I’ve already made a wild prediction that schools won’t be around in 30 years and I’d put my money where my mouth is on that one. But, say I do lose out there, it gets me wondering about what sort of school I would design if I could put my kids into a system based on futuristic digital education.
That’s when it’s fun to start dreaming. I’ve always maintained that we aren’t using technology in the best way, and that I envision a future where machines, robots and AI all work to enhance human life and our day to day experiences. We should start building schools today that test how this technology would work in the classroom and make better use of what’s already available to us. We could use virtual reality simulations to teach children about global warming and how to dissect insects, we could teach children another language using Skype, we could build schools with solar panelled rooftops and heat-sensitive walls, and grow food on the school grounds attended to by a team of children and robots. We could, but we haven’t quite yet.
There are schools all around the world that are seeing how technology can enhance the children's learning experiences and that’s a key phrase for me: enhance. Nobody is saying that robot teachers should rule the classroom, but if we stay in a state of fear, and only focus on the current cost of technology, potential job losses and the like, we’ll allow ourselves to be distracted from the main issue: improving global education.
For all schools the environment itself is also something that isn’t overlooked - and has a huge impact on how children feel about attending school in the first place, and that of course influences how they may feel about continuing with further education. School design is at the centre of a child’s education and plays a massive part in the running costs of a school and its ability to retain talent. Imagine a school designed with enormous windows, huge amounts of natural light and built using breathable materials. This wouldn’t just help teach core subjects like science and math, but would ensure mental health and wellbeing are also woven into the heart of the school.
For me it is totally about mixing the two worlds: video games on one side of the classroom to teach mathematics, AI robots that move in between learning spaces and can support as and how the teachers and children now, and a building that enables outdoor and indoor learning and a safe, pleasant and stimulating learning environment. Real-time data is on hand to help us tailor learning experiences to each student, so there would be no need to have a bottom class and top class - each student would be at different stages of a game, understanding of a topic or step in acquiring social skills. We could even have children mining for bitcoin as a method of learning about currency and the economy. We could create classrooms with mixed ages learning together where enjoyment and wellbeing is really baked into the walls of the school.
In a world where we can use video games to teach maths, robotics to help children with autism through classes and automated marking systems to free up teacher’s time to be more creative and available to children, how come we are stuck with overcrowded classrooms? Why is it that children and teachers don’t have the time they need and deserve to learn and to teach?
To me it seems crazy that we have not already employed these technologies in classrooms to help teachers. In a classroom of 30 children with one teacher and perhaps one teaching assistant, when a handful of children fall behind both them and the rest of the class suffer. One of the groups will get less attention, or progress more slowly. Perhaps there is one child in the class that understands much more quickly than the other 29, then it seems odd that they can’t go on to explore the topic at the speed and complexity they wish. The Department of Education released a report on class size highlighting that “a study from Denmark estimated that a reduction in class size during the whole of compulsory schooling by 5% (from an average class size of 18) provides a rise in post-compulsory education by approximately 8 days.” So why can’t we start to use AI and robots to lighten the load for teachers, help children that need extra assistance, and create an agile education system?
None of the technologies I’m talking about are far off, and none of them mean we have to live in a dystopia with surveillance ruling the playground. I have a vision for the school of the future and it looks epic. On the outside there’s forests, parks, and an enormous amount of green space. Then there’s an ecological building that is built with health and wellbeing in mind, keeping children active, and using data to improve their physical development as well as craft a curriculum that is personalised, individual and flexible. Then as the AltSchool puts it there is “teaching, supported by technology”. There are robots, machines, video games and AI embedded into the school that provide support and the foundation of classroom learning. Don’t tell me that it can’t be done and don’t tell me it’s a pipedream; it’s an achievable feat that would help us to improve the experience of going to school and transform education for the next generation.
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