The World We’re Educating For…..

…… or rather, the world we should be educating for, but aren’t because we’re dithering and having endless discussions about whether new ideas in education can statistically be proven to raise particular arbitrary educational markers/ scores (in other words, those who want to block change and progress choose the outcome to be measured and then condemn the change because it doesn’t move the marker they chose adequately!

And, in the meantime, while educators sit around debating these things the world is changing at a pace that is getting faster and faster. Don’t believe me, or think I’m being sensationalist? I would ask you to check out the following two videos – recent documentaries.

Particularly, the first comes from The Economist – hardly an organisation that can be condemned for overblown lack of realism. it looks at the future of work.

And the second, looks at some of the latest developments happening in robotics, Artificial intelligence, machine learning and the move in to a new digital age. There have been false dawns in many of these areas before. Writers and commentators first started to really talk about the implications of technology and the changed life as we develop ‘intelligent systems’ in the 1950’s and 60’s. When little really materialised other than a few novelty products, people lost interest. Then, again, in the 90’s there was renewed interest, but again what materialised wasn’t life changing enough to seep in to most people’s consciousness.

However, this time, there’s more than enough evidence that things are very different. However, because of the history, vast proportions of people – especially in the developed countries – sit like the proverbial frogs in the pan of boiling water, oblivious to what’s happening around them.

More after the video ……………………..

As educators we have to acknowledge that this stuff is massive. In the short term we need to be preparing young people in vast numbers with the skills, resilience and self driven motivation to succeed in the gig economy, even though the gig economy may prove to have just been a stepping stone on the way to something way bigger.

Already, in developed countries there are politicians and other commentators prepared to begin to have hard conversations about what might need to happen to support people in a world where less people are needed to make everything happen. There are going to be vast numbers of people who will become ‘surplus to requirements’. Now the developed countries know that their history over the last 20-30 years as the de-industrialised (as industry moved more to developing countries) they didn’t do a good job of retraining people, helping them to reposition themselves to a changed society. This could be more severe in those countries if there is nothing new to reposition many of those people to.

As a result, some countries are already carrying out experiments in what they have chosen to call “universal income” or some other similar name. What it amounts to is harnessing the enormous revenues that will be generated by technology and using them to pay a standard minimum income to every citizen of the country (we can also see in these circumstances why some countries are getting particular now about who is in and who is out, i.e. immigration).

That might provide the solution in terms of making sure that people rendered workless (I think we need to stop using the word jobless) can at least feed themselves and manage the basic fundamentals of life. However, it doesn’t even begin to address issues of how all those people will adjust to infinite leisure (although i believe there’s a connection here to willingness to legalise cannabis in many countries), personal aspiration and ambition. In the context of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs we would need to adjust to a vast proportion of populations for whom the upper parts of the hierarchy would be a no-go zone.

For educators, planners and others willing to look seriously at the future in developing countries there are potentially far bigger challenges and issues. Taking the example of India, there are certain types of jobs and work that have played the biggest part in lifting enormous numbers of people out of poverty. In turn, many of those areas of work have acted as gateways for some of the people to use their newfound skills and abilities to transition higher up the food chain to more higher-value-added work with higher earnings.

India still has enormous numbers living in poverty. There are still millions employed inefficciently in an agrarian sector that must modernise to be efficient and effective. At the same time the country still has a high birth rate and the high birth rate of the last 20 years sees vast numbers of youngsters (graduates and non graduates) becoming available for the workforce. However, what happens if vast numbers of them are simply not needed? I believe the current unemployment data in India is already showing the effects of jobs dwindling in areas like medical transcription, call centres, back office processing etc. As i said before, these types of jobs have been a significant engine for lifting large numbers in to the Indian middle class.

Plainly, if there is going to be a massive unemployment issue in the world, countries like India will not have the resources to be able to contemplate universal income. Worse, as the situation works through, the relatively small numbers who do have the high end skills and abilities in technical fields are likely to be enticed by selective immigration in to developed countries.

I’m not sure anyone yet has the answers to these issues. What concerns me most is that i’m not sure the issues are being discussed fully, transparently and openly. There are challenges ahead and people need to work together to resolve them. Educators need to be at the front as full and active participants in these debates, so as to speak for their pupils but also to further refine their own understanding of the changing needs young people have from the education system in order to figure out how to meet those needs.

Schools and IT Hardware Acquisition

educational-technology__zoom

“Look how hi-tec we are! Look at our techie bling!”

This was the message that thousands of schools were seeking to put out to the public around 7-10 years ago when they bought and installed interactive white boards. Some even felt the need to put massive display boards outside the front of their schools to tell parents, prospective parents and the local community that they had invested in this technology. This should have been a worrying sign to everyone. This hardware wasn’t being acquired and installed for education reasons or reasons that had anything to do with children, their learning or the ability of teachers to enhance that learning.

People were bemused when I was Director at The Shri Ram Schools that in the midst of all this we had still not installed any of these boards. This wasn’t motivated by being tight-fisted or unwilling to invest. Rather, each year we would carry out an assessment and concluded that installing the boards would actually be an obstacle to the changes we were seeking to bring about in teaching approaches and methods. The technology would have become a hiding place for teachers who were reluctant to make real internal changes and step out of their comfort zones. The result – more investment in training and a strong focus on supporting our teachers through their changes led to better implementation of personalised learning, differentiation and new and more effective teaching methods.

And for all those other schools? Sadly, all the evidence shows that the fears that I and my TSRS team had were well founded.  Those schools installed the hardware, paraded it to people as a reason to believe that their schools were something special, but their presence changed little about the way teaching was done (meaning they had very little, if any, effect on student learning).

The negative position was even confirmed in some research in late 2017 that I was personally involved with. It showed that even in schools where there were high proportions of teachers trained with PGCE and with a great deal of experience, over 80% of the teachers used the interactive white boards for nothing more than ‘showing pictures and video’.

Now, I have some radical news for you – you can do all of that with a large flat screen TV in the classroom and a) the picture quality is miles better, and b) the cost is only about 60% of the overall cost of all the classroom hardware and software for an interactive white board. So, as a result, it doesn’t make education or financial sense to keep putting these boards in every classroom in new schools, or replacing them all when they reach the end of their productive lives.

Now, I’m not saying all was bad. There were still around 20% of teachers who were using these boards as they were designed and they were contributing to some great learning. Most often, these tended to be in early years classrooms where the interactivty and participative nature of the learning suits the children, their ages and the material being learned and in science and maths fields for some topics where they can be really useful to convey and manipulate complex data, graphs or 3-D graphic models of body systems etc. So, I still believe there should be some installed in some rooms of a school – where specific good reason can justify!

But, think what schools could do with the surplus funds freed up.  School Heads will always have good uses for such freed up funds.

White boards

Another area on which I’ve continued to be baffled is with regard to creating, setting up and equipping computer labs. Why do schools keep doing it blindly, without questioning or challenging what they’re doing – especially when setting up a new school? From an owner/ promoter’s perspective in the most simple terms, a computer lab is a pure cost centre. Children leave a classroom empty and unitilised to go and occupy the computer lab for a period of time. If that room wasn’t a lab it would be a more standard learning space, so it becomes income generating (you can accommodate a certain number of students in that room at whatever are the fees of the school. This may often be more than the typical revenue from one standard class of students as these rooms are often designed to be double the size of a normal classroom.

My principle reason for saying this is that in the world we live in today IT is ubiquitous and it comes to us. The days when we physically moved to a space for the purpose of using IT is long past. There are a whole variety of arrangements that schools can use – trolleys for charging and moving tablets or laptops, Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) schemes, loan and buy back personal devices arrangements etc. The reality is that we don’t really need labs for anything except high end programming and CADCAM type work (so, just one lab even for a very large school. Of course, if you’re in India, you will still have to have at least one lab – because the examination board insists you must! Such is life, huh.

After attending a couple of big conferences in India and Malaysia in the last 4 months that included exhibitions, I fear we’re destined to prove we learned little from those past experiences with the interactive white boards. I felt a sense of deja vu.  Except, where in the past every second or third exhibitor was peddling electronic white boards their 2019 avatars are extolling the amazing and stunning benefits of hardware for Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR) or Robotics. But, again, all the clues are there – this seems too often to be at least as much about school marketing and impressing parents than about bringing in new and radical changes to student learning   It’s more bling to show off, to prove credentials of modernity and progressive nature in the school, where the approaches to teaching and the underlying ideological approach to education, its purpose and methodologies haven’t really changed.

Before a school introduces new technology there’s a need for a ‘warts and all’ deep and searching internal audit and self-assessment that needs to start right from – what do we exist for, what are our purposes? The next question is, why are we considering buying this technology and how does it figure within the context of our current approaches to teaching and learning? What would need to change if we are to harness the learning potential of this technology and how much confidence should we have that those changes are possible and likely? This analysis gives clues about whether it does or doesn’t make sense to go ahead to bring the technology in (and the timing).

I hope i’m wrong. Because, if i’m right there are very real risks that instead of such technology becoming tools to progress the changes in education that our young people need, they either contribute nothing, or worse, get in the way and become an excuse not to change or innovate. This is not the time to allow blockages and inhibitions to get in the way of education reform and change. With a world pace of change accelerating beyond anything we’ve ever experienced before, we have to have an education system that is open, ready to change, flexible and responsive. otherwise, we will fail to do our duty by young people and society at large.

 

The Future of Work

Work is one of the most important ways that ‘modern man’ makes meaning, defines meaning in life – individually and collectively. Therefore, the future of work and the impacts on work of today’s technological developments are critical areas that we should pay attention to, as educators. These are the things that will shape the lives of the children we have in our schools today.

Yet this troubles me. All too often, we see educators who have convinced themselves that if they can just find ways to do what they did before, by degrees of 1 or 2% better, we can make a better version of yesterday’s education and can pat ourselves on the back that we’re reforming, innovating and delivering something world class.

Instead, with the speed of change so rapid in the world today, we need to be thinking in far more bold and creative ways about what schooling and education should be today in order to prepare young people for the world of tomorrow. If we don’t do these things we shouldn’t be surprised if the education available in our schools is seen as less and less relevant, less and less applicable to the evolving lives of young people. Worse, for those of us engaged in schools development in developing countries and away from the economic powerhouses will be condemning the young people we work with to the disadvantages that have held their countries back ….. but multiplied far worse.

One simple example stands out. Over the last 20 to 30 years one of the biggest engines of growth for developing countries was the shift of manufacturing to those countries. There were multiple reasons for this. In the western countries environmental laws and employment laws became more rigid and more costly to comply with. however, by far the biggest influencer was the relative cost of manpower/ labour.  Western workers became too expensive to employ in labour intensive manufacturing environments. In fact, often the developing country labour was so much cheaper that companies didn’t even need to be hasty about introducing or developing advanced equipment for manufacturing.

However, we’ve now hit a critical tipping point with automation, robotics and the harnessing of AI. Companies are moving manufacturing back to developed countries. Governments, such as the USA, make a big deal of this as a conscious effort to support the common man in their countries, to bring back jobs etc. However, the truth is that much of that manufacturing goes on almost entirely without the need for labour and so will have little or no impact on wages and unemployment. However, it now leads to reduced costs of distribution for the manufacturers and a favourable environment to innovate, automate and  harness to new technology.

This represents a challenge for the mass of people in all parts of the world. Job growth in the developing world slows down, job growth doesn’t really materialise in the developed economies (except McJobs with zero hours contracts). In the meantime, the proportion of the world’s wealth flowing in to the hands of the richest and the biggest corporations increases.

(Ironic that I’m writing this the weekend that the American government passed laws to massively cut tax rates for big corporations (who are frequently already sitting on massive cash piles or engaging in aggressive buy-backs of their own shares as the best way to generate shareholder returns).

I came in on the point that educators should be taking account of where the world is going. Only if we do that do we have any hope of providing effectively for the education needs of a generation who are growing up to a very different world to any that has been experienced before.

To this end, here’s the podcast and report from McKinseys;

McKinsey Pocast – What is the Future of Work?

Then, here is the report from McKinsey. This is the summary article that includes a link to the full PDF downloadable report;

What the Future of Work Will Mean for Jobs, Skills and Wages

As I reflect on the content, what it’s telling me is that we need far less didactic teaching of content and syllabus. We need to hasten the transition to teaching and learning that emphasises the development of Twenty First Century skills and competencies. Also, we need to continue to make schools places where students come to own their own learning, have real and genuine agency and don’t wait for teachers to put learning in to them. Rather, we need environments where children hold themselves accountable to learning goals from an early age, working to build the grit, resilience, tenacity, flexibility,  creativity and adaptability to be able to lead and reshape themselves in an ever changing world.

It’s an exciting time and potentially one that can be phenomenally rewarding for young people. However, it won’t be if they’ve been ill-prepared. Children prepared to excel in the world of yesterday will just struggle immensely in the new world of tomorrow.

Connected Learning

This was such an inspiring set of short profiles of innovative and exciting learning – examples of where connected IT related learning tools are changing the nature and opportunities of learning.

Digital Promise – What Powerful Learning Looks Like – Students Share Their Stories 

What I really liked about the videos was the extent to which student agency is expanding, past stereotypes are being challenged and questions of student motivation are not even required.

These are children who have a strong sense of ownership of their own learning, are pursuing learning for its own purpose, because of genuine desire to learn and not because it’s on the syllabus or a teacher says that’s what they must learn. There’s scope within the examples for the students to make choices about where they’ve taken their learning and where they might take it in the future.

The examples here challenge past narrow thinking about things like girls in STEM, how old a child needs to be before they have a voice worth hearing and even what’s worth learning (and how).

Some might watch these videos and just think of them as exceptional kids who, by accident of opportunity have found a passion and been supported to pursue it. However, I believe it says far more to us about what education has the potential to be for a bigger proportion of children. ICT

 

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