CEO Blog: Real world learning in Covid 19 times and beyond

Real world learning in Covid 19 times and beyond

 Steiner schools are very important as part of the broader educational landscape.

Parents choose to enrol their children in Steiner schools for the Steiner philosophy and pedagogy underpinning the ACARA recognized Australian Steiner Curriculum (ASCF). A 2018 independent national survey of over 3000 members of the Australian Steiner school community shows that overwhelmingly parents selected a Steiner education for their children as our educational approach reflects their values; because they offer a well-rounded education and teachers who teach to the individual.

High school students (Years 9-12) were also surveyed: 88% agreed that ‘their teachers know me’; nearly 80% are happy and fulfilled at school
; 90% of students have good relationships with teachers
; 87% have good relationships with other students. These are all solid indicators of a high level of student well-being. Research indicates the correlation between student well-being and academic and general life outcomes is very strong. In the increasingly uncertain and volatile contexts, such as the Covid 19 pandemic, never before has the focus on student wellbeing been more important.

Parents have indicated they are highly appreciative that Steiner schools have held to the core purposes underpinning the education, in the process of delivering wonderful remote learning packages, both online and offline, in responsive, agile and flexible arrangements according to the school context and needs. Our Steiner teachers are amazing in their dedication to delivering this unique educational approach, even if from a distance.

The dedication continues as school leaders and teachers carefully plan a return to school based learning to ensure the safety of both staff and students.

Covid 19 and the real world

Whilst the day to day logistics of remote learning are a prime focus in schools, the Covid 19 crisis has also brought into sharp relief the bigger question of learning for the ‘real world’. In my time as teacher and then principal in a Steiner school spanning nearly 30 years, there were many questions parents asked about Steiner education and whether the emphasis on creative play, development of imagination and creative arts really prepared children for this ‘real world’. Those questions are now more important than ever.

In my response, to the ‘real world’ question and the concern of parents about how our children being prepared for it, I asked parents to consider the following:

As parents we are anxious about our rapidly changing, volatile, uncertain and ambiguous world and how our children are going to survive let alone thrive within it. Many parents worry about impact of screen time on children[1] and resilience children will need in this uncertain future. They wonder how schools can prepare children for jobs that don’t even exist yet, for technologies that haven’t been invented and to solve problems that have not yet been anticipated.

It is now accepted from researchers, educators and commentators that the world needs a new kind of learner for this new ‘real world’[2] .

The OECD has recently published a report called ‘Education 2030: The future of education and skills’. Children starting school in 2020 will be young adults in 2030’s: and the real world they are facing is qualitatively different to our own past, and what we experienced as the real world. They are facing rapid and profound societal change; environmental challenges; climate change; unprecedented innovation in science and technology fuelling disruptive waves of change in every sector, biotechnology, artificial intelligence, use of data, privacy, cyber security, huge equity issues.

With these challenges – new real world is asking for new qualities: a blend of professional rigour with creativity, imagination, flexible thinking that embraces complexity; emotional intelligence and a compassionate sense of what it is to be human in this increasingly digital age. This future needs story-tellers, empathisers, and carers. These are the skills that can’t be automated or outsourced easily. Within this landscape, the future is asking for young people with the capacity to see a positive future which young people believe they, themselves, can create. For children heading towards this unknown future, to possess those skills enables flexibility in options, and the ability to contribute in a meaningful way to the future society. Daniel Pink, the author of ‘A Whole New Brain’ [3]spoke of the fact that what we need in science and maths education is not an ‘outcome’ or the ‘right answer’ but development of a sense of wonder in children who have the ability to ask interesting questions. He went on to make the point that arts education – teaching through the arts – must be fundamental to education, not merely ‘ornamental’. Pedagogy must be balanced and innovative.

Within this picture, I could confidently say to parents that Steiner education is very conscious in its approach to developing young people for the future real world. Our focus on a long term view of the development of the child towards freedom – while supporting and empowering young people to see a positive future which they believe they can help create – supporting moral growth, social consciousness and planting seeds for this in the primary years to bear fruit later on – is becoming increasingly more distinct from an education system which seems to presuppose that ends can always be predetermined, and where improved test results become the both the means and the ends of schooling.

Those who are truly interested in the ‘real world’ question, including Steiner educators, ask: education for what purpose? What is an educated person? Rather than merely asking what should a person know, also ask what should a person be? We are missing authentic dialogue on these questions in the broader educational landscape.

The national survey mentioned above also included the responses from Steiner school alumni, now out in the real world and provide a pointer to the value and relevance of Steiner education. 89% of alumni agreed that what they learnt was highly appropriate to later life, 95% agreed that attending a Steiner school had been an asset to their life and 94% would recommend a Steiner school[4].

SEA has commissioned a large graduate outcomes survey to further investigate whether Steiner education has prepared them for the ‘real world’: whether Steiner education has supported them to be imaginative, interested in their world and creative in their careers and personal lives; whether Steiner educated alumni perceive Steiner education as an asset for their careers and relationships; and whether Steiner education has influenced commitment to the environment, social justice matters, and capacity to make ethical decisions. We should see results of this research in 2021.

As much has been turned upside down in this Covid 19 crisis, so too should the old, industrial idea of the ‘real world’ which has been driving what education looks like since the 19th Century. Steiner education is well placed to dialogue with educators no matter what sector, what educational philosophy on the very purposes of education to support young people to thrive in this complex, ever changing world. As such, Steiner education is indeed one of the powerful strategies that Michael Fullan describes:

Many of the teaching strategies that have been advocated for at least 100 years are beginning to emerge and be embraced. Previously, the conditions for these ideas to take hold and flourish did not exist. Today, there are signs that this is changing… We are seeing a form of positive contagion as these powerful teaching strategies begin to take hold in regular schools and in fairly traditional public education systems. They are emerging almost as a natural consequence of student and teacher alienation on the one hand and growing digital access on the other hand. As we shall see, these developments have profound implications for curriculum, learning design and assessment[5]

[1] I have written about the Growing Up Digital Australia research and Steiner education approach to technology in a previous blog

[2] Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (2018). Position Paper: Learning Framework 2030.The future of education and skills, Education 2030: The future we want.

[3] Pink, D. (2006). A whole new mind: why right-brainers will rule the future. Hudson, NY: Riverhead Books.

[4] Please also see the results of a comprehensive US study of graduate outcomes in: Gerwin, D., &Safit, I. (2020). Into the world: how Waldorf graduates fare after high school. Hudson, NY: Waldorf Publications


[5] Fullan, M., Langworthy, M., & Barber, M. (2014). A rich seam. How New Pedagogies Find Deep Learning.