Due to growth in population and the expansion of education systems around the world, UNESCO has estimated that in the next 30 years more people will receive formal education than in all of human history thus far. This extraordinary calculation helps us to grasp the critical moment we live in for education globally. It was Nelson Mandela who said education is the most powerful weapon with which we can use to change the world and we can now see that education on such an unprecedented scale offers extraordinary potential for the kind of transformation required to respond to the fast-changing world of the 21st century.
It is becoming increasingly clear to the global community that there is a deep need for humanity to learn new ways of thinking and organizing if we are to respond to the complex challenges of the 21st century, such as multiculturalism, environmental changes, technological disruption, financial instability etc. As information and knowledge become ever more accessible and emerging economies grow this rise of education around the world is presenting huge opportunities to changing societies. Unfortunately though it would seem that our systems of education are trapped in deep contradiction – the institution with the greatest potential impact on the future seems to be the one most fashioned by ideas from the past. As successful as our education systems may have been at getting us to where we are today the unfortunate reality is that in today’s world human creativity, energy, motivation, and talent is being lost on an industrial scale to a system of education that is trapped in a paradigm grounded in a bygone era.
The post-industrial world is requiring a new set of competencies from us as individuals and from our education system as a whole. This new paradigm hinges around holism, complexity, and the decentralization of education. It is about advancing from routine cognitive skills to enabling students to manage complex ways of thinking, complex ways of work and that requires a very different caliber of education – increasingly recognizing that the world is not deterministic, that multiple viewpoints may have a value, the need for adaptive capacity, creativity, to be able to connect qualitative and quantitative reasoning, to integrate theory and its application. It is about a new set of more human competencies that are needed in the age of automation, a more broad-based education to ensure the person’s all-round, holistic development.
Learning can be much deeper and more authentic, it can be so much more than just memorization and retention. With the use of a more holistic paradigm and new technologies we can build a system that engenders new principles and creates the new outcomes that society and economy need today and going forward. This paper is designed to provide a comprehensive analysis of the current state of our global education system, new ways of conceptualizing education based upon systems thinking and new approaches to building distributed education systems based upon web technologies; to rethink education from the ground up and enable real systems- level change.