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28 Aug 2020

Future Pedagogy and New School Models

Rohan Roberts, Head of Future Learning, GEMS Education and Director, Dubai Science Festival
Future Pedagogy and New School Models

A combination of the global pandemic and an ever-increasing convergence of exponential technologies has led to the disruption of all aspects of society. However, even though schools have been forced to offer online learning, the educational models they offer are fundamentally no different from the past. Students are still taught conventional subjects in a traditional curriculum in class groups assigned by age. And they are still being prepared to pass standardised tests as part of a rigid syllabus.

This model can be lauded as the future of learning only by those who lack the imagination to envision something bolder and more radical. What we desperately need is a fundamental revision of our educational systems.

Impact of A.i.

Thomas Freidman, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist reminds us that whatever can be outsourced and automated will be outsourced and automated. Kevin Kelly, the founder of Wired magazine adds to this and points out that whatever can be done by A.i. will be done by A.i.

And the truth is that A.i. is now increasingly able to do many things we once thought only humans could do. We have A.i. that can make art, create music, use language, drive cars and so much more. And A.i. is developing at an exponential rate. In such a scenario, the question we need to answer with a sense of urgency is what is the role of schools and what is the purpose of education?

Future Jobs

The Institute for the Future is an independent strategic research and educational organisation. In 2017, they authored and published a report in collaboration with DELL Technologies titled, Emerging Technologies Impact on Society and Work in 2030. The report mentions that 85% of the jobs that today’s learners will be doing in 2030 have not been invented yet.

Whether this will, indeed, be the case is impossible to say. However, what we can say with a high degree of probability is that the world of 2030 is going to be remarkably different from the world today in 2018. Ten years may not seem like a long time. Nevertheless, when you factor in exponential growth in technology then that changes everything.

It is no exaggeration to say that currently, most schools are preparing students for the past and not for the future. School leaders will blithely aver that this is not the case, but for the most part, students are being taught future skills only in the most cursory way and almost always for cosmetic reasons.

Humanics and Future Skills

In his book Robot-Proof: Higher Education in the Age of Artificial Intelligence, Joseph Aoun makes the case that education is not concerned solely with “topping up students' minds with high-octane facts. Rather, it calibrates them with a creative mindset and the mental elasticity to invent, discover, or create something valuable to society -- a scientific proof, a hip-hop recording, a web-comic, a cure for cancer.” In this, Aoun addresses Gardner’s definition of intelligence: the ability to create products of value for society. Aoun lays out the framework for a new discipline, Humanics, which builds on our innate strengths and prepares students to compete in a labour market in which smart machines work alongside human professionals. Humanics is the study of all the areas of human knowledge and endeavour that will prepare us to survive and excel in a post-A.i. world of increased automation. At its core, the framework emphasises our uniquely human abilities and strengths and has three basic pillars:

  • Technical Ability: an understanding of how machines function and how to interact with them.
  • Data Discipline: navigating the sea of information that is generated by these machines.
  • Human Literacy: what humans can do that machines cannot emulate – at least, for the foreseeable future.

A large part of Human Literacy is what Tony Wagner refers to as 21st Century Survival Skills – including creativity, collaboration, communication, agility, adaptability, and initiative.  Instead of the current emphasis on content, schools of the future will need to focus far more on future fluencies, new core competencies, 21st-century survival skills, and habits of mind.

Education versus Empowerment

In her recent talk on Big Think, Bena Kallick makes the case for teaching students Habits of Mind – dispositions toward behaving intelligently when confronted with problems, the answers to which are not immediately known. She points out the importance of schools being more meaningful places of learning. Where students learn enough about themselves to know what interests them and to figure out their meaning, passion and purpose in life.

Marc Prensky, the renowned educationist, keynote speaker and founder of the Global Future Education Foundation, points out that schools ought to be places where students are empowered to accomplish things and have a positive impact on the world around them.

Zoe Weil, the co-founder of the Institute for Humane Education, adds to this perspective and says students should be solutionaries: people who are able to identify inhumane and unsustainable systems and then develop solutions that are healthy and just, for people, animals and the environment.

To make this happen, schools will need to be innovative in new and exciting ways.

Innovation in Schools

Innovation is the process of finding creative solutions to problems that positively impact a large group of people. When it comes to schools, there are many areas in which to innovate:

  • School organisation/school management
  • Curriculum
  • Pedagogy (T&L methods)
  • Edtech
  • Classroom design (& virtual spaces)
  • Assessment
  • Timetabling
  • Communication
  • Partnerships (with universities & industry)
  • Staff recruitment & training
  • H.R. & I.T.
  • Business Models
  • School Transport

Future School Models

Larry Page is the co-founder of Google, one of the most successful companies in the world. He points out that “most people haven't been educated in moonshot thinking. It's why we've put so much energy into hiring independent thinkers at Google and setting big goals. Because if you hire the right people with big enough dreams, you'll usually get there.

"It's also true that many companies get comfortable doing what they have always done, with a few incremental changes. This kind of incrementalism leads to irrelevance over time. It's why we invest in areas that may seem wildly speculative."

What we are seeing is a heck of a lot of incrementalism in schools. A reason for this is because schools and the education sector, in general, are heavily regulated and there are many players with vested interests who are content with maintaining the status quo. Parents are also hesitant to see any experimentation done with their kids’ education. But we now live in a world where not experimenting will be more detrimental to the future success of their children.

In some of the more innovative schools around the world, we see the following trends:

Focus on engagement over content: Students are encouraged to have ambitions and goals, and are supported in finding their meaning, passion, and purpose in life.

Project-based learning and real-world relevance: Instead of an emphasis on exams, the emphasis is on becoming “solutionaries” focused on finding solutions to societal challenges and on making a positive impact on the world around them

Cross-curricular teaching and learning: These schools take an interdisciplinary approach to learning and problem-solving and there is less emphasis on subjects and timetables.

Personalised learning: The cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all, factory-style model of education is out. Instead students have personalised playlists and individual learning pathways that cater to their personal needs and interests.

New relationships: The teacher is no longer a sage on stage, but rather a guide on the side. The teacher is not merely a subject specialist but a mentor, counsellor, and facilitator as well.

New forms of assessment: There is less focus on summative exams and a greater focus on a combination of exhibition, portfolio, presentation and creation of ‘artefacts’ to demonstrate learning and skills.

Neuroscience-based pedagogy: The most futuristic, innovative, and forward-thinking schools recognise the importance of neuroeducation and mind-brain learning, and base their pedagogy o the latest research findings from neuroscience.

Examples of Future Schools and New Educational Models

A Bright Future

The temporary setbacks due to the pandemic notwithstanding, an exciting future awaits us. How we prepare ourselves and our children for this new world is crucial to the success of our species. As the Imaginary Foundation says, “Think of an exciting, ecstatic, desirable future, and pull the present forward to meet it.” The only real, meaningful, and lasting way to do that is to fix our educational system. And gradual, piecemeal, half-hearted, incremental change will simply not cut it anymore.

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