How technology will influence the future of education

Technology will change everything for our kids. We find out what skills they’ll need, how they’ll learn and what teachers are doing to prepare your children to be the leaders of tomorrow.

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If the technology sector is anything to go by, we’re on the cusp of a brave new world. Just 20 years ago, the internet was a collection of chat sites and inane pixelated games.

Today – equally inane memes notwithstanding – it’s a career path, an information super highway and a place of big ideas.

But it’s only one piece of the increasingly growing technology jigsaw puzzle as it continues to surpass the capabilities of our imaginations.

While we’re still a little way off from being replaced by robots, the arrival of the fourth industrial revolution, an age defined by new technology and industry, will mean a whole new set of challenges and opportunities for our kids that we need to prepare them for.

But what does that mean in terms of their education right now?

A skills-based economy

As new developments in technology and automation continue, the future will all at once make some career paths obsolete while creating new ones – careers that we can’t possibly predict.

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How can we know what skills our children will need for an uncertain future? We can’t, says Chris Gyngell, director of bespoke education provider Carfax Education – but we will need to diversify our knowledge in preparation.

“There are certain things that computers are not geared towards, so we will need a combination of skills,” he notes.

“Half of these will certainly be technical – so coding, understanding how to work with computers and logic will become more important over time, because these are the foundations that innovating in technology will require.

“The other half are things that won’t change: soft skills like communication and learning how to market yourself – these are things computers cannot do as well as humans. ”

Education for the future will be less  about all change, and more about refining what we already know, agrees Dene Bright, principal at Reach British School – and the soft skills will be critical in that regard when it comes to relating to our fellow humans.

“Specialists in the field predict that by 2025, we’ll lose over five million jobs to automation,” Dene points out.

“That means future jobs will look vastly different by the time children born in 2000 graduate university. People will no longer be employed as factory workers or for any job that requires physical production.

“Instead, future jobs will involve knowledge creation and innovation,” he adds.

“When asked which skills the children of today will need to develop to keep their jobs safe from automation, employers often highlight soft skills, a suite of attributes that includes social abilities like networking, negotiation, team-building, collaboration and problem-solving. At the root of these skills is how well a child gets on with others.”

For Kollavana George Mathew, principal at GEMS United Indian School, all this is nothing new; rather it’s the way we shape these skills moving forward that is the key to success.

“I think the concept of 21st century skills is a cliché,” he comments.

“These are not skills that didn’t already exist. When we think about future skills, we think about collaboration, critical thinking, creative skills and communication – but weren’t we doing that all along?

“The problem is that the skills we are talking about are not honed enough in a manner that can prepare children for the next steps; they’re not turning into competencies. We need to give them new shape.”

Teaching to learn

Part of the drive to give these skills a new shape comes in the form of teachers. Alongside the shift to a skills-based education, it’s now time for teachers to step up, be adaptive and take a more active role in supporting learning.

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“In a rapidly changing world, traditional qualifications will not be sufficient preparation for the vagaries which lie ahead,” contends Marguerite Thornton-Gray, principal at Al Shohub Private School.

“Recruiters will look beyond the academic for rounded citizens who are able to learn quickly, be creative and explore and resolve problems with confidence.

“Teachers must follow 21st century practice and leave behind the chalk and talk, teacher led confined and limiting classroom,” she adds.

“The learner can be the leader if the teacher has the confidence to allow the children to explore, create, build, collaborate and define their own learning needs and preferences.”

In short, rather than the traditional sermons of days of old, teachers are now seen as the facilitator in a pupil-led learning process. It’s a shift that Kollavana welcomes: “What we’re preparing for is a mindset, not jobs. We don’t know what jobs there will be in the future, so we need to teach students to fish, not give them the fish.

“There’s a sense of ‘do-it-yourself’ – we prepare students by helping them learn how to learn. That way they know how to use the tools in a manner that fits the context.”

Dene agrees, noting that relating skills to the real world goes a long way and that teachers should stay responsive to changing needs: “Our teachers have to be fully equipped to deliver authentic learning that allows students to focus on real-world, complex problems and solutions by using, for example, role-play, problem-based approaches, development of case studies and engagement in virtual communities.

“In order to design and deliver authentic and personalised learning, teachers need to continually update their pedagogies, resource material and frameworks for learning.”

Virtual classrooms

tech_01As the locus for learning, educators predict that the classroom, and by extension, the school infrastructure, will see change.

For Marguerite, the shift in learning will trigger a shift in the place in which that learning is carried out: “We will see more ‘stand-up’ classrooms, more learning spaces without walls and project-based curricula,” she asserts.

“Technology will proliferate, and schools will run as places of enterprise where learning is deeply influenced by the learning environment.”

Kollavana agrees: “Many classrooms are turning into what we call learning centres. Schools are looking more deeply into their infrastructures to integrate concepts like STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Mathematics) and virtual learning.

“In general, classrooms now need to allow for more movement. The school, its four walls and conventional learning concepts will always be there, but there needs to be more communal spaces.”

The drive towards a more flexible, cross-curricular and technology-enabled space is something that Dene agrees with in terms of supporting the new learning goals.

“The classroom should be a creative space that encourages students to  design, experiment, build and invent,” he says.

“This allows opportunities for experiential and hands-on learning. The wider the array of tools available to students, the more prompts for curiosity-driven exploration.

“This, in turn, creates opportunities, promotes creativity and helps students develop collaboration and problem-solving skills. It is not solely a science lab, computer lab or art room, but it may contain elements found in all of these familiar spaces.”

However, as the tech takeover spills into lesson time, Chris has a few caveats that parents and teachers should be wary of.

“Schools are opening up lab spaces for more interactive or group learning,” he nods.

“The issue is that there is an over-reliance on technology developing. A traditional classroom allows for socialising and for children to sit with one another.

“In the future, if everyone dials in remotely from home, you’re losing one of the biggest key drivers of school.”

But it’s not just about making friends that’s the problem – with more and more of school life taking over the tech sphere, Chris says we’re potentially at risk of losing vital teacher student interaction, and that needs to be addressed: “Much of the homework these days – particularly maths – has been put online. It’s great for teachers; they know who has done the work and can keep track of scores.

“But because it’s online, there’s not a lot of feedback, both from the teacher and the student in terms of the method they used to answer a question. I feel like a lot of that has been lost already and there’s a lot less personal tracking of pupils now – that’s a problem.”

To counter it, says Chris, parents need to be more proactive and get to grips with the new digital education.

“Parents should be led by teachers,” he suggests.

“Take a keen interest, ask questions, go to parents’ evenings. Many schools give parents online  access to see what your child is up to – so you can use this to your benefit by logging in and having a look yourself. It’s this kind of dialogue that we need to maintain between teachers, students and parents – and that can be missed if everything goes digital.”

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