The Advanced School Framework

Characteristics that all advanced schools should have

An advanced school is one which, in the current context of exponential transformation, is able to reconsider the purpose of education and to redesign their daily educational practices in order to respond to the challenges of the knowledge society in a globalized world.

We understand advanced schools place themselves within a framework defined by four interdependent vectors of transformation:

Education should provide the capacity to adapt, needed to be able to actively participate in the knowledge society and to act with responsibility in a globalized world. This conception of the objective of formal education uses the current contribution of UNESCO as a guide to the global debate on the need to reimagine education in light of the new degrees of complexity of a world as ever-changing as the one we live in: a world that is interconnected, interdependent and attentive to new horizons of knowledge. It is a humanistic vision of education, committed to the development of sustainable social development, with principles of respect for human life and dignity, equal rights and social justice, respect for cultural diversity, international solidarity and shared responsibility. (UNESCO, 2015, 16)

With this holistic and humanistic concept of education, knowledge, understood as the meaning people give to experience, is nourished by information, but, above all, it consists in knowing how to delve into understanding and the development of skills, while acquiring values and attitudes at the same time. In short, what must be learned is the capacity to combine this knowledge and to be able to use it to respond to specific demands, in specific contexts of complexity or uncertainty. In this way, education becomes a process oriented to the development of these competences in a way that is inseparable from the acquisition of the knowledge needed to apply them to relevant situations.

When it comes to establishing which competences the school should provide with this integrated focus of education, we believe that the “four pillars of learning,” one of the most influential concepts of the Delors Report (UNESCO, 1996), continue to offer a significant reference for the development of the curriculum, as has been established successively by education administrations.

To fulfill this mission, from this perspective, education should be organized by integrating the four fields of learning that will become the pillars of knowledge throughout the life of each person:

  • Learning to know, that is to say, acquiring the instruments for the command of knowledge and understanding, rather than just the acquisition of classified knowledge. This means providing broad, general knowledge with the opportunity to explore a small number of topics more in depth and to do so while also learning to learn autonomously, laying the foundation to allow them to continue learning throughout their lives.
  • Learning to do¸ that is to say, developing the ability to act within their surroundings. This means acquiring capabilities that will allow for full participation in the knowledge society and in a rapidly changing work environment. This also includes being able to face diverse situations and work as part of a team.
  • Learning to live together, and, in doing so, acquiring human rights values, democratic principles, intercultural understanding, sustainable development and respect and peace at all levels of society in order to learn to participate and cooperate with others in all human activities. Education should follow two complementary tracks: the discovery of the other and the commitment to common projects throughout their lives.
  • Learning to be, as an essential progression that participates with the three previous learnings, and that must allow for the development of the individual personality and the ability to act each day with more independence, more judgment and more personal responsibility. Education should allow for the development of independent thought, criticism, and personal discretion.

Although education should be understood as a whole, “as a general rule, formal education is oriented, mainly or exclusively, toward learning to know and, to a lesser degree, toward learning to do. The other two types of knowledge depend more on random circumstances and are often considered a natural prolongation of the first two”. However, in an advanced education, each of the four pillars of learning deserves the same consideration so that education can be a global and continued experience for the person throughout their life.

Research on “The nature of learning” (OECD, 2010) has summarized the principles that, in this sense, should be the basis for the learning environments of the twenty-first century:

  • 1. Learners should be at the center of learning. In this sense, learning environments must grant to the students the prominent role that belongs to them, stimulating their commitment and an active and self-regulated participation in the construction of their own knowledge. Pedagogical practices contain many diverse methodologies to this end.
  • 2. Learning is a process of social nature. The organization of learning environments cannot overlook, and should make the most of, the potential for cooperative learning. When used correctly, this methodology allows for capacities of a diverse nature to be put into play and for results to be obtained in a behavioral and emotional environment. However, independent learning and introspection should also have a place in the daily activity of the student and should have a stronger and stronger emphasis throughout the student’s educational career.
  • 3. Emotions are an integral part of learning. Learning is a process that results from the inextricable combination of motivation, cognition, and emotion. The achievement of results demands that educational experiences be capable of connecting with the interests and motivations of the students.
  • 4. Learning must take individual differences into account. The organization of learning environments must by necessity contemplate differences in prior learning, styles, strategies, beliefs, interests and motivations.
  • 5.Effort is key in learning. Learning environments should stimulate the students to exercise their capacities to outdo themselves, while avoiding the ineffectiveness of excessive pressure on the quality of the results.
  • 6. Continued evaluation favors learning. Educational experiences should allow the students to clearly identify what the expectations are with respect to each of their activities. Formative evaluation is indispensable for feedback in the learning process and the design of educational action.
  • 7. Learning consists of constructing horizontal connections between areas of knowledge and subjects that promote the passage of the structures of knowledge to new situations. This horizontal connectivity must also be developed for connections between the formal learning environment, the community, in a more extended sense, and society in general. Authentic learning situations that promote these kinds of connections allow new and deeper levels of comprehension to be reached.

The strength and relevance of these principles are not to be found in considering them individually. Their potentiality comes from applying all of them in a combined and flexible way, in accordance with the circumstances. In this sense, the effectiveness of a learning environment presents itself in the extent to which it fulfills the seven principles, setting a demanding benchmark for the organization of daily activity in schools.

Advanced schools have mechanisms for a personalized evaluation that considers all of the competences put into play in the relevant learning experiences. In these experiences, evaluation facilitates self-regulation and allows for the measurement of the acquisition of the abilities, values, attitudes and knowledge with which citizens must be equipped to enjoy a full and healthy life, making informed decisions and acting responsibly and with a critical spirit when faced with challenges of global, local and sustainable development.

Relevant learning experiences are precisely those which, beyond the focus on the knowledge of facts and concepts favored by traditional schools, incorporate other “non-cognitive” components that end up being fundamental for a quality education. Although there is some discussion on the pertinence of the term “non-cognitive” when it comes to defining the nature of these competences, there is substantial agreement on the enormous limitation of overlooking these other aspects (Duckworth and Yeager, 2016), referred to as dexterities in the interpersonal sphere, emotions, attitudes, and values that are consubstantial with learning. With this conviction, advanced schools incorporate this aspect and broaden their conception of evaluation. These schools design processes of formative evaluation for the improvement of the processes of teaching and learning, with this expansive vision of competence and personal well-being. In addition, in spite of confirmation of the difficulty of measuring these kinds of competences, they have mechanisms that allow them to obtain evidence of progress and indicators of the results obtained in these environments.

The complexity of this organization, able to promote the development as well as the sustainability of advanced learning environments, must consider three principles (OECD, 2015):

  • 1. An organization at the service of the nature of learning and not the opposite: In this sense, the formulas of school organization must be subordinate to the needs presented by the design, development and sustainability of the kind of learning experiences that we are referring to. It is about focusing on the nuclear elements of the pedagogical practice in order to optimize it, incorporating advanced models of formative evaluation, versatile formulas of faculty and student organization and flexible structures when it comes to the use of time and space.
  • 2. Leadership for learning: Advanced schools have to “convert themselves into formative organizations with strong leadership for learning, with vision, strategies and design supported by the evidence on learning and self-evaluation”.
  • 3. An open organization: The third dimension emphasizes the need for a permeable organization, able to generate the necessary synergy “for the development of its professional, social and cultural capital through collaboration with families, universities, cultural institutions, businesses and especially other schools and learning environments”.
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