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How the School of the Future will Look

Do not train children to learn by force and harshness, but direct them to it by what amuses their minds, so that you may be better able to discover with accuracy the peculiar bent of the genius of each.


Google the word "innovation" and you will find a tsunami of results. The world is thriving on innovation.  We spend hours on YouTube listening to Steve Jobs's interviews to get an insight into a modern-day Da Vinci. You need to think out the box. You need to go against the flow. You need to see the world not as it is but as how you want it to be.  You need to challenge the status quo and find ways to disrupt industries and companies that are stuck in a long term rut of stagnation.

Education stands out like a monk in an adult bookstore as an industry that is stuck in the dark ages repeating the same Gregorian chant over and over. The current global education system is in a state of crisis.  More than 617 million children and adolescents are not achieving minimum proficiency levels (MPLs) in reading and mathematics, according to new estimates from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS).

Education methods have not evolved in over 100 years when schools were created as receptacles of information. How is it possible that kids, the most curious and creative creatures around, find school boring?  Teaching techniques have not changed in a hundred years. The teacher stands in front of the class in his tweed jackets and Clark Kent styles classes and recites the five reasons why World War I was started. This may have been the best way to teach 30 years ago when schools and universities were the repositories of information, but now we have the internet. If there is anything you want to find out, you can find it on the World Wide Web. 

Kids do not need to be taught things. They need to be taught how to find these things and left to study at their own pace. They are naturally curious - they will not slack off provided they are stimulated and engaged.  I am not saying they should be left unattended in the classroom - they will go hog wild.  Teachers need to become facilitators of knowledge and not custodians thereof. 

The financial structure of schools and universities also needs to be changed. There is something wrong when Harvard runs a multi-billion dollar endowment, pays no taxes and graduates leave with 100 grand in student debt.

How will the school of the future look?

Technology is not a silver bullet but plays an important role. Teachers need to use technology - virtual reality augmented reality and artificial intelligence to make learning interesting.

Schools also need to teach softer skills such as teamwork, problem-solving, emotional intelligence and communication skills. Learning should become a way of life and not limited to a location. We also need to promote continuous learning. Gone are the days when you study a profession and that is your profession for life. The job market is in flux and workers will need to reinvent themselves multiple times.

How do universities prepare people for jobs that do not exist yet? This is the biggest challenge. They need to keep offering traditional subjects, but they also need to offer courses on coding, product development, and big data.

In 2018, Concordia University-Portland’s College of Education ran a giveaway on their public Facebook page for educators (and in a private group with students and alumni) with new school supplies up for grabs. To enter, Concordia students, alumni, and Facebook visitors had to answer one of two questions:

Question 1: What does innovation in education mean to you?

Question 2: What’s the most innovative thing you have done—or have seen another teacher do—in the classroom?

This is a sample of the responses.

"Innovation in education means doing what's best for all students. Teachers, lessons, and curriculum have to be flexible. We have to get our students to think and ask questions. We need to pique their curiosity and find ways to keep them interested. Innovation means change, so we have to learn that our students need more than the skills needed to pass the state assessments given every spring. We have to give them tools that will make them productive in their future careers."


“Innovation, to me, means finding any way you can to reach all of your students. This means being willing and flexible to adjust what you teach and how you teach. We have to keep our students engaged and excited to learn. We have to create a safe place for them to make mistakes, take risks, and ask questions.”


“Innovation in education is always seeking knowledge that will support new and unique ideas in instructional techniques that will reach the students in more effective and exciting ways.”


"Innovation in education is stepping outside of the box, challenging our methods and strategies to support the success of all students as well as ourselves. This transformation may be small or a complete overhaul, but it is done with purpose and supports the whole student."


“Innovation in education means allowing imagination to flourish and not be afraid to try new things. Sometimes these new things fail but it’s awesome when they are a success. Without the right attitude, innovation would just be a word and the art of education would miss out on some great accomplishments.”


What’s the most innovative thing you have done—or have seen another teacher do—in the classroom? “My team teacher and I used guest teacher certificates as part of our reward system. Kids had 10-15 minutes to teach the class anything they wanted. It was amazing to see them get up in front of their peers and share their passions!”


“I set my math & science units for my third graders up like college classes. Students start with picking a particular major and at the end of the unit, we work on making connections on how each lesson relates to the real world and the job they each choose individually. My students absolutely love the opportunity to be treated like adults and explore future options.”


"We have at times had students begin creating graphic novels to have better recall regarding historical information!" Misty "My second graders grade their own tests using their tech devices. They get immediate feedback and take the time to understand the wrong answers."



Trend 1: Information – Everywhere, Anytime

Information has been democratized. It is all over the internet and can be accessed at any time from any internet-enabled device.  

Modern educators have reacted in one of two ways. They have either been living under a rock for two decades and are not aware of this democratization. Or they know about it but are praying feverishly that their clients/students are idiots.

Traditional education works like a production line. Kids enter the classroom at 8am and sit in rows of chairs while the teacher delivers the class. Periods typically last for 45 minutes. This methodology goes back 100 years and has never changed.

This was necessary in the past because there was no technology and there was no internet. The teacher was the receptacle of information. He or she was the oracle and held the truth on that particular subject.

Today the game has changed. All the information we need is out there. Information no longer needs to be channeled. In the future, people will not be hired based on what they know. They will be hired based on their ability to apply this knowledge. 

So why the hell do schools still teach as if there was no democratization of information?  The answer is simple. Parents/students keep paying their tuition because there is no viable alternative. Schools and universities arrogantly believe that this will continue forever. Harvard keeps adding billions of dollars to their endowment funds. Children graduate from university with hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt, and they are ill-equipped to meet the challenges of the modern workforce.

But the tide is turning as corporations start to understand the limitations of formal education. In 2018, job-search site Glassdoor compiled a list of top employers who no longer require applicants to have a college degree. Companies like Google, Apple and IBM are all in this group.

In 2017, IBM’s vice president of talent Joanna Daley told CNBC that 15 percent of her company’s U.S. hires do not have a four-year degree. The message from these companies is that a traditional college degree does not necessarily equip graduates with the requisite skills to operate in their world.

Technology companies, however, were not the first to recognize the limitations of a university degree. In May of 2015, Ernst and Young, one the big four accounting firms, announced something that surprised everyone. It would remove the degree classification from its entry criteria because it found 'no evidence of a positive correlation' between academic success and achievement at the company.

This is crazy. Accounting is generally accepted as the most stayed and conservative of all professions. A charismatic accountant is defined as someone who looks at the other person's shoes instead of his own when engaged in a conversation.

The market value of a university degree has declined while the cost of that education has increased.  In the 1980s, a college degree almost guaranteed a job in the specific field of study. This is no longer the case given the higher number of degrees and the shrinking number of jobs on account of technology and automation.

I have come across numerous taxi drivers in Latin America who hold MBA degrees. Driving a taxi is a noble profession. I, however, doubt whether those entering a two-year MBA programs do so visualizing a career picking up American tourists at the airport. 

In the face of this, the cost of a university degree in the U.S. has more than doubled since the 1980s. Student debt in the U.S. in 2019 stood at $1.4 trillion. 

University education in the U.S. is now more expensive than marrying a Las Vegas showgirl. The problem is not the debt. The problem is that the skills acquired in the accumulation of this debt no long correlate with what is required in the real world.

Education is overdue for disruption and this upheaval is going to start with arrogant universities that are out of touch with reality. Young, fresh, innovative schools are going to rise up and start to eat away at the fat that these universities have accumulated over the decades.

This market is ready for the taking. Traditional universities should be more nervous than a flock of sheep walking through an Australian army barracks. There is a lot of money to be made and lost in the education space over the next two decades! The global education and training market in 2019 was worth around $6 trillion and expected to grow to $10 trillion in 2030. Little attention is being paid to what is being taught. Anyone with creativity and foresight will make millions.

Trend 2: Technology – Not the Holy Grail, but Pretty Darn Close

"Ephemeralization" is a term coined by R. Buckminster Fuller, an American architect, systems theorist, author, designer, inventor, and futurist who must have been bullied at school. Ephemeralization is the ability to do "more and more with less and less until eventually, you can do everything with nothing." Buckminster had a Henry Ford production line in mind when he coined the phrase back in the 1930s, but it is relevant today. At the heart of the transformation of education lies technology.

The Khan Academy is a nonprofit organization started by a hedge fund analyst in 2008. Khan's mission is to provide free world-class education for anyone, anywhere. The organization produces short lessons in the form of videos. Its website also includes supplementary practice exercises and materials for educators. All resources are available for free to users of the website.

The website and its contents are provided mainly in English but is also available in other languages including Armenian, Bengali, Bulgarian, Chinese, Czech, Danish, Dutch, French, Georgian, German, Gujarati, Hindi, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese (Brazilian and European), Serbian, Spanish, Swedish, Tamil, and Turkish.  This is ephemeralization on a cocktail of equine steroids and human growth hormones. It is impossible to deliver a world-class education free to anyone, anywhere and anytime without technology. This is scalability to the nth degree.

Kids can learn what they want, where they want and what they want. If they want to run over a calculus video thirty times, they can do so. Ask your math teacher to repeat a concept thirty times and there will be a meltdown releasing enough radiation to harvest 25kg potatoes and three-legged dolphins for decades.

Teachers can monitor the performance of each child and intervene when personalized instruction is needed. Artificial intelligence detects concepts that are not understood and reinforce them with additional exercises and practices. Machine learning can determine at what times of the day the students are more receptive to certain topics.

The sky is the limit. The net result is kids who are engaged and interested. Teachers are more impactful and there is no need for obscene multi-billion dollar endowment funds. Technology will be used to enhance the teaching experience – it will not be used to replace teachers.

Trend 3: One Size Does Not Fit All

Not all kids are on the same level. Some are thinking about splitting the atom while others are trying to calculate when they last changed their underwear. How can you have two people with such different aptitudes in the same class?

When I was at school, kids were sorted into classes based on grades. The smart kids in class A and the dumbass kids in class F. That was a real boost for the kids in the F class. Not only did they know they were stupid, but their stupidity was institutionally recognized.

The education of the future will be personalized.  Kids will be able to cover what they want when they want and at the pace they want. This sounds like organized chaos. 

Let's take math as an example. Few things scare the living daylights out of kids more than an algebra pop quiz. Math is like building a house. It is done in a logical order. Until the foundation is laid, you are not going to start on the walls and until the walls are done you are not going to do the roof.  If you haven't grasped multiplication you cannot advance to fractions. If you haven't nailed fractions, you are going to break into nervous hives when it comes to algebra.

In traditional education, the class moves through the syllabus at the same pace regardless of whether all the kids are ready to advance. Technology allows for personalized learning. Jimmy may be stuck on fractions. He runs the videos and exercises on fractions over and over until he nails it. The teacher is analyzing his progress from their iPad and knows when to intervene with personalized tutoring.  The smarter kids act as mentors.

Traditional education teaches that quick is good. Studies have shown that some kids want to start slow, to allow the concepts to sink in and then to progress to the next level.

Trend 4: Flipping the Classroom like a Pancake

How about learning at home and doing your homework at school? This is the flipped classroom. At home, the kids run through instructional videos at the pace they desire. If they want to watch the video on the French revolution three times until they fully understand why the men and women in the puffy wings lost their heads, they can do so.

At school, they can test their knowledge by running through some question exercises or entering into a physical debate with their classmates. At all times there is adult supervision. The teacher is not the one standing in front of the assembly line of kids. The kids are taking charge of their learning and displaying their knowledge actively and measurably. The teacher can assess who has grasped the concept and who needs attention.

There is also mentorship.  Older kids can mentor the younger kids in the class. Why would they want to do this? This is going to help them in the work environment.  Jobs are built on teamwork and collaboration. 

Schools are not there to fill a kid's craniums with useless information. Modern schools should be equipping kids to go out and make a difference in the workplace. Soft skills such as communication and emotional intelligence are not taught. In a world that is changing so rapidly, these softer skills will become the constants necessary for success.

Trend 5:  Project-Based Education

Standardized testing has limitations.  You nail the test on Monday but by Tuesday you have forgotten half the material and by Friday you can hardly remember the subject of the exam.

I am not calling for the beheading of standardized tests – although a poke in the eye with a blunt stick would be a good start. There is a place for them, but their weighting in student assessment needs to be reduced. You don't want to go to your doctor who tells you that he has developed his own cholesterol test. You score is 8000 - is that good or bad? He doesn’t have a clue. Standardized testing should be seen as one of many arrows in the teacher’s quiver.

Modern education needs to pivot to project-based performance. This more closely assimilates a real-world work environment.  Instead of lecturing kids on capital markets and how to program in Python, break them into groups and get them to develop an algorithm that trades equity markets.

The team that is generating the "best" algo gets the highest grade. "Best" can be measured in different ways. The grader can focus on more than just the return of the algo. They can also look at the historic risk, the distribution of returns, and the predicted risk, and the quality of the stocks bought and sold. Investors are not only chasing returns. They also want to ensure that Chernobyl type risks are not taken. In this way, there is a wider range of factors that can be rewarded in grading the output of the algo.

Trend 6: Field Trips – throw the Kids into the Trenches

I loved school field trips. Breaking out of Alcatraz for the morning was awesome. Kids need to get out into the field. Logistically this can be a nightmare. The arrival of forty oversexed kids at a condom factory could cause more mayhem than Woodstock. 

Field trips need to be targeted. Maybe a local bank needs help in the development of an application. You can get some kids involved by spending some time at the bank, understanding how bank systems work and then they can get to work in collaboration on the app. Lord knows the banks need all the help they can get.

Trend 7: Let the Kids take Ownership

Kids love college because they can select their own learning path – and they have access to copious quantities of beer. They can select the subjects they want to study and the career they want to pursue. This discovery needs to happen earlier in schools. Certain subjects will still be compulsory but kids must be able to study what they want. They are the most creative and curious human beings on the planet.

A bored kid is an aberration of nature. It can only be achieved by an antiquated education system teaching them how to write calligraphy and conjugate the verb to love. They need to be given ownership of their education. They need to be able to study what interests them. This will help them find their vocation earlier in life.

Traditional education thrusts a knife into the jugular of creativity. The secret to future education is to reverse this trend. Kids are not scared of being wrong. They will take a chance. If they don't know, they will have a go.  Being wrong and creative is not the same thing. Modern education and testing rewards the right answer and punishes the wrong answer. If you keep punishing the wrong answer, kids will stop taking risks and will soon become wired to believe that it is bad to be wrong.

In a Ted Talk, Sir Ken Robinson tells the story of a six-year-old girl in a classroom. In most classes, the teacher noticed that she was disengaged, but when it came to art and drawing, she was attentive. The teacher walked over to her and asked her what she was doing. She said that she was drawing a picture of God. The teacher then said that nobody knows what God looks like. The girl replied that they will in a minute. 

If you are not prepared to be wrong, you will never come up with anything original. Traditional education teaches us out of creativity.

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