Futures of Education report resonates strongly in Oslo
Discussions held during the visits of Oslo Rectors (13 May 2022) and the Union of Education Norway (2 February 2023) to Paris promised fresh insights into the renewal of the Norwegian education system. This prompted UNESCO representatives to travel to Oslo to witness first-hand some of the workings of the Norwegian school system and find meaningful ways to spark dialogue across a wide range of constituencies around the report from the International Commission on the Futures of Education.
Organized under the auspices of the Oslo Municipality and the Permanent Delegation of Norway to UNESCO, members of UNESCO’s Futures of Learning and Innovation Division —Sobhi Tawil and Charlène Camille— embarked on a two-day journey (8-9 February 2023) of dialogues and engagements with various stakeholders —policy makers, head teachers, school leaders, and students— which helped illuminate how ideas and recommendations from the Reimagining our Futures Together report are being put into practice in the Norwegian context.
8-9 February 2023
The two-day visit began on the morning of Wednesday 8 February with an insightful and interactive school visit to Vika VGS, an upper secondary school that opened its doors in 2021. The school has partnered with a variety of academic institutions and businesses, but is more importantly a proud member of the UNESCO Associated Schools Network (ASPnet). This network links more than 12,000 schools in 182 countries around a common aim to demonstrate excellence in pedagogical innovation, promote education for sustainable development, and foster global citizenship education and inter-cultural and heritage learning.
Vika's mission statement, "Vika - tomorrow's Change Makers. With innovation and collaboration, we solve the challenges of the future. Innovative, interactive, relevant" is itself reflective of the vision of the report from the International Commission on the Futures of Education. The report calls for pedagogies of cooperation and solidarity which build the capacities of students and teachers to work together in trust to transform the world. UNESCO’s Futures of Learning and Innovation team had the benefit of observing first-hand the many ways in which Vika is striving to innovate. During the visit, Sobhi Tawil and Charlène Camille engaged in fruitful discussions with Vika VGS’ school director, two of their teachers, and two upper secondary students, all of whom explained the unique ways in which their school centers on social entrepreneurship, interdisciplinary ventures, and critical thinking.
A classroom visit offered the possibility to witness how Vika VGS implements pedagogies of cooperation and solidarity in practice. Teachers asked their students to envision possible and probable alternative futures by 2030, and to conceptualize together an initiative that could contribute to solving some of the issues raised. The group problem-solving exercise sought to develop students’ agency and their ability to collaborate to act upon the future, together. Far beyond the boundaries of disciplines, students were able to leverage the variety of knowledge acquired across subjects.
The structure of the classroom itself also manifests the vision proposed in the UNESCO report on the Futures of Education. Instead of conforming to traditional and unidirectional ways of learning, with grids of subjects and rows of tables, the students were grouped and engaged in meaningful discussions. This set-up demonstrated how it compels learners not only to discuss what they learn in a particular class, but also to go beyond the confines of their subject. The students explained their genuine appreciation of the pedagogical approach they were given, stating that they were finally able to retain knowledge since interdisciplinary methods also inculcate ways of relating subject matter to contemporary problems in the real world.
The two-hour school visit was followed by a lunch break at Oslo City Hall with Sunniva Holmås Eidsvoll, the Vice Mayor for Education of Oslo Municipality, where she informally introduced education policy in Oslo and explained how the New National Curriculum (LK20) has a strong emphasis on fostering transformation in schools. These aims compel policy-makers to re-evaluate mental models of governance, strengthen the necessary trust across the wide range of constituencies involved in education policy and practice, and even pose fundamental queries about the purposes of education beyond the dominant discourse geared towards economic growth, techno-centric progress, and human capital theory. Sunniva Holmås Eidsvoll and Sobhi Tawil engaged in a high-level dialogue on repurposing education towards more just and sustainable futures for humanity and the planet. The discussants stressed that reconsidering why we learn has important implications for what and how we learn. Building on the school visit previously held at Vika VGS, Sobhi Tawil drew attention to the need to rethink assessment and evaluation methods as a key leverage point in shifting education systems away from cultures of competition to cultures of collaboration and interdisciplinary approaches.
After the introductory remarks by Jonas Persson from the Department of Education, City of Oslo, Sobhi Tawil then delivered a keynote speech at a formal afternoon meeting with 20+ Directors at the Education Agency. The following questions formed the basis of the exchange: how do the futures of education affect governance? what do the futures of education governance look like? Given the complexity of these questions, the meeting did not end with definitive answers, but it did help to stimulate a comprehensive discussion among actors from the Department of Education and directors at the Education Agency. Recognizing first that new curricula implementation always comes with challenges of coordination across a wide range of actors, Sobhi Tawil made the case that educational renewal requires a new social contract for education and a commitment to govern education as a common good and a collective social endeavor.
While the first day was spent on rather intimate discussions and visits, the second day of the mission was focused on engaging with a much wider audience. The morning of 9 February started with a vibrant conference of Oslo School Leaders. Over 250 Head Teachers and School Leaders, across all levels, assembled to learn more about the vision and the proposals of the Reimagining our Futures Together report.
After Education Director Marte Gerhardsen and Vice Mayor for Education Sunniva Holmås Eidsvoll had shared their opening remarks, Sobhi Tawil stepped up to the rostrum to present the report from the International Commission on the Futures of Education.
He recalled the dual rationale that urges us to rethink education now. First, the intersecting crises and disruptions that we are currently living – climate change, biodiversity loss, accelerated technological changes, artificial intelligence, democratic backsliding, etc.– are marking a turning point in modern history. Such worrisome trends will negatively affect and threaten future generations if immediate actions in the present are not taken to ensure socially, economically, and environmentally sustainable futures. Second, despite commitments to the 2030 agenda for sustainable development, persistent educational exclusions across the world are compelling us to reimagine our education models. The report recognizes the need for 'reparative justice' as essential for transforming the future. There are limits to what can be envisioned without addressing the injustices and systemic exclusions that present and future generations inherit from the past. We are stipulated to either continue on an unsustainable path or radically change course. Sobhi Tawil highlighted that education, knowledge, and learning will be key to transforming the future.
Having presented the report’s key recommendations for the renewal of education and transformative teaching and learning approaches, participants were then invited to explore three key tensions as they relate to the New Curriculum (LK20) that was enacted at the beginning of the school year 2020 in all primary and secondary public schools across Norway:
- competition vs. cooperation,
- deep learning vs. interdisciplinarity,
- content-based vs. competency-based approaches.
After very rich discussions on the extent to which these tensions can be navigated, the conference finally drew to a close with a thorough discussion on implications for assessment and evaluation methods.
Finally, the afternoon of 9 February was spent with 25+ Researchers and Graduate Students at the University of Oslo. Sobhi Tawil delivered an informative presentation on the Futures of Education report once more, which was followed by an engaging lecture by Professor Gert Biesta, who presented his 2021 book entitled World-Centered Education: A View for the Present. Professor Biesta contends that education should be world-centered, rather than child- or curriculum-centered, in order to (re)direct students' attention to the outside world so they might experience what the world truly demands from them. In this approach, education should ultimately equip learners with the knowledge necessary to function responsibly and meaningfully in society. Many of his propositions run parallel to those of UNESCO's report, Reimagining Our Futures Together: A new social contract for education which also compels academics, students, teachers, and education actors alike to rethink better ways to promote world-centered orientation for education today in order to thrive well into the future.
UNESCO thanks the Oslo Municipality and the Permanent Delegation of Norway to UNESCO for the fine organization of these meaningful two-day engagements around the report from the International Commission on the Futures of Education.