The Future Begins in the Present

My first post about Education was personal. Why? Because I believe in individuals sharing experiences to contribute to the collective understanding. Knowing the background: each obstacle, success, and process is important in the construction of our views about different topics in our society. My extensive contacts with teachers and students at all levels and from different backgrounds has led me to understand, better, how education can be best suited to be the first step in providing the means to tackle our challenges and ordeals in life, to enable us fully to develop our potential in those areas where we have the most to contribute.

“Education is the key to a better society”; I have no doubts about that. However, while paying lip-service to it, many governments relegate the topic of effectively financing education to provide the greatest benefits to the side-lines of their policies. Yes, there are bold discussions about uniforms, free meals and testing to demonstrate progress, while what is meaningful is often glossed over. There is little discussion of the importance of satisfaction in teachers’ careers, work-life balance, salary and other questions such as how schools are preparing pupils for the future. Nobody is asking why the UK is now trailing behind so many others in the OCDE ranking. Indeed, proper financing of education (apart from for scoring political brownie points, such as with meals) seems to be treated as less important than the Health Service, (at least, outside the UK) Transport, and clean energy.

Twitter Screen Shot

To test my perception, I carried out some research on MSM and Social Media to determine the proportion of posts, news, debates, etc. that featured education. It was no surprise to find that most of them are restricted to the borders of discussions. Even the socialists don’t seem to attach much importance to education! Look at the poster on the left, for example. I shall be providing more such evidence in future posts.

What nobody seems to see is that an effective education is required for understanding those (clearly now) all-to-important topics in the political scenario. Without a good, well-balanced educational system, you don’t have professionals ready to face the market, or politicians capable of governing in the best interests of the whole population. Especially in Europe, there are many countries where the demographics are becoming increasingly biased towards older populations, but this doesn’t diminish the need to invest in education.

Questions need to be asked; the right ones. Just copying another educational system is not the answer to these issues. Translating maths books from China, or importing methodologies from South Korea or Singapore, will not guarantee better performance. Indeed, the pivotal roles of effective teaching and the hands-on knowledge of teachers are likely to become lost somewhere in the roll-out of each brand new (political) initiative. Introducing educational materials and methods from Asian countries, with distinctly different cultures and family relationships, is not the best approach. The UK has greater identity with those countries nearer its doorstep, in Europe, where there are many examples of good practice. Finland is one.

Returning to the point of how to proceed: the questions we need to ask are: what will the workspace of the future look like? What skills will be necessary? How can we ensure that young people are well prepared to face the future (10 – 20 years hence)? How can we keep our population productive, efficient, and up to date in an ever-changing world?

In trying to answer some of those questions, it is salutary to turn our eyes to technology and note how much this field has changed in the last decade. Having this in mind when looking to the future, helps to translate expectations into policies that fit the changing world. In fact, there are two other essential issues we need consider in addition to technology: the environment, and human relationships. If we take into consideration all three areas, we can begin to open our minds to how to shape education to help our young people, not just to survive, but to succeed.

By researching the subject, you can visualise what recruiters will be looking for. What skills we need to develop in our children, teenagers and young adults, and when re-training older adults. They need to be able to grasp and implement:

1 Understanding–the ability to determine the deeper meaning and significance of what is being expressed.   (1)

2 Social intelligence –the ability to connect to others in profound and direct ways, to sense and stimulate reactions and desired interactions.   (1)

3 Novel and adaptive thinking –proficiency in thinking and coming up with solutions and responses beyond those that are rote- or rule-based.   (1)

4 Cross-cultural competence–the ability to operate in different cultural settings

5 Computational thinking –the ability to translate vast amount of data into abstract concepts and to understand data-based reasoning.   (1)

6 New media literacy–the ability critically to assess and develop content that uses new media forms, and to leverage these media for persuasive communication.   (1)

7 Transdisciplinarity–literacy in, and the ability to understand, concepts across multiple disciplines.   (1)

8 A design mindset–the ability to represent and develop tasks and to express them to achieve desirable outcomes.  v

9 Cognitive load management –the ability to discriminate and filter information for relevance and importance, and to understand how to maximise cognitive functioning, using a variety of tools and techniques.   (1)

10 Virtual collaboration –the ability to work productively, to drive engagement, and to demonstrate presence as a member of a virtual team. (1)

Some of those skills are already requirements for many jobs, as a result of the spread of personal computers into work environments. We are now on the border of another revolution. The Fourth Transformation is all about virtual, augmented and mixed reality (MR). MR will control self-driving cars, drones, robots, and the Internet of Things (IoT), but not only this. The future will blur the line between what’s real and the realm of the computer-generated environment. Instead of sitting and passively watching images on limited screens, we will become immersed and surrounded, moving freely in and around a partially virtual world. AI – Artificial Intelligence is the great enabler of this Fourth Transformation. If you look from a business perspective, this transformation is all about greater accuracy, productivity, efficiency and safety, and presents an entirely new way for businesses and customers to talk with each other.

Not only business, but education and society will also take this further step. The new wave of transformation will change our ways of learning, of receiving news, of meeting new people–emphasising visual communication, helping everyone to understand, no matter what language they speak. The changes will be profound and will require a new way of thinking about work, education, and relationships.

Where/how do educational institutions fit into this transformation? How can they change to adapt to its needs?

Educational institutions at the primary, secondary and post-secondary levels, are largely the products of the technology infrastructure and social circumstances of the past. That landscape has changed, and educational institutions must urgently consider how to adapt quickly to the changing situation. Such directions of change might include:

Science Cycle

• Placing additional emphasis on developing skills such as critical thinking, insight, and analytical capabilities. A change from Scientific Methodology to the Cycle of Scientific Thinking.

• Integrating New Media literacy into education programmes.

• Including experiential learning that gives prominence to soft skills – such as the ability to collaborate, work in groups, read social cues, and to respond adaptively.

• Broadening the learning mentality to extend beyond teens and young adults, throughout adulthood.

• Integrating interdisciplinary training that allows students to develop skills and knowledge in a range of subjects.

The policy-makers will need to respond to the changing landscape by taking the lead in making education a national priority. If education is not prioritised, we risk compromising our ability to prepare the country’s population for a healthy, sustainable future. For people to be prepared, and for business to be competitive, policy-makers should consider the full range of skills citizens will require, as well as the ever-increasing importance of life-long learning and constant skills-renewal.

The UK is still partly locked into a nineteenth-century-style education system, where memorising and testing is prioritised over thinking; where schools send pupils home because they are not wearing the right uniform, or expel students because of their behaviour, often without even trying to address the real reasons behind it, despite what they may claim. A new approach is needed to guarantee the UK a significant place in the world scenario. Competitiveness, efficiency, and productivity all depend on how well our educational system works. The gap between rich and poor needs to be addressed across a range of policies, but fairness of opportunity in education must be central to these plans. And that applies not only to university education, but also in primary schools, where basic, necessary skills must be developed effectively, no matter what the home background. It needs to put an end to test-driven education, by investing strongly in state schools while, stopping subsidies to, and the tax-avoiding charitable status of, private and public schools. Investing in even-handed education is a priority, and interrelations with pupils in other countries in Europe and around the world are essential for our young people, for our future, and for our survival.

The UK needs better-prepared professionals in education, better workspaces, more support in the classroom, and better environments in which to develop the skills cited above. This approach represents an immense change and a profound commitment to the future of the nation. Is government really up to the task…what needs to change to make it so?

You can see considerations of some points of view about the future here or here.There are, of course, many other resources: on YouTube, in books and lectures, most readily available on the internet. One book I recommend is The Fourth Transformation, Robert Scoble and Shel Israel.

(1) Topics 1-10  from the book: Technology and Workplace skills for the Twenty-First Century: Asia Pacific University in the Globalised Economy (International and Development Education, Deane E. Neubauer (2015-2016)

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