The End of Education As We Know It

One hundred and fifty years ago the world shifted. At that time people left their farms and began working in factories. When the children of the age ran ragged in the streets, our cultural forefathers asked:

How do we prepare our children for this new world, the world they will inherit?

This translated to, "How do we prepare them for work in factories?" And in response the "modern" school was born. In this school children sit in rows, act properly, respond to the bell and raise their hands to ask to be allowed to change tasks. This schoolhouse became ubiquitous and from then until now people have been educated in this manner.

In the 21st century the world has shifted again, and as before children run ragged in the streets. It is still early days yet, but not enough people are asking:

How do we prepare our children for the world they will inherit?

Like the proverbial ostrich many people stick their heads in the sand and say, "What is WRONG with these children?" "Where have the moral values of our youth gone?" "We should be more strict!" Because being strict was what worked in the day of the factory, just as creativity is what will work in the world our children now will inherit.

This article is intended to do more than raise the question, "How do we prepare our children for the world they will inherit?" It is also meant to point the discussion in a few of the more obvious directions.

First, there is not going to be one, "Future of Education" and we might do well to stop using that phrase because it limits us. Instead we will see many Future(s) develop. It is clear that any system as complex as education needs to grow and change across a network of possibilities, with each sub group, community or nation creating its own type of response to the needs of their young people, yet being linked to the greater network of educational possibilities in order to make use of innovations as they develop. The particulars will change with local context but all will undoubtedly be called upon to share which ideas and technologies work best for them. This is already happening. Consider:

  • In Scotland, local government called together older students to engage in planning the next school they would build. The students designed drop in centers rather than anything close to a traditional school.
  • In New Zealand standards require local creativity be included in the ways students are assessed on their level of academic achievement.
  • In the United States, educators who face as much as 50% change in their school population each year due to mobility of their students due to poverty found that the key factors to improving their schools were through providing creative access to education services, a welcoming culture, and flexible instructional strategies.

No ONE future will encompass these and the millions of other stories that exist around the world.

Just as climate changes affect the seas, and therefore fishing in all parts of the world, so the change in communication patterns has affected daily life everywhere. With the change in communication has come a change in how we receive, create, and publish knowledge. All are done at a much faster pace, and the children of today more than any previous generation will need to take their place in a global economy.

Ideas used to take years to come to the public's attention and now the people attuned to social media around the world will know of developments in less than 24 hours. Likewise only a few were privileged enough to work at creative tasks over the length of time it took to invent something new, let alone have it be widely received. Now teams of people working in international networks use open source ideas to build entirely new technologies together in their spare time.

How do we prepare our children for the world they will inherit?

Our ancestors could have only imagined the world that their children would inherit as local, maybe national (for a few) and only the privileged would have moved into international settings. Children everywhere are likely to travel internationally and many will live far from the place they were born. They will bring back to their homelands societal norms from other places, as radio, television and the internet bring ideas. The world our children will inherit will stretch everyone's ability to keep what is valuable in local culture while embracing what is valuable in international ideas. Our children will need the knowledge skills, and social abilities to move between family, community and international cultures and contexts with ease.

How do we prepare our children for the world they will inherit?

These words are meant to be a call to action. A small network is beginning to apply participatory research to the questions involved with the Future(s) of Education. Some are blogging, writing, speaking and consulting with others on these topics. As educators around the globe wrestle with the difficulties that occur as the old systems break down, some are banding together to discuss, "What is next?"

This article is written in the hopes that it will propel both local action and connection to an international network.

  1. If you are intrigued, then it is hoped that you take a copy of this article and pass it to others or share the link to this article with others.
  2. If you are in higher education then please discuss this with both your students and your peers and encourage everyone who has time to devote to this idea to join the network mentioned above.
  3. If you are already working in this area then connect with the Future(s) of Education Project so that we all can share academic resources and ideas.

What else will be occurring as this network grows? Small teams of people in various countries around the world are beginning to design pilot projects. These teams will use this model and in rotation will study, act, measure and reflect on changes that evolve as they study what might be the best future for education in their area.

As Ron Heifetz from Harvard has pointed out, we can create change if we have a holding environment which keeps us moving and feeling safe throughout the difficulties we face. PAR is such a holding environment - one that the Future(s) of Education projects will use for connecting internationally and report on as we grow the international network that surrounds us.