Forget the 3Rs: modern schools need to embrace the 4Cs

9 March 2017

Creativity, critical reflection, collaboration and communication will be vital in a future where half of all jobs may be displaced by technology, writes Professor Michael Anderson in the Sydney Morning Herald.

Teacher and students with computers

Today's students face a very different jobs future. Image: iStock.

As the political battle over school funding rumbles on, we run the risk of neglecting a glaring question: how can we prepare kids for a coming world where almost half of jobs will be displaced by technology?

Imagine a school where the teachers are really developing skills in innovation.

Innovation in how learning generates creativity in their students. Innovation that re-imagines learning as evermore engaging and challenging.

Imagine a school where the students have the agency to know how to learn. Where students have the curiosity and confidence to engage with the world as active citizens in small and big ways.

This is what we call 4C schools, and these schools exist. The 4Cs are creativity, critical reflection, collaboration and communication. In their classrooms and staffrooms, 4C schools are transforming learning and teaching through this quartet. But in these schools it takes will, energy, inquiry, courage and determination.

Creativity for a complex future

The 4C evolution is only just beginning in certain schools but it is always characterised by a climate of re-invigoration, excitement, challenge, difficulty, uncertainty and possibility.

However, this is not always the climate across all schools.

The onward march of NAPLAN, testing a limited set of 'basics' with its teach-to-the-test oppressions, and league tables, have transformed education into a much-reduced experience for teachers and students alike. This is professionally disappointing for teachers and it is a profound threat to the students in schools.

While we chase ever-increasing 'accountability measures' we are relegating the aspects of schooling that will prepare students for the realities of work and life in the 21st Century.

The world our students now face is complex, contradictory and to a certain extent more chaotic than the world our schooling system was designed for. And yet our school systems have only changed incrementally.

Simultaneously, the world of work is changing so that many jobs in health, law and transport will not exist when a child starting Kindergarten today finishes high school.

A landmark Oxford University study found that 47 per cent of jobs would be affected or severely affected by the technological 'colonization' of human work. The authors of the study found that for workers to stay in the 'jobs race' they would need to develop 'creativity and social skills'.

The time to do this is now because ignoring creativity, collaboration, critical reflection and communication and leaving it to chance may leave our schools and our kids unable to face the challenges of this brave new world.
Professor Michael Anderson

Teachers need more than policy

No one is pretending changing schooling is easy.

There are, however, green shoots. In a number of 4C schools principals working collaboratively with their teachers and communities are seeing a change in their classrooms and their school organisations.

In these classrooms students are more engaged, they learn the skills of the 4Cs through experience: they are interdisciplinary rather than siloed in their learning and thinking. This change does not happen quickly. It is slow and sometimes difficult. Where it does work the whole school community commits resources and energy to the task of transformation.  They have made these hard decisions because they appreciate the gravity of school relevance and work hard to make the change. 

There are resources that schools have an abundance of: compassion, ingenuity and energy in their teachers, students and leaders. In fact, there are few other professions in my view that can make this change a reality. We, however, need more than green shoots. We need schools to be enabled to fundamentally change. And teachers need more than policy: they need support to make these capacities understandable and teachable for their students. More broadly, they need political, policy and resource support to make these hard changes possible through effective professional learning for their school communities. 

So, if we are to make these critical changes we need to connect with the capacities. These capacities are the reason many teachers entered the profession and they can make our schools exciting and relevant to the world their students are entering.

The time to do this is now because ignoring creativity, collaboration, critical reflection and communication and leaving it to chance may leave our schools and our kids unable to face the challenges of this brave new world.

If we miss this opportunity we will be the generation that let our schooling fade into irrelevance because we lacked the imagination to create change.

Dr Michael Anderson is a Professor of Education (Arts and Creativity) in the Sydney School of Education and Social Work.

He is the co-author with Dr Miranda Jefferson of Transforming Schools: Creativity, Critical Reflection, Communication, Collaboration. This article was originally published by The Sydney Morning Herald.

Luke O'Neill

Media and Public Relations Adviser (Humanities and Social Sciences)

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