Innovation Unit for the Global Education Leaders’ Program. (2013). Redesigning Education: Shaping Learning Systems Around the Globe (Kindle ebook ed.). Seattle, Washington, USA: BookTrope. Retrieved 2015, from


This review critically examines the work Redesigning Education: Shaping Learning Systems around the Globe (hereafter noted as Redesigning Education ).  The book is clearly written and structured so that we gain an overview of the frameworks and groundwork that has been achieved by the organization to date. It provides details of the membership, overall vision and scope of The Global Education Leaders’ Program (GELP). GELP is a “partnership of key education system leaders, policy-makers, thought-leaders and world-class organizations collaborating in a global community to transform education in practice” at local, national and international levels (Innovation Unit for the Global Education Leaders’ Program (GELP), 2013, Introduction). It provides a compelling case for change, looking at the established structure of education today, theoretical viewpoints, research and successful global innovative practice and change.

However, GELP concedes that redesigning education will not take place overnight, that it is ‘a work in progress’ (GELP, 2013, Chapter 5) and accordingly considers challenges and issues to be addressed.  While, noting the urgent need for a ‘radical and fundamental rethinking’ of the role of education and structure this book is not ground-breaking…it is supported by previous research (GELP, 2013, Chapter 1; Randeree, 2006).  In 1990 Phillip C. Schlechty, admittedly writing within an American context, wrote how schools need to be reinvented ‘to meet the needs of the twenty-first century’ and admonished that:

It is not enough to try to fix the schools; they must be reconstituted in fundamental and radical ways. In a word, the schools….must be restructured [which] … means altering systems of rules, roles, and relationships so that schools can serve existing purposes more effectively or serve new purposes altogether” (Schlechty, 1990, Preface, p. xvi)

Indeed, even decades prior, in 1939, Harold Benjamin stated that:

Society evolves and the purposes and processes and content of learning and schooling have to change, too, or it ceases to serve young people or society well. (as cited in GELP, 2013, Chapter 3).

So the question still remains, upon reflecting the distance travelled, will the work of organisations such as GELP be enough to shake the traditional foundations of our education systems and ensure change on a global and scalable level, considering they have not achieved it to date?

For the GELP system leaders, the ‘tipping point for change’ is a paradigm shift in “public culture, thinking and conceptions of education’s form and purpose (GELP, 2013, Chapter 3). The strength, with the book and indeed the organisation itself, is that it is working not only with educators, but many different sectors of society – public, private (entrepreneurial, philanthropic)  and non-profit sectors – including governments, to bring about educational change. ‘Learning is everybody’s business’ (GELP, 2013, Chapter 1).  It is this varied audience that sets the tone and style of writing of the text. It is not scholarly, but written to persuade, ‘shift’ and extend public opinion.  Hence, purposefully, The Global Education Leader’s Program seeks to ‘recruit new jurisdictions, organizations and individuals: to continue to build a global community’ (GELP, 2013, Chapter 4). Furthermore, the organization has achieved a longevity, which sees it building upon sharing of different jurisdiction’s goals and practice, since its inception in 2009.

This paradigm shift in public thinking is happening, albeit slowly.  Changing education is a focal point in recent media articles. Jason Clare, Australian Shadow Minister for Communications, declared “our education system needs to change to reflect changes happening now in our economy – and the changes that will take place in the decades ahead” (The Australian Financial Review, March 19, 2015).  Similarly, AUT University (New Zealand) Professor of Education Jane Gilbert also recently stated:

We have to repackage the traditional goal of the education system, which is to build the intellectual capacity to think in ever more complex ways…Our education system is meant to serve the collective good and create the kind of society we want to live in. (Coleman, 2015).

The world has seen change on an exponential scale globally during the past couple of decades. As seen above, “established education systems will have to change dramatically… they cannot continue to just improve incrementally” (Cisco, 2010, p.3; GELP, 2013; Hannon, Patton, & Temperley, 2011; Schlechty, 1990). GELP argues that, ultimately, our schools are essentially failing our students (GELP, 2013, Chapter 5; Cisco, 2010, p.10; Schlechty, 2009). We are still ‘rethinking’ the role and purpose of education (Schlechty, 1990, p. 7 & 17; Cisco, 2010).  So, the dialogue continues.

GELP laments ‘a fully operational 21st century education system does not now exist anywhere’ (GELP, 2013, Chapter 1). Innovative learning on a global scale is unevenly distributed and isolated (GELP, 2013, Chapter 1 & 3). GELP system leaders question “What will it take to move from pockets of exciting models to transformed systems?”(GELP, 2013, Chapter 4) especially considering the ‘disparity in international comparisons of education, existing educational inequalities, student disengagement and dissatisfaction, and the economic and social demands for new skills and behaviours’ (GELP, 2013, Chapter 5).

We are, though, entering the age of the ‘learning society’ (Cisco, 2010, 2011). We need to ‘rethink how, where and by whom learning takes place…Schooling must become an activity, not a place’ (GELP, 2013, Chapter 1).  Students require 21st century skills and capabilities to ensure they are resilient and adaptable to changing environments and ways of living (local and global citizenship, life and career, personal and social responsibility) and working in the world (ATC21s, 2009-12; Institute of the Future, 2011). The learning society moves beyond the ‘academic’ functions of the school, to ‘build culture, values and societal fabric’ and to recognize both formal and informal learning contexts and environments (Hannon, Patton & Temperley, 2011).

These include ways of thinking such as problem solving, decision making, creative, critical and computational thinking (Institute of the Future, 2011, p. 10); as well as, ways of working together to collaborate, communicate and negotiate including cross-cultural competency.  Tools for working include the development of technological skills, new-media literacies (Gee, 2010; Jenkins, 2009; Institute of the Future, 2011, p. 4 & 10) and information literacy/fluency skills which focus on the  abilities to find, select, structure and evaluate information (GELP, 2013, Chapter 1; ATC21S, 2012; Kay & Greenhill in Wan & Gut, 2011, Chapter 3;).  Navigating knowledge has become more important than knowing facts (Cisco, 2010, p. 7). Furthermore, “students must actively engage with the learning process itself to become lifelong learners” (GELP, 2013, Chapter 1).

Redesigning Education describes effective learning environments and proposes ‘game changers’ – ‘radical shifts’ that dramatically influence systems and practices in learning. These include transfer of ownership to the learner and the ‘optimal use of powerful digital technologies’ (GELP, 2013, Chapter 2; Hannon, Patton & Temperley, 2011, p. 13; Niehoff, 2015).  Again, these are not new, but they do consolidate and build upon earlier research. Future Work skills 2020 reported six key disruptive drivers of change ‘that will reshape the landscape of work and identifies ten key work skills needed in the next ten years’ (Institute for the Future, 2011, p. 1).  James Paul Gee likewise noted that

It is, rather, the study of how digital tools and new forms of convergent media, production, and participation, as well as powerful forms of social organization and complexity in popular culture, can teach us how to enhance learning in and out of school and how to transform society and the global world as well (Gee, 2009, p. 14).

Technology has allowed us to ‘orchestrate our own learning’ as producers of information (Jenkins, 2006). Digital technologies are also pushing the boundaries to extend the development of relationships in learning beyond classroom walls with the formation of ‘new communities of practice and engendering a growing sense of citizenship on a global scale (Cisco, 2010, p.18). While standards are important there is growing acknowledgement that human relationships not centralization or standardization be the priority. (GELP, 2013, Chapter 2; Niehoff, 2015).

However, GELP also recognizes that technology is not sufficient unto itself to lead to new pedagogies or transform education systems. While innovative practices are occurring globally, as exemplified within the text, ‘the current drivers are creating only partial solutions or limited change’ (GELP, 2013, Chapter 3 ).  For those schools which do transfer and harness the power of learner ownership, what is evident is ‘enquiry-based learning, greater and more meaningful student voice and peer-to-peer teaching and mentoring’ (Hannon, Patton & Temperley, 2011, p. 14).

Generally, however, the core model of schooling and therefore the nature of the learning experience is not affected (GELP, 2013, Chapter 3).  Largely, mainstream education is not taking on the challenge of incorporating new technologies such as mobile technologies, social networking, edutainment and the open source movement. Instead, technology is used to support existing practices and ‘legacy systems’. There is, as a result, a ‘tension between in-house systems and learning management systems (LMS) and freely available Web 2.0 tools and services’ (Conole, 2012, p. 60). Conole (2012, p.60) further notes how ‘at the institutional level, there is little evidence of corporate understanding of these tools, as well as a lack of vision for how social computing can be used. Students are ‘tending to outpace schools in the adoption and consumption of technology’ (GELP, 2013, Foreward).

Redesigning Education (GELP, 2013) moves forward by presenting the concept of the ‘learning ecosystems’ which are ‘diverse, interdependent, fluid [but] which also require ‘a fostering platform on which to evolve and grow’ (GELP, 2013, Chapter 2). So too, equity and access to education systems ‘depends on a complex system of people, infrastructure, finance, technologies and regulatory frameworks’ (GELP, 2013, Chapter 2).

It is interesting that both GELP (2013) and Schlechty (1990) researched different sector models other than education to look critically at restructuring and transformational system change. Similarly they both ‘proceed from the assumption that the key to school reform is effective (participatory) leadership’ which focuses on ‘strategies of vision, engagement, co-design, collective work & building communities of practice’ (GELP, 2013, Chapter 4; Schlechty 1990, p. 8, p.17, p. 50).  This includes teachers who ‘must be change agents in system transformation, particularly in the new ways they interact with learners’ (GELP, 2013, Chapter 7).

Governments and strong political leadership provide the platform upon which education systems can develop by allowing for ‘a diversity of providers rather than being the primary providers of education’ (Hannon, Patton & Temperley, 2011). Redesigning Education states that there are ‘four roles that only government can, and should perform’, namely: vision and leadership, ensuring fundamental entitlements, promotion and assurance of equity, and safety and safeguarding (GELP, 2013, Chapter 2).

The importance of governments cannot be highlighted enough considering the significant role they play either as resistant or proactive agents for transforming (or not) education systems (GELP, 2013, Chapter 4; Cisco, 2010, p. 22). For the GELP system leaders a major on-going task ‘is to influence the political rhetoric globally and locally – to create greater authorization for transformation’ (GELP, 2013, Chapter 7).

To conclude, Redesigning Education: Shaping Learning Systems around the Globe is not about ‘new fads’ in education but rather is a thoughtful continuation of the dialogue of what education is for.  Considering its global context it acknowledges the need for flexibility. The frameworks or ‘roadmaps’ they have designed are to be used as a ‘common conceptual architecture or set of lenses’ to analyse jurisdictions’ transformation journeys (GELP, 2013, Chapter 5). For it to succeed, every school, community, state, country or system must build this change on its own terms. There is no fixed pathway. Indeed, it could be this very flexibility that is also the organization’s strength.

Furthermore, a common theme throughout, is the advocacy to bring together disparate groups in ‘a common endeavour’ to create the learning, learning opportunities and organizations required for the 21st century. It is a realistic document acknowledging that ‘schools systems designed for a previous age have proved remarkably resilient and resistant to change’ (GELP, 2013, Chapter 5) and the resultant difficulty of system change and the complications arising from politics and disparate interests.

It will be interesting to read an updated version in 2019 which will see two decades of the Global Leaders Education Partnership in practice. Will Education 3.0 be a reality or will organizations such as GELP still be arguing for ‘transformational educational system change’?


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