“Schools are not preparing students for the challenges of the future”

The needs and interests of students, society and the planet are not being met by education systems, which need to be urgently rethought. This is the opinion of Valerie Hannon, OECD consultant on the Education 2030 Project, who was in Portugal for the final event of the 7th edition of Apps for Good, of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation

The last two years brought great learning and leave lessons that can, and should, be used to adapt life and work to the changes in society. In terms of education, the cornerstone of any culture and social organisation, the experience of the pandemic brought to light problems that, although not new, were not so evident. "If we think about the history of the last two years, we have a lot to worry about in terms of the ability of the younger generations to analyse information and think critically," warns Valerie Hannon in an interview with Energiser.

The OECD consultant for education issues, who was present at the final of the 7th edition of the Apps for Good competition, promoted by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, also draws attention to the need to train young people to know how to distinguish truth from 'propaganda', an essential ability "at a time when populism and the emergence of new authoritarian leaders is gaining ground around the world". The solution, says the author and radical voice for change, is to "rethink the school system, seeking to answer the question - what are educational institutions for?”.

In her latest book, Thrive, Valerie Hannon proposes a new approach to education, advocating greater autonomy for schools. Even so, she recognises the difficulty of achieving this, as "they will never be completely independent from politics and social norms, nor should they be, because they are an expression of what society decides is important. That is how it is in democracies". For the education specialist, "elected leaders should have a say in the directive system, but not when it comes to operational details". This is, in fact, a controversial issue: "how to guarantee the balance between autonomy and direction?", she questions. In the past, she believes, there was too much direction and too little autonomy. However, the model she defends is a balance between these two aspects. "There should be clear guidance from the systems, in relation to the values they defend and support, but it should be the schools that operationalise these guidelines". The consultant gives as an example Finland, a country renowned for the effectiveness of its educational policies, and which recently revised its curricula, reducing them to minimum guidelines and leaving even greater autonomy to schools. "Finland has highly qualified education professionals, whom it trusts to make the necessary decisions for the good functioning of the entire education system," she reinforces.


A strong education system presupposes good professionals, motivated, committed and with the autonomy to let creativity flow, essential for the change that the present times demand. In education systems like the Finnish, explains Valerie Hannon, "the Government knows that it is enough to define light guidelines for schools to put them into practice creatively, because if they do not, they will not take advantage of the creativity of the profession. And, she adds, "we do not want a merely technical and unmotivated class of teachers, incapable of motivating pupils and injecting the creativity that the education system needs to evolve."

"What is needed is a deep understanding of what education is, thinking beyond the acquisition of qualifications"

For the expert, Governments must, on the other hand, question whether they are training teachers in the right way, giving them the necessary skills to meet the demands of the 21st century. This requires, however, a change in mentalities for which changing the rules is not enough. "It requires a deep understanding of what education is, thinking beyond the acquisition of qualifications," she stresses


The situation generated by the pandemic at a global level, with a huge impact on education, has brought to light weaknesses - many of them already known, but little appreciated -, and, hopes the OECD consultant, leave some lessons that help prepare the future of education. Of course, she believes, not everyone will learn the same things after the covid crisis, but "the most enlightened have realised the importance of socialisation and the emotional dimension of school. And this is what needs to be prioritised."

In Valerie Hannon's opinion, schools can adapt their curricula in the same way that companies have had to adapt to the telework model which, in many cases, will remain in a hybrid format. That is, as an alternative to intensive study hours, schools can promote autonomous work, done at home, helping to develop critical thinking and creativity and leaving room for teachers to better plan their lessons and customise work programs, more suited to each student profile.

"I am hopeful that several schools will experiment with new models so that others can follow them."

The key to the success of the education systems of the future lies in the empowerment and accountability of students, who must be the first responsible for their learning, as their future depends on it. The specialist believes that technology will be a supporting and complementary tool for teaching, "helping students to have contact with information and knowledge of specialists from any part of the world and opening their horizons".

The conference that integrated the 7th edition of Apps for Good was also attended by Sandra Aparício, responsible for Galp's CSR, who was part of the jury that evaluated the projects in the competition.

The Apps for Good initiative is a partner of Fundação Galp's Future Up, working together to develop interest in and integration of technology within Portuguese classrooms in primary and secondary education, for the creation of applications for mobile devices and tablets, working in teams to find solutions that are linked to social and environmental problems.

Every year, Future Up also awards prizes to projects within schools that are directly linked to the preservation of natural resources and sustainable consumption, in line with the sustainable development goals proposed by the UN. These awards are granted by Galp mentors who accompany, support, and assist students in various academic areas and their projects throughout the school year.