Global challenges to school education – a reality check


G Balasubramaniam
Editor-in-Chief, The Progressive School, New Delhi

Global challenges to school education are not far and few. Here are ten important challenges – the 10Cs – that seek direct responses from learning systems, immaterial of governmental policies and curricular patterns.

In early seventies, Alvin Toffler wrote,“A good deal of education will take place in the student’s own room at home or in the dorm, at hours of his own choosing. Within vast libraries of data available to him via computerized information retrieval systems. With his own tapes and video units, his own language laboratory and his own electronically equipped study carrel, he will be freed for much of the time, of the restrictions and unpleasantness that dogged him in the lockstep classroom.”That was a tip on his “Future shock.”

Explaining further about his understanding of the future shock he said,“We may define future shock as the distress, both physical and psychological, that arises from an overload of the human organism’s physical adaptive systems and its decision-making processes.” The arguments advanced by Toffler in those days appeared as future fantasy, though his logistics were quite judicious, sound in principle and convincing. No wonder, his stand got validated and we are in a situation today that ‘learning’ has been redefined as an ongoing activity to the last breath.

Indicating an inherent connectivity between all things across the universe, Peter Dixon, predicts a quantum leap in the thought dynamics of people resulting in a wide range of opportunities, possibilities and resultant diversities in life processes and styles, which would impact learning systems both directly and indirectly. Though major changes have happened in most systems of delivery relating to education, the classroom environment, by itself, has not undergone much of change, thanks to conservative linearity in teaching methods.

The future, however, appears to be impatient, smart enough meaningfully and adequately, responding to global dynamics, oftentimes, beyond the corridors of structured learning architectures. Ten important challenges that will seek direct responses from learning systems, immaterial of governmental policies and curricular patterns – the 10 Cs – are the following:

1. Constructivist learning – Learning philosophies have moved much ahead of the classical thought patterns. Constructivism, that every learner constructs his own learning module depending on his geo-societal environment, has gained currency, which acknowledges the need for a personalized curriculum and differing learning opportunities and scales so that each learner is on a positive learning curve. However, with the opening of gateways of information, communication and global proximity in knowledge pursuits – a conscious effort to construct knowledge on a social platform, thus articulating learning as a social construct, is emerging as dominant possibility and need. Moving from pure ‘constructivist’ approach to a broad-based ‘connectivist’ method has been exciting. The inbuilt validation of knowledge in such constructs along with its relevance and utility dimensions appears to place this blend as a more futuristic learning phenomenon.

2. Checkmated curriculum – The speed of irrelevance of knowledge and continuous exploration in knowledge domains has brought in inter-disciplinary, cross-disciplinary and multi-disciplinary approaches to its pursuits. The evolutionary speed of new knowledge, its associate skills has been awe inspiring, thus limiting the life-period as well as life cycle of knowledge structures. This checkmates the curricula periodically, making them irrelevant, non-contextual and demotivating. Leaving aside, the institutionalized systems that seem to control and deliver knowledge modules in the curricular packages, the learning needs and compulsion for all types of learners will increase in geometrical proportions, rather in unpredictable graphical patterns, thus seeking frequent changes in learning pursuits, both in terms of the content and fields of attention. The formal learning architectures in schools will exist more out of societal compulsions or legal requirements, rather than real needs of learning. Thus, one could foresee a mismatch between supply and demand situations in learning corridors.

3. Changing technologies– The role of technologies in enabling, empowering and enhancing learning cannot be underrated. However, the last two decades have witness a mind-boggling surge in the evolution of newer technologies causing an unavoidable update in the methods and processes of tools used for learning. Technology has opened wider opportunities for search, assimilation, integration, storage and synthesis of knowledge. With increased opportunities for analytics and creative thinking, it has shifted several paradigms of classical learning tools and situations. Consequently, neuro-cognitive scientist does feel that the networking styles of the brain is fast modifying. The next decade is likely to witness increased spectral bandwidth, automation and application software that simplify complex learning situations. Artificial Intelligence would play a significant role in negotiating with classical learning methods seeking to revisit our learning speed and purposes. Augmented and virtual realities will add value to experiential learning providing better insights into conceptual understanding and relatively on-line experiences. Inhibitions arising out of distances in learning spaces and time would vanish through networked learning rooms.

4. Choice of learning– With newer technologies and requirement of newer skills to deal with them, the employability skills will be constantly changing. It would indeed mean a continuous unlearning and re-learning. The increasing inter-disciplinary and multi-disciplinary approaches to subjects will require constructive thinking, creativity and innovation in whatever one does. The disciplines of learning would. Therefore, be under constant review. The existent knowledge and skills will either be outdated or out of focus when the current learners enter into their employment markets, they would find themselves a mismatch. Further, the learners would require to know a wide variety of social learning inputs, which are non-curricular. Such learning may be through non-structured informal learning sources. The observation of cognitive psychologists that a near 90 percent learning is informal puts a greater thrust on a variety of learning choices to the learners. The future, thus,holds promise for a stream of learning choice, which are non-linear, not conditioned by space and time.

5. Compassionate co-learners– An interesting term for the teachers of the future could be ‘compassionate co-learners.’ With the dynamics of knowledge, many of the new learning inputs would be uncovered in the formal learning suits of the teachers. Hence, they would have to be ‘co-learners’ with their students in their learning environment. Participative learning will scaffold newer methods of articulation of knowledge with focus on the synthesis of new knowledge. However, with increasing stress on performance targeted learning, teachers need to be more compassionate, extending better understanding to their students exhibiting a high degree of emotional competencies.

6. Classrooms without walls– The walls of a classroom are getting demolished not in terms of their physical structures, but at the intellectual level. With curricula and textual materials being only take off runways for the flight of knowledge, the increasing search for knowledge outside the classrooms will throw open more exciting times. Search engines and their knowledge warehouses will offer timely, periodic and powerful information and learning styles, thus enabling the learner to be a self-learner at all times. With virtual laboratories housed in terminals, the scope for virtual experiential learning would facilitate more personalization of learning. The schools will have to handle more informed learners than the present.

7. Certification choices– The value of certifications will undergo a phenomenal change. With quality negation of established modes of certification, the merit of the learners would depend more on what skills they inherit, and the scope for learnability. Performance evaluation would be on the anvil and not mere assessment of cognitive memory. The learner will see a spectrum of choices from the certifying agencies both with regard to the quality and quantity of learning. Assessment of individual skills will be appreciated more rather than a summary approach comprising mastery in none.

8. Cognitive researches– Researches in cognitive sciences has opened newer perspective of understanding about the functioning of the brain. A number of researches in neural networks, neuron functions, memory and integrated functioning of the brain systems have redefined our approaches to enabling learning. The philosophies of learning need to be revisited keeping in view the recent understanding, which in turn will impact the way we deal with knowledge sources and knowledge facilitation. This would indeed mean pedagogical revolutions to provide appropriate responses to the way the brain functions.

9. Commercial interventions – Education, has transformed into an industry wherein several neo-entrepreneurs invest several billion dollars offering a wide variety of resources and marketing initiatives, which are provocative to acquire leadership positions in the learning domains. Whether such programs are academically and pedagogically sound or not is entirely a different point for discussion. Nevertheless, the market positions have become aggressive, given the fact that this is an ever-growing opportunity for investment. Educational institutions cannot turn a blind eye to market offers and will take opportunity and facility to showcase their brand for their own market coverage. Schools of the Future will largely succumb to such market demands.

10. Competitive drives – The objective of education having changed its track towards a safe employable future with scope for quick and adequate earnings, the schools have already given its ‘go’ signal to the relay race for competitive performance in classrooms. With a thrust to prepare children for competitive examinations fifteen years later, the parents and the school community are more focused on demonstrating their active engagement with such competitive entries in higher institutions of professional learning resulting in added psychological stress in learners. The performance stress in learners have led to severe psychological constraints requiring periodic intervention of counsellors. This tendency is likely to increase making learning centers as counseling centers. The schools will be a part of the rat race for survival, brand and their economic growth.

Global challenges to school education are not far and few. They demand not only a close attention but also a level of preparedness which is difficult to anticipate. Yet, the system cannot ignore them.

G.Balasubramanian, Editor-in-chief of The Progressive School Magazine is a leading educator in the field of school education, curriculum designer, author, HR trainer and educational administrator. Widely traveled, he has authored several books for schools, educational administrators and is a premier teacher-trainer both across the country and abroad. He has authored – Mindscaping Education, Case Studies in Classrooms, Quality Spectrum – A school’s bandwidth and Safety in Schools – Issues & concerns.