To create future-ready schools and classrooms we must attempt to see what the future may look like. Let us take some cues from two futuristic visionaries, the marketing guru Philip Kotler and the accomplished business tycoon Mukesh D. Ambani. We will make an attempt to apply their thoughts to the context of school education.
The Future is Inclusive.
According to Kotler, “Inclusivity has become the new name of the game.” Mukesh Ambani, recently said, “Nations become prosperous when they expand their markets and ascend steadily on the value chain, inclusively.”
Both Kotler and Ambani see the future as inclusive in the context of marketing and commerce respectively. But, what could this mean for school education?
Inclusivity in education has two dimensions. The first dimension relates to the multiple layers in which the education system functions. The policy and regulation layer is controlled by various government bodies; the infrastructure and management layer is controlled by school management or promoters in the private schools and the government in the public school system; the day-to-day administration and delivery of education are controlled by the school leaders and teachers; students and parents represent the layers of consumers and customers respectively.
The decision-making process, by large, is top-down and exclusive to a specific layer. The consumer or the customer has no say in deciding the curriculum, syllabi, content, assessment, pedagogies, or any other aspect of the education which they are receiving or paying for. In the future, this will change. The decision-making power will begin to shift to students and parents. We have already seen the start of this shift during the pandemic when online learning has become the norm. A few years back, teachers and school administration could almost force students to stay in the classrooms and listen to lectures. Students caught bunking classes or school were subjected to disciplinary actions. Now, it is the student who decides how and when she wants to attend an online lecture. Several such examples of power shift can already be witnessed.
The second dimension of inclusivity addresses the issue of equity. We have moved away from the era when a limited number of professions were respected. The digital natives do not look at their working lives with the traditional mindset. Today, being a YouTube influencer is as much a matter of pride as being a doctor. Students will choose to pursue their interests and the curriculum will allow them this privilege. Possessing functional skills will become as valuable as mastering academic knowledge. The profile of students recognized on school annual days will reflect a new kind of diversity. Each child irrespective of her scholarly achievements will expect to be recognized and rewarded. The vision and strategies of schools will need to shift from increasing the number of students who score 100% in board examinations to include students who have acquired extraordinary skills in artificial intelligence, coding, arts, sports, or entrepreneurship. Schools and classrooms will need to cater to ALL profiles of students and deliver on their expectations and aspirations.
To be future-ready, schools and classrooms have to become inclusive.
The Future is Technology
According to Mukesh Ambani, “This is the age of technological disruption and acceleration. The world will witness more changes over the next 30 years than seen in the previous 300 years.” Philip Kotler has also acknowledged technology as the major reason for the evolution of human behavior. He says, “Technology touches both the online world and the offline physical space, making it possible for the ultimate online-offline convergence.”
The rapid adaptation of technology in school education since the beginning of the pandemic substantiates what Ambani and Kotler believe. It is important that we believe it too.
The future of education is a hybrid model where technology and the internet will be used to establish convergence of online-offline learning. Over the next few years, innovative school leaders and teachers will experiment with several permutations and combinations of hybrid delivery of learning before discovering efficient and effective models that work for them. There will never be a single model that fits all schools and classrooms equally well.
Eventually, technology will be used in almost all aspects of education. However, in the beginning, it will focus on a few key pillars – content, pedagogy, assessment, human interactions, and relationships.
To be future-ready, schools and classrooms have to implement technology.
Not only do schools need to significantly increase the use of technology, but they also have the responsibility to make their students technology-abled for the future. Digital natives are already several steps ahead of their teachers when it comes to using technology. Currently, students learn to use the technology on their own and end up helping their teachers too. Educators, in the future, would be expected to master the latest technologies used for learning and guide its usage amongst students.
The Future is Connected
“Virtually everyone on earth will be connected very soon”, says Philip Kotler. As costs of smartphones and data reduce it will be convenient and affordable for anyone to connect to other people, sources of information, or interest groups across geographies. How can you use the power of connectedness in education?
In 2004, George Siemens introduced Connectivism as a theory of learning in the digital age. Connectivism propagates diversity of opinions, connection with specialized nodes or information sources, learning skills, maintaining and nurturing connections, skills to connect fields, ideas and concepts, and decision-making.
Today, students of grade 1 are developing various skills without visiting the school and physically interacting with teachers or other students. There are students who are learning to draw, paint, count, do yoga, sing, dance, recite a poem in front of a screen. They are growing up with the understanding that virtual connection is adequate to learn something. As these kids grow older they will be equally equipped to learn complex skills or concepts using their connections. Eventually, they will also be able to create new connections to promote learning in their areas of interest.
To be future-ready, schools will need to understand and implement connectivism to use the power of connectedness.
The Future is Innovation
“To turn exciting possibilities into realities, India should become a nation of innovators”, says Mukesh Ambani. Kotler also emphasizes that innovation will become the key factor that influences the success or failure of all enterprises. Irrespective of size, location, or industry, every organisation will need to innovate.
Two aspects need to be addressed. First, schools practicing innovation as part of their success strategy. Second, schools enabling and empowering students to become innovators. Needless to say, the second can only be effectively achieved if schools create innovation as part of their culture, through practice.
In March 2020, faced with a sudden shutdown, schools were forced to find innovative ways to continue education. The solutions had to be cost-effective as well as efficient. Dozens of challenges were overcome quickly. Hundreds of hours were spent learning new skills. A series of experiments were required to find the optimal solutions. Many school leaders and teachers came up with brilliant ideas to ensure the least damages to students. All of this is a testimonial to our ability to innovate.
In the future, innovation has to become the norm. We have to strive hard to make education as effective as possible and as affordable as possible. The financial impact of the pandemic is long-term, especially for the middle-class society. Schools need to ensure that education expense does not burden parents to make them switch to sub-standard education for their children.
The complexities associated with education will increase. Establishing a hybrid model, adapting technology, upskilling teachers are just some of the key areas that schools will need to address even if the fee collections begin to decrease.
To be future-ready, schools will need to establish a culture of innovation.
The Future is Empathy
“We have to bring care and empathy to the core of everything we do in business and society”, says Mukesh Ambani. In our education system, empathy is largely replaced by expectations. Every layer expects certain deliverables from the layer it controls. Government lacks empathy towards private schools. School managements lack empathy towards administrators and teachers. Teachers lack empathy towards students or parents. At the same time, each layer expects respect from the layer it controls. How is this even possible?
Moving forward, Design Thinking as a problem-solving approach will be at the core of everything that happens in a school or a classroom. We will need to establish communication channels, listen to the stakeholders, experiment with different solutions, and continuously iterate to achieve optimal or desired results.
School leaders or teachers will be transformed into mentors or role models. The authoritarian leadership will slowly dissolve in favour of collaborative leadership. Educators and school leaders will need to imbibe the six attributes of role models mentioned by Stephen Sampson in his book “Leaders without Titles”: physicality, intellectuality, sociability, emotionality, personability, and morality.
To be future-ready, schools will need to establish a culture of design thinking and bring empathy at the core of everything they do.
Let me end this blog with another quote from Mukesh Ambani.
“Let us accelerate our nation’s forward march with positivity But let us not be deterred by unexpected and temporary problems, such as the pandemic, or distracted by unimportant issues that dissipate our energies. We have the opportunity, also a responsibility towards our children and youth, to make the next 30 years the best ever in independent India’s history.”
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