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Why collaborative problem solving will equip pupils for an automated world

9 March 2017

New research from the UCL Institute of Education (IOE), in partnership with Nesta, reveals that complex human traits like problem-solving and social skills will be most sought-after in the future workplace.

The report shows that the current education system is stifling such skills because most education systems remain focused on memory and knowledge tasks that are the easiest to automate. This is partly due to the prevalence of individual assessment, concerns over behaviour management and lack of training for teachers.

Jigsaw puzzle pieces

Giving children well-structured problems to solve together can reinforce knowledge and improve attainment, as well as prepare them for the future workplace, the research reveals. Students must be able to apply their knowledge, to explain it clearly to others, to combine it with knowledge from other subjects, and be able to use it to solve problems collaboratively.

The report calls for policymakers, educators and innovators to adapt to equip young people with skills needed for the future and includes recommendations on how the education system can incorporate collaborative problem solving.

Professor Rose Luckin, co-author of the report (UCL Knowledge Lab), said:

"The knowledge construction process has never been more important for learners of all ages. The ability to understand something sufficiently to satisfy standardised assessments is no longer enough. Learners must now also be able to explain, synthesise with the knowledge of others, justify and revise their understanding, and apply their knowledge to solve problems. This is why Nesta’s role in helping organisations to embrace and reap the potential of collaborative problem solving is so important.”

Geoff Mulgan, Chief Executive at Nesta, said:

“Education needs to be about more than the transmission of knowledge, important as this is. Schooling models should also give young people experience of agency, empowering them to make and shape the world around them, rather than just observing it. The ability to create ideas and solve problems with others will be important to their chances of getting a good job, and to their prospects of living well and being good citizens. But policy makers and teachers need help in integrating this into their work.”

The report is released as the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) prepares to launch the first country rankings for collaborative problem solving. This demonstrates international recognition for the need to broaden tests to measure ‘21st- century skills’.

As the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) recognises, these more subtle skills are becoming increasingly important and national policymakers must follow.

Andreas Schleicher, OECD Director for Education and Skills, said:

“In today’s schools, students typically learn individually and at the end of the school year, we certify their individual achievements. But the more interdependent the world becomes, the more we need great collaborators and orchestrators. Innovation today is rarely the product of individuals working in isolation but an outcome of how we mobilise, share and link knowledge. This is why collaborative problem-solving skills have become key to the success of individuals and nations.”

The report also recommended that training and resources must be available for teachers from primary onwards and that emerging classroom practice should be shared through key-stage-specific innovation prizes and awards for action research.

It highlighted the need for smarter collaborative problem solving assessment methods, which could build on the OECD’s collaborative problem-solving rankings, with the government beginning  small-scale, annual assessment trials, to systematically learn what can be measured to show student progress.

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