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  • Terry White

The school of the future, today

A 21st-century school should be voluntary, test-free, distributed, age-independent, and personalized. But it’s not.


In my book: “Reinventing the C-Suite” (Chapter 2) I look at how our formal schooling system does not provide the product (people) that business needs in a digital age. Near the end of the chapter, I have a paragraph on what schooling could be, given the third and fourth industrial revolutions.


Here’s a thought experiment on a third industrial revolution enabled schooling.


The third industrial revolution is characterized by connectivity and mature computing power. It is a digital, networked, globalized environment offers a personalized experience. It allows organizations to achieve “scale without mass” where they can replicate themselves without investing in the infrastructure needed in traditional “bricks and mortar” enterprises. Information flows freely. Artificial intelligence allows bots to inform and empathize better than most humans. It enables ecosystems to operate. People work from home, or on the train, or from coffee shops. Work hours are flexible. In short, networking and computers have created a Schumpeterian economy – where old businesses are destroyed and replaced with new ones.


So how would we apply this third industrial revolution capabilities to schooling?


In the first place, there wouldn’t have to school at all. Rather a school would be a back-office staffed by educators and information specialists. However, there would be a need to have scholars meet, socialize and work on collaborative projects. There would be a “school” but would not be school. There wouldn’t be classrooms with desks; rather there could be comfortable rooms with workstations, a large central table, a discussion area with couches, whiteboards or the digital equivalent, and space. Perhaps 30-40% of school time would be here, but here’s the thing, it would be voluntary. There might even be cubicles where scholars who are unable to work at home can come for some quiet thinking and study time.


The new school would be networked with good access to information and educational sites. There would be mentors and advisors available to scholars and private consultation rooms.


A healthy canteen would be available, serving whole food, with absolutely no fast food. Research has shown that fast carbohydrates profoundly affect the ability to concentrate and think, and not in a good way.

Classical music is shown to improve thinking and reduce stress. Fit scholars concentrate better. People learn best if they have to teach, so let scholars teach each other. Naps help people revitalize themselves and work harder. Learning is an active activity. All of these proven realities should be incorporated into schools.


So much for the bricks and mortar school -add where you see fit. But what about schooling?


Let’s look at how current schooling is organized, to the detriment of scholars. Age dictates the group into which children are placed. It’s as if they have a date of manufacture: “The class of ’84”. This practice takes no notice of the intelligence of the child. In current schools lessons are delivered in periods, ignoring the complexity of the subject and the understanding of the children. Current schooling addresses only two of Gardner’s nine intelligence types. And indeed, current teaching ignores the interests of the children, while damping down excessive curiosity and creativity. Schools also seem to think that there is only one right answer and discourage or even punish divergent thinking. Finally, schools test kids (individually) using standardized testing which has all sorts of harmful consequences.


A 21st-century school would not be age-dependent; it would be intelligence- and ability-dependent. Learning should happen at the pace best suited to the scholar, so some would advance quickly, others would progress at their best speed. Which brings us to intelligence and curiosity. Kids should learn what they want to learn – where their interest and passion lies. This is where smart mentoring and counseling comes in. Counselors should try to identify the types of intelligence possessed by scholars, and match their personalized interests and educational needs.


Subjects that require extended study and concentration should not be taught in set periods. Instead, let the scholar dictate their learning time. Perhaps, as in the real world, a time-frame can be applied. For instance, give a student a set time-frame to complete the work, but when they do that work is up to them.


Now we come to the thorny issue of tests and exams. I’ve written about it in the book, so I won’t repeat it here. Instead of testing, inputs process and outputs could be monitored. For instance, what books, articles and information did the scholar access? How long did they spend working on a particular subject? And yes, one would mark their essays, theses, and other outputs. But it would not be a test. It’s ridiculous that scholars are given a set time to answer a set number of questions. Where else in real life does that happen?


Finally, let’s talk about school being voluntary. Remember, a counselor will have spent some time discovering the child’s intelligence types, passions, and interests. I believe that scholars would leap at the opportunity to follow their passion. It’s undoubtedly the way successful people educate themselves. As Mark Twain said: “I did not let school get in the way of my education.”If scholars are intrigued, engaged and passionate about a subject, they’ll even do the drudge-work that gets them to a point where they can blossom. Who needs compulsory schooling?

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