We are uncertain what the future will bring and this adds challenge for schools and organisations involved in crafting curriculum. What should we teach and what should we leave out? Schools often retain a sense of tradition (often stated as a reason for not changing) and are not always as progressive as they could be. As educationalists I believe that we need to be better aligned with what is happening in the world outside of the educational establishments that we work.
We can explore some of these ideas in a little more depth through our future context. We know that the population of the world is likely to increase from just fewer than 7 billion people in 2010 to between 8 and 10.5 billion in 2050. We know that it will be cities that will witness most of the growth and our megacities will grow into areas described by a recent United Nations report as mega-regions, urbanized regions with populations of more than 100 million people stretching over large areas of land. We know that this will bring subsequent pressures upon natural resources and societies. When I lived in Tokyo (Japan’s largest city) I remember taking the train to Yokohama (Japan’s second largest city) and not noticing the end of one and the beginning of the other. According to the UN as reported in the Guardian this is a pattern that will continue on a huge scale with the Hong Kong-Shenhzen-Guangzhou, China, predicted to be home to about 120 million people. We have witnessed the movement of people to cities, migration of people to different countries and we will see increased need to share resources and for individuals and groups of people to understand each other and act ethically. We also know that technology in some way will feature in our future.
It is becoming increasingly important for people to develop the disposition of being open-minded and understanding different perspectives. The first international schools developed in the late 19th century and there are now 5,685 in the world today with this trend set to continue. Whether through travel, education, business or migration, people are in contact with people from very different backgrounds on a more regular basis. For many of us we do not know our neighbours who live next door but we do have many ‘contacts’ across the world.
We can take a look at some of the recently published statistics on search trends of people using Google. Within the top ten rising fastest rising searches Twitter, Facebook and Chatroulette which all involve connecting people are included. Also included are two online gaming sites. Youtube dominates searches in some parts of the world. We have also witnessed the role that technology is playing in current political events. Ten years ago could we have imagined seeing, ‘Egypt unrest: Bloggers take campaign to Tahrir Square’ as a headline on the BBC? Without technology would Mubarak have been forced to resign? We have seen a shift in the availability of information. In the past people have been limited in their access to information by illiteracy and information being held and shared by a small number of people. We have seen the rise of WikiLeaks, a non-profit organization that shares information, which in the past would only have been known by those in power. We are seeing people willing to share personal information to strangers through social networking sites. What will the consequences of these changes be and how does this impact on what and how we teach young people?
Since the students that we teach can access the same information as us there is a change in emphasis for teachers. There has been and continues to be a shift from teacher, gate-keeper of knowledge to facilitator of inquiry. Being a facilitator requires different craft than what we would expect from 19th and 20th century teaching which was often communicating knowledge. The design of a lesson has changed. Teachers and schools are now considering carefully how we can personalise learning, provide choice and teach students the skills so that they become increasingly independent. Differentiation is a popular term, a philosophy, technology is a tool that we can use to move beyond differentiating for groups of students and towards truly personalised learning that is available beyond the walls of a classroom.
Developments in technology mean that we can create opportunities for young people to find multiple perspectives. For example even with the story that I have just read on the growth of mega cities into mega-regions I could explore the perspectives of the United Nations, people currently living in some of the cities, the reporter, reporting of the same story in different parts of the world and so on. The opportunity is there and the result is that I would have a far better understanding of the story. My understanding would deepen if I were to then take some time to synthesize the ideas in a quiet place away from organised learning and then if I were to have the opportunity to bounce some of the new ideas that I have generated with other people in a slightly chaotic environment such as a social event with people who will challenge my thinking and offer different perspectives. However, we also know from recent research that over 90% of people using the Google search engine do not move beyond the first page of results.
With the above in mind I believe that there is a need for us to cover less topics when we teach young people. However, it is a thin dividing line between not having enough knowledge to make connections and forge new understandings. With the right search and information literacy skills the young people that I teach can access the same information as their teacher. What information do we really need young people to remember and what information do we just need them to be able to find on the internet when needed?
Recently I decided that I should buy a new suit (some would say this was a long time due). Rather than visit a shop I decided that I wanted my suit to be tailored. I had no idea what measurements need to be taken in preparation. Within a few minutes I had found and registered with a tailors in Bangkok, looked at what measurements were required, watched videos on Youtube showing how to take the measurements, completed an order and within a few days my new tailored suit had arrived at my home in Germany ready for me to wear. The world is changing and this impacts on schools.
In relation to technology I believe we should focus on young people learning the skills to access the information they need, being able to understand and connect information and ideas, communicate their thinking and the desire to be open-minded. If we take concepts such as interdependence young people can learn how people around the world need each other and the relationship that we have with our environments. If young people learn this then I believe that there is no question that this understanding is relevant now and will be relevant in the future world that they will live.
In his book ‘Where do good ideas come from?’ Steve Johnson describes the meaning of research on creative minds and the need for ‘chaotic’ conditions of mind to nurture thought. He also describes the need for being able to bounce ideas off other minds. I would add the need to develop meaning yourself. Already I have bounced the ideas communicated in this paper with others. This has resulted in me constantly coming back and exploring my own ideas further based upon the reactions and perspectives of others. We are able to bounce ideas and connect with eachother through technology. Currently in some of my curriculum development work I contacted someone else who is working on implementing some similar ideas. We have now set-up a Dropbox so that we can share documents and co-edit work that will be used in two different schools. Strangely, I am yet to meet the person who I am collaborating with.
When used well technology is a tool for young people to find and use information, learn about different perspectives and communicate with people from all around the world. As educators we need to teach young people to use technology well and to use it in a way that demonstrates good citizenship.
Gardner, Howard. Five Minds for the Future. Boston, Mass: Harvard Business School, 2009. Print.
“Google Zeitgeist 2010.” Google. Web. 20 Feb. 2011. <http://www.google.com/intl/en/press/zeitgeist2010/>.
Johnson, Steven. Where Good Ideas Come From: the Natural History of Innovation. London: Penguin, 2010. Print.
ISC Research: Mapping the World of International Schools. Web. 19 Feb. 2011. <http://www.iscresearch.com/>.
Vidal, John. “UN Report: World’s Biggest Cities Merging into ‘mega-regions’ | World News | The Guardian.” Latest News, Comment and Reviews from the Guardian | Guardian.co.uk. 22 Mar. 2011. Web. 19 Feb. 2011. <http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/mar/22/un-cities-mega-regions>.