Helsinki.

For me, what it means to innovate, is to improve. If an institution can come up with new ways to assess, new ways to re-educate teachers, new ways of attracting students, you are innovative.

I think that there are amazing things happening in UK education; there are great schools, great innovations, great teachers. But I’d say that the UK is moving towards increasing assessment in many areas, and I’m not certain that that’s the right direction if you want to increase innovation.

The education sector, in general, is very risk averse. It doesn’t like taking chances, but there are many amazing institutions and amazing teachers who are taking huge, huge risks which are, for the most part, paying off – some of them work, some of them don’t, but these schools see any failure as a learning experience. Any kind of state system is risk averse because no one wants to make a mistake, but this could be seriously impacting innovation. 

When I think of innovative ideas, I remember the initial reaction to business models like Airbnb and Uber. So many people were convinced these would never work, often saying things like “people would never ever let strangers stay in their home,” or “you would never ever go to a car where you don’t know who the driver is,” and look at these companies today. Sometimes, you have to take the risk for innovation to pay off. 

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