Global Education & Skills Forum Blog

The paradoxes at the heart of the global education system

At the opening plenary of the Global Education and Skills Forum, Andreas Schleicher, Director for Education and Skills at the OECD, addressed more than 2,000 private and public sector leaders in education on the importance of forging a path forward in developing global citizens.

Conversations around the need to develop global competencies are not new. Yet the rise of populism, coupled with the exponential growth of border transcending technologies, has led to a sense of urgency and renewed focus on the importance of developing a generation capable of navigating the ambiguities and opportunities of complex and deeply interconnected world.

This urgency is underscored by deeply human paradoxes in an increasingly digital world. Andreas Schleicher pointed out three critical contractions that our schools will need to address. Technology and globalization are:

  • Both democratizing and concentrating: We can all create digital content, yet some content is uniquely privileged. Anyone can create and share something new with a global audience, yet significant innovations emerge from specific countries and regions with innovation eco-systems (or orchards)
  • Both particularizing and homogenizing: It is radically easier to zoom into the life of an individual – and radically easier to paint with a broad brush. We are confronted with far more choices of ways to find information; yet far more likely to choose the same one.
  • Both empowering and disempowering: Digitalization gives those with financial and intellectual capital greater agency; while entire populations within and across nations are left with less agency.

These global paradoxes are matched by paradoxes within our education system pointed out by keynote speaker and world renowned yogi and mystic, Sadhguru. According to Sadhguru, schools need to:

  • Develop thoughtful, values-driven individuals who are united by what they don’t know rather than divided by what they do;
  • Provide high quality education to large numbers, targeted to the individual, yet without creating division;
  • Change before regulatory systems might allow this change: “Authority cannot be the truth; truth must be the authority.”

The first step of navigating a paradox is to surface the paradox itself. The second is to invest in developing people – in this case, teachers and school leaders – who are capable of leading within and across seemingly contradictory settings, at times with competing priorities. Yes, system changes will be essential. According to Schleicher, schools will need to become deeply enabling, increasing collegiate organizations focused on:

  • High levels of student learning – for all students;
  • Teaching complex ways of thinking and doing;
  • Building collective capacity across teachers and students;
  • Meaningful accountability to peers and stakeholders;
  • Developing teachers who are high level knowledge workers.

I would argue that the final point is the most important. When it comes to developing global citizens, more than ever, #teachersmatter.

Christine Nasserghodsi is Director of Innovation at GEMS Education.



Andreas Schleicher