Few people would argue that education is on the cusp of transformational change – unless it is to say it is already happening – but the actual shape of that change is hotly contested.
But at one of Europe’s largest ed tech gatherings, a senior Google for Education executive set out the three steps that would make his vision for the future of schools a reality.
And in a call that is bound to cause controversy, he argued that the wrong people are assessing students, and it should be companies that are responsible for evaluating how much students have learned.
EdTechXEurope is billed as Europe’s largest summit on the future of learning and work, bringing together educators, developers and researchers from around the globe, with representatives from some 60 countries in attendance.
From the tension between personalized learning and privacy to the opportunities for taking global names into the developing world, the one-day conference aimed to address some of the major challenges and opportunities for education over the next five years and beyond.
And at yesterday’s gathering in London, Google for Education executive Marc Sanz Lopez set out his thoughts on how schools will look – and whether they will exist at all – in 50 years time.
Among the “bugs” that Sanz Lopez, head of Google for Education, South of Europe, identified that needed to be “squashed” are a one-size-fits-all system that is often politicized.
Instead, he said teachers should stop teaching hyper-specific skills, and be released to teach beyond the prescribed curriculum.
For him, personalized education represents a return to the practices of the 18th century, when young people would receive a highly individualized education, whether it was the tutors employed by wealthy families to the master craftsmen initiating young apprentices into their trade.
The intervening 200 years have seen quality sacrificed for quantity, while reversing that means moving to a flexible, personalized approach allowing young people the opportunity to study the subjects they are most passionate about, recreating the 18th century model but with the added element of choice.
But this should not be technology-led, he argued. Rather that starting from the technology, educators should start from their learning principles, and then ask how technology can serve those aims.
Schools are also too focused on committing knowledge to students’ memories, he added, rather than on skills such as creative problem-solving.
Embracing the potential of technology to reshape education involves rebalancing the curriculum, and Sanz Lopez put forward a three-step approach to fashioning schools fit for the future:
- Lifelong learning
- Networked education
- Adaptive and experiental learning
Steps 1 and 3 are fairly uncontroversial. Rapid changes in technology and how it affects jobs increasingly requires employees to carry on learning throughout their working lives, and basing educational techniques on solid evidence has got to be a good thing (albeit a principle which is applied only too rarely).
It is the second of his steps which is most likely to ruffle features. He argued that the classroom is too often treated as a silo, with the teacher the sole author of what goes on inside its walls.
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But as technology evolves, students will increasingly have access to different types of learning, including teachers from around the world, perhaps through a mix of live and recorded lessons, he said.
And these networks will go beyond how students learn to how they are assessed. Instead of schools and teachers evaluating students against knowledge-based criteria – the approach of traditional exams – partner organizations could be responsible for measuring progress in skills-based competencies.
This raises the prospect of Nike, for example, assessing students on what they know about how to build a brand.
While this may horrify some teachers, for Sanz Lopez it is the obvious conclusion of ensuring schools meet the needs of young people. “The wrong people are trying to evaluate,” he said. “Eventually this will go down even to primary [level] because, why not?” he added.
Along with a greater role for companies in education, we will stop teaching children according to age, he said.
“I think there will still be the communities that we call schools, but what happens inside them will change dramatically,” he added.