Let us imagine for a moment that we have been tasked with creating the best education system ever, funded by some super-rich uber-billionare. Where would we even start?
Certainly it would be vastly different from traditional education, with rows of students sitting in a rectangular box, listening to a teacher telling them what to think. That is obvious. But what would it look like then? Modern classrooms heavily integrated with technology? Virtual environments where students roam freely? Would there even be classrooms!? The possibilities are practically endless.
This four-part series is an attempt to answer these questions, an attempt to construct the ideal education system from scratch. We will begin by thinking a bit about what the purpose of an education system is, using this to guide our later efforts. Over three instalments we will explore: 1) the role of technology in our school, 2) the content taught in such an education system, and finally 3) we will venture beyond traditional learning, and completely reimagine the schooling experience. This will all culminate in a creative writing essay describing the life of a school child, Mark, in such an education system. (these links will become available as I release the blog posts)
Why do we have schools?
Schools are there to best prepare a child for adult life. Pretty simple isn’t it? Not exactly. This answer raises many further questions: What does the ideal citizen look like? Are schools in service of the state, or the individual? Et cetera, et cetera.
A valuable function of schools is to produce workers for the job market, to keep the economy flowing. But further than that it needs to cultivate (as opposed to produce) well-rounded adults, with cultural, social, emotional and intellectual maturity. This means a holistic education, rather than the one-dimensional one currently provided.
Tools of Society?
John Dewey describes school as “an outgrowth of the needs of the society in which it exists”. Our current schooling system stems from the industrial era, where society needed vast numbers of labourers to do rote work. Today, we need something different: independent thinkers, innovators, creatives, and most of all those who can responsibly guide our burgeoning power. We need to cultivate a different type of student to address our problems and meet the changing demands of society.
Most of our current day problems stem not from a lack of control over our external environment, but a lack of control over ourselves. There is enough food in the world, it just isn’t distributed effectively. There are green technologies, but corporations are afraid of cutting their bottom lines. These are man-made problems, and if we better educate man, we can solve them. School is the pivotal cog in the great contraption of society; if we better calibrate it the whole machine will function more smoothly.
A Holistic Education
Modern schooling calls for a moral education, of fostering good character; after all an intelligent man with poor intentions is far more dangerous than a stupid one with good character. It must include more deliberate social and emotional education, as well as teaching practical skills. It should seek to foster creativity and independent thinking instead of imposing the ideas of society on children. But most of all, there must be a child centred approach; we are not producing units for the needs of society (although this is an important facet of education). Rather children are ends in themselves, and their development is the ultimate goal.
In my mind, these are the essential components of the ideal education system. But you may think differently. Please feel free to mention your thoughts in the comments down below, I’d love to respond to them. The future of our education system is an important debate that everyone should participate in.
Technology in the future of education
We kick off the series by exploring how technology is shaping the education system. We begin by exploring the potential of a hybrid system, weighing up its pro’s and con’s. Next we will discuss the idea of an adaptive education system that allows for a child-centred approach, and how a global initiative in this format could change education worldwide. We move on to the topic of virtual environments, and how these may, and already are, allowing students to learn things by themselves. Lastly we dig into the gamification of education, and what we can learn from Astra Nova, Elon Musk’s school of the future, in this regard.
What should students be taught – exploring modern curriculums
The second entry in our series is a discussion of what should be taught in schools in order to cultivate ‘good’ adults. I speak about the importance of a skill-based education, the potential for an modern overhaul of subjects (using English as a case study) and why more inter-subject coordination and cooperation would be great. The discussion then becomes slightly more philosophical, exploring why musical and physical education are so essential with the help of Plato, and why an ‘education of the heart’ is of fundamental importance, with the help of Martin Luther King and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. After this we take a peek at the future of online learning, and what cohort-based courses mean for traditional education. We end off the blog post by looking at how we can teach students how to learn and think.
A reinvention of the education experience
The last post on our whirlwind tour of the future of education seeks to reimagine the education experience.We talk about an education of curiosity, allowing a child to learn by themselves, using technology discussed previously to realize this vision. Next we explore why we should seek to preserve the spirit (and mind) of the child, and how we can do so, by examining why children learn so damn fast. We look at their neurological structures, and what influence we have over this, as well as social reasons which are more malleable. We end off the post by looking at why we standardisation of education isn’t that great (and why we should foster uniqueness in schools and individuals) borrowing a principle from biology.
Bringing it all together – a creative writing essay
In this essay we will follow a day in the life of Mark, a 14 year old in the year 2042. We will explore his opinions on our ‘ideal education system’, and through his eyes see all the things I have discussed realized.
We may be on the cusp of a reinvention of traditional education. Whether we like it or not, new technology is driving progress in this regard. Hundreds of small organizations have sprung up and are actively changing the way we educate.
The question of what we want from our schools is perhaps one of the most important debates of our time. It can therefore not be left to select academics and wealthy sponsors, but must involve everyone; the parents, the teachers, and the students themselves. We have been uniquely placed to guide this imminent revolution, or at least lay its foundation, and can do so by getting the public involved.
So I ask you, what do you think is the purpose of a school? What technology should and shouldn’t be implemented? What should students be taught? What does the ideal education system look like to you? These are important questions we can all work to answer.