Making the Case for Changemaker Education

In tackling the challenges that young people face, education policy must evolve with the times – and never has that been more true than in 2020.

The Edge Foundation’s mission is to make education relevant to life and work in the twenty-first century. It has been working for years to campaign for and support a broader curriculum in schools, richer engagement between education and employers and high quality work-based opportunities like apprenticeships.

But when Edge met Ashoka UK, the final piece of this puzzle snapped into place. Yes, we need to support young people to have the knowledge and skills they need for the future, but they also need the mind-sets to solve social challenges and transform their communities for the better. They need changemaker education. 

One of Ashoka’s aims is to inspire changemaking behaviours in young people, to ensure they grow up to be empathetic, creative and community-oriented leaders no matter what career path they choose to follow. They’ve made headway in many countries, including Brazil and the US. But is there really appetite for this kind of approach in the UK too?

The answer is yes. In May 2020, Edge ran a YouGov poll to gauge UK demand for changemaking as a core component of education. The results were overwhelmingly in favour. 71% of UK parents want education to enable their children to become changemakers. 80% of teachers want the same.

When asked whether they want to help pupils develop values like kindness, empathy and community cohesion – the core of changemaking – the proportion of teachers in favour rose to 96%. Meanwhile, in a separate poll from August 2020, almost two-thirds (65%) of 14-19-year-olds agreed that they wanted education to enable them to take action, activate others to address problems and to find solutions that benefit all.

So the demand is clearly strong, but what exactly does changemaker education look like in a UK context?

Changemaking combines community-cohesion, a problem-solving mindset, and traits like empathy, passion and purpose. It aims to promote collaborative leadership and creative action that solves social problems. This is highly relevant in today’s world.

Changemaking is applicable across the educational spectrum, from early years to higher education. And this isn’t merely theoretical. A growing number of institutions, worldwide, are responding to the demand from young people for the skills that will help them contribute to a better future. 

In 2013, the University of Northampton adopted a changemaking strategy. The university had a long culture of embracing social issues, but following increased commercialisation of the HE market, they had to evolve. They needed to stay relevant while meeting government measures of success. In Northampton’s case, graduate employability, a key HE performance indicator, was central to their strategy.

Northampton began with a new skills framework. They sought input from faculty, administration staff, students, regional employers and local schools. This allowed them to identify core changemaking behaviours relevant to all these groups. Behaviours they identified included critical thinking, perspective-shifting, problem-solving, social betterment, employability, and personal transformation. With bottom-up input from the student body and faculty, as well as the governing board, the framework was more readily adopted. To encourage uptake, Northampton also introduced incentives, such as a new ‘Employability Award’.

Most importantly though, Northampton took the bold decision to roll their strategy out university-wide from the start – a brave big bang approach. Changemaking immediately became a campus priority. A ‘changemaker champion’ on the governing board also acted as a bridge between strategic decision-making and practical implementation on the ground.

Seven years on, Northampton’s approach continues to evolve. Yet the university is now widely recognised in the HE and social innovation sectors as one of the few to have achieved global status as a changemaking institution. They’ve broken down barriers between staff and students, curricular and extra-curricular. The results are clear in their graduate employability.

The benefits of changemaking are evident everywhere. From mental health apps to improved access to menstrual hygiene, measures for tackling e-waste and even making old cars more environmentally friendly, innovations are springing up all over the world. These aren’t government initiatives. They’re 100% driven by young people. Young changemakers in action.

This isn’t only about workplace prospects, although that’s important, too. This is about creating a more compassionate, equitable society. History will look back on changemaking as the new literacy of the 21st century. What we need is an educational policy that shifts focus from merely identifying problems to solving them in creative, world-improving ways. And let’s be honest, who wouldn’t want to be part of that kind of groundbreaking change?

At the Ashoka Changemaker Summit on 17 November 2020, Edge and Ashoka will run a joint session: The Case for Changemaker Education. We’ll bring together an expert panel from schools, colleges and universities across the UK (including the University of Northampton) to learn more about their approach to changemaking education. Find out more and book your place.

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