Discussions on the Future of Education
At dinner with a group of friends last night as we were all catching up, early conversation focused on one of our friends in the automotive industry who had been very busy working 7 days a week. We felt sorry for him until we realized that meant attending last week’s CES (Global Consumer Electronics Show) in Las Vegas and he proceeded to captivate us with stories of the latest hi-tech wizardry and how it was shaping a revolution in the car industry. He clearly described five phases of development that will get us to a 2023 future where cars are redefined from simple tools for transportation to become electric powered, autonomous travel pods that were total ecosystems featuring holograms to replace the touch screen console and personalized by ultra smart artificial intelligence (AI), complete with facial recognition that can tell if you’ve had a tough day and gets to know you (predicative intelligence), what music you might want to listen to and where you want to go for dinner. Linked with the Internet of Things it’s all about the journey, not the destination. It reminded me of the iPhone revolution of the last 10 years and made me think about all the other ‘ecosystems’ in our lives: our homes, offices and schools.
An overseas visitor in our group was then introduced to the life-transforming wonders of shopping on Tao Bao, complete with demonstration of its photo search feature. Another immediate convert! She was however, puzzled by the experience of sharing the cost of dinner by WeChat payment, but felt better when our car friend explained further about how quick China is in adopting new technology, and that Beijing is one of the world’s three great technology hubs, alongside California’s Silicon Valley and Israel’s Silicon Wadi.
Inescapable was the reminder that we are living through what is now commonly dubbed the 4th industrial revolution – with its pervasive disruptors: technology, automation, artificial intelligence, abundance, globalization, big data and social media. Last week, a message on a friends social network advised us that education futurist, Professor Yong Zhao would be speaking at Beijing Normal University the next day, presenting in Chinese, so we quickly rescheduled plans and took the opportunity for as many people in our new school start-up office (from academic staff to secretaries) to go along and listen to his messages on the importance of education to be part of ‘leading the way’ by embracing the future, and being part of creating it rather than always trying to ‘catch up’. (Read this week’s ORIGINS article from Grace Yang for a recap and link to a recording of the presentation).
At dinner, my friend in the auto industry told me about their strategies for headhunting top talent in their last year at university, or those who recently graduated, and how they were doing away with the tried and tested MBA industry standards of setting Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to work towards. Instead, new employees are expected to come up with new ideas – they are expected to be creative. A similar message comes from Yong Zhao, who challenges schools to change their old notions of assessment and curriculum – ideas that are holding our kids back from learning the skills and attitudes that they need to thrive in a rapidly changing world.
Change in our work life can be hard for all of us, but when it comes to shopping or booking a holiday it comes surprisingly easily. One thing is certain: we need to look forward at the possibilities. Technology is changing work: 50% of today’s jobs will be gone by 2035, and the 60% of new jobs that will replace them haven’t been invented yet. However, a lot of future jobs are already out there today and are highly paid, valuing skills not experience. Industry giants and start ups are snapping up kids with high level skills in creativity, collaboration, critical thinking, social communication, and of course all things technology – and they already can’t find enough talent to meet their needs.
At some point, all dinner parties touch on politics, and everyone enjoyed the irony being played out on the world stage this week: with President Xi Ji Ping talking at Davos about a future based on globalization, whilst America’s new president-elect focused on tweeting how he will build walls – physical and economic. My auto industry friend was pretty clear about the future: it is full of uncertainties, and it’s happening fast; it’s exciting and it’s full of opportunities. The details are being worked out as we go, but the trend is unmistakable.
In education, we need to heed Yong Zhao’s words and learn from what’s happening around us in the real world while embracing the future. We need to give our kids every chance to develop their creativity, to be involved in exploring their interests, to find their passions, to tinker with technology and engage in finding solutions to real world challenges. In China, parents are looking for education to provide their child the edge in being ready for the future. In the boom of new private school openings, there is a rush to develop a new model of schools. This is a golden opportunity to create ‘schools for the future’ and engage our kids in the future today. This requires innovation, building on what we know and have and creating new and better ways of doing things. At ORIGINS, I am working with a team of passionate, committed people who are trying to do that – it’s not easy but it’s exciting and it’s where we want to be. Just like my automotive industry friend, everyone knows how to build and operate great schools for 10 years ago, but we know there won’t be much demand for them in the next 10 years!
Inspiring good reads by Yong Zhao:
Why we should be focusing on leadership and action today, not developing leaders for tomorrow.
In September 2015, 193 world leaders agreed to 17 Global Goals for Sustainable Development. If these Goals are completed, it would mean an end to extreme poverty, inequality and climate change by 2030.
The United Nations Global Goals provide a strong push for all humanity, and hence all of us in schools, to focus on what is important and urgent for us to be addressing and to identify the needs to be woven into our curriculum as ‘main ideas’ and areas for inquiry, innovation and action. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon reminds us of our shared humanity and rights and the Goals provide real world challenges for us to investigate, and to take action in order to effect change. And, while it is easy to be skeptical that individual action can make a difference, anyone who has ever heard Jane Goodall speak will appreciate the power of her ‘roots and shoots’ metaphor: individual blades of grass can, over time grow up through the cracks in a concrete path and overwhelm it. Working individually and together with a shared purpose can change even the greatest barriers.
In our globally connected world we need to collectively own our issues; in our schools we need to focus on what kids can do and empower them to innovate and take action. In the International Baccalureate (IB), this strong thread is articulated in the various ‘Service and Action’ programmes across the Primary Years Programme (PYP), the Middle Years Programme (MYP), and the Diploma Programme (DP).
We live in a world undergoing an exponential transformation under the influence of globalization and technology, but yet too often in schools we focus on teaching tech skills as a measurable end in themselves and we control what should be learned and when, rather than focusing on the power of technology and social media to empower kids to be inquirers, thinkers, innovators, and leaders.
In contrast to this practice, George Couros describes the term ‘Digital Leadership’, defining it as “using the vast reach of technology to improve the lives, well being, and circumstances of others.” To this definition I suggest we add the concepts of “improving our environment” and “creating the future.” In a recent blog post he challenges us to focus on the fantastic things that kids are doing with technology right now that is making a difference. Take for instance the teen who created the “Sit With Us” app, to help students find welcoming students to join during lunch. Or the 9 year old, “Little Miss Flint”, becoming a voice of a city and educating people about the water crisis in her city of Flint, Michigan.
Couros’ stories are inspiring and remind us of the importance of sharing and celebrating these success stories. Couros challenges us not to talk about developing “leaders for the future”, but to support kids get on with being leaders and entrepreneurs today. He also challenges us not to think about these examples as “exceptional” or “remarkable”, but rather as what should be the new “normal” to expect in our schools.