Expert Q&A | Marie Battiste

Expert Q&A: Marie Battiste

Q: What 21st-century skills can better prepare youth for the future as leaders, innovators and other positive role models in society?

A: Future leaders will need to have:

  • Multiple literacies (verbal, written, artistic and technological)
  • Multiple or at minimum two languages (two official and one indigenous), and understanding of more than one knowledge system as well as their ontologies and epistemologies
  • Skills in multiple learning and education systems, and the ability to translate knowledge in new forms across systems
  • Skills and knowledge in ethics involving decision-making and collaborations and partnerships with diverse peoples
  • The ability to connect holistically with one's inner spirit, and diverse skills in how to nourish the learning spirit (the learning journey that each person travels to arrive comfortably at their own awareness of their gifts, capacities and strengths) so as to allow one to use it as a compass for one's life journey
  • An understanding of multiple humanities and sciences, not just western civilization but indigenous civilizations, so as to understand more fully the one that they have been raised in or where they are located

Q: What is a major challenge in developing these key skills in students?

A: A major challenge today is the class-based societies that marginalize students or put pressure on students to perform in ways that are not grounded with their inner spirits. Notions of meritocracy suggest that all students can perform equally, yet the conditions of poverty, hegemony, power in elite groups, discrimination and racism limit the opportunities for marginalized groups. Marginalized youth do not see the benefits of education enough in their own homes and communities, as employment is still difficult for them to find in their communities. Poverty is omnipresent and despair is rampant.

Q: How can educators, schools, communities and society help students acquire these skills and overcome challenges?

A: The curricula of schools must be transformed to eliminate colonial and racial prejudice, balance the knowledge systems to include indigenous knowledges that have been marginalized or neglected in the schools, re-educate or retrain teachers in anti-racism and anti-oppressive education, and teach youth the skills needed to communicate with each other so that they are able to hold their values and reflect on these and build harmony and good relations among multiple individuals and groups in diverse societies.

It also requires reflection and dialogue among various groups from communities to educators from the ground up to revise learning ideologies, values and priorities for a different kind of society. Revision of power, values and underlying world views is a political and institutional choice, which would imply a shift in priorities in macro and micro policies, teacher education, curricula and funding. Schools can support teachers by encouraging self-learning and collaborative learning with other individuals, groups and communities.

There needs to be an increase in social emotional learning, where intuition, empathy, respect, openness, reflection and dialogue create reciprocal learning. Learning must draw on multiple learning bases and local ways of learning that complement students' learning in conventional systems of knowledge. Education must not simply reflect large common goals and futuristic thinking, but youth must be made aware of their lived realities and how they each can change or recreate their context by their understanding of the issues of inclusion; their active participation in social, cultural and community political issues; and their thinking about the possibilities and constraints of economic livelihoods, problem solving for dealing with family, communal and macro problems, and how their becoming a better person can contribute to a better society. Helping youth to find and learn from their own learning spirit will help them to understand what their own contribution can be.

Q: How will teaching these new literacies change the role of teachers inside and outside the classroom?

A: Teachers' roles as one-way transmitters of knowledge will change, as teachers must be facilitators of new knowledge and not translators. They are incapable in this century to be all-knowing of all knowledges, languages, technologies, etc., that are being massively produced globally. In a knowledge economy that is exploding each day with everything new and more, teachers are disadvantaged in trying to keep up with it, and no amount of professional development will help them keep pace with the knowledge economy. Teachers must shift from being teachers to being learners as well, with responsibilities to help youth understand the nature of the community's and the world's ethical and moral choices; to raise questions that will engage students in their own learning and expand their intellectual horizons; and to know how knowledge is politically and socially distributed in a capitalistic economy, and how knowledge from other-than-western knowledge bases and language communities can assist others in making better choices and a better world.

—Marie Battiste
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