Nov 14, 2013

The Unfortunate Demise of School

“I think there won’t be any school by 2028”.
I was at a startup conference in August, and we were all separated into groups as per our industry of interest. I was in the education group, and we were attempting to see the future.

Since you probably laughed at that last line, let me rephrase. We were attempting to do some scenario planning, which is basically an attempt to predict the future. We mapped out significant events that had occurred in the field of education for the past 15 years. Then looking at all these events, we started looking 15 years into the future to try to predict what it held for us. We talked about focal concerns-the education bubble, mismatch between skills provided by schools and skills required at the work place, equal access to education.

According to many of my group mates, the demise of school as we know it wasn’t too far away in the future. All our focal concerns for the future of education, all the problems being faced today about skill development, seemed to point to how dysfunctional our current concept of ‘school’ is.It certainly seemed like an idea not very sustainable for the future.

There are so many online sources of learning that the value of school as a source of knowledge will definitely reduce. So in some ways, the computer has already replaced the teacher.

More than that, we have a lot more knowledge than we did a 100 years ago. The speed at which we create knowledge increases every decade.There is so much to learn, that soon, it will be hard to pin down what exactly is the necessary knowledge required to be taught in school. After kids know how to read, write and add numbers, which way do you go? You could teach them science, math, the arts, business, or you could just try teaching them everything. The problem with teaching them everything is that there just isn’t an end to it.

An interesting perspective that someone brought up was “Fuel will run out and therefore getting to school will become impossible. Kids will have to be homeschooled”. Although it may seem too presumptuous, it’s not impossible.

Between expensive transport costs and reducing faith in the existing education systems, parents may just decide that school isn’t worth the 14 years of time and money. Given the kind of resources widely available through technology, parents may not need to give as much attention to their kids being homeschooled as they do now. And if the concept of homeschooling becomes more and more widespread, we may see communities beginning to get together and teach each other’s children according to each of theirs skills and expertise. It would be a mini and informal structure of school, governed highly by choice.

Eventually, I think school might come down to the basic elementary skills that are absolutely essential. After learning math, reading and writing, kids should be able to more openly explore, through games and online courses, subjects of their interest, and discover what their passion really is. Soft skills that are slowly getting recognized now, such as the ability to be a good communicator and leader, being a quick learner will be a part of the schooling experience. Extra curricular activities will be considered as important as academics, and parents won’t tell their kids to stop playing basketball and go do their homework.

I imagine that what we know as higher education today i.e. college, where we develop as human beings and try to achieve overall development and employable skills will come down to the level of school. Although we will be able to finish our formal education faster, learning will be a lifelong journey, since there will be more ways to learn than to just go to school or college, and all these ways will be affordable and less time consuming than our existing ones.

And considering how fast our world is changing, lifelong learning that continues after school and college will become a need. Knowledge will become obsolete so quickly that our jobs and livelihood will depend on a continuous learning process.

Although school as we know it may not exist in 2028, I envision our learning to be a lot more accelerated and effective than it is today.