Q. What should schools, colleges and universities be focusing on for 2020?
I would like to see a far greater focus on ethics in education. No one comes into education with the will to do a bad job. Despite this, the gap between where we are in education and where we need to be (in order to make our students life-ready and work-ready) is widening much faster than our schools are changing. Technology is drastically transforming how we live and work: educators, therefore, must manage any risks associated with these new technologies.
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With more than 32,000 schools in the UK looking after more than 10 million pupils, this is a massive undertaking. Unfortunately, teaching shortages and ever-increasing workloads mean that there appears to be no time for these important ethical discussions.
We educators have become passive consumers of recommended technologies, with insufficient thought being given to their ethical application.
This is worrying, because any new technology can be used for both positive and negative applications.
Q. What, if any, policy changes would you like to see in education this year?
The future of education is about access, so I’d hope to see something done about finance and infrastructure. Currently, teachers are put off from using technology when, for example, the network is slow. In addition, when devices don’t work instantly, engagement by both the teacher and student is hindered. The cloud offers huge potential to collaborate, and to break free from the confines of the classroom. This, however, relies on schools having the appropriate infrastructure, tech support, appropriate professional development and necessary budgets to be able to embrace new technologies with the right consideration.
The future of education is about access, so I’d hope to see something done about finance and infrastructure.
Q. If you could pinpoint one area of improvement for the education sector during 2020, what would it be?
I can’t stress this enough: workload, workload, workload! The unmanageable volume of planning, marking, administrative duties, and non-teaching tasks is highlighted so often – and yet merely paid lip service, never properly tackled. Artificial intelligence could, I believe, have a massive impact here, freeing us up from the drudgery of iterative assessment activities, as well as eradicating the need for SATs and league tables. However, for this to work we need a far more holistic approach to educating future generations, rather than a mere bolt-on to our current system.
If we are to shake off our current bolt-on educational system, the greatest challenge for 2020 is to go back to basics and debate openly what education is, what it’s for, and where it should happen. It is imperative that this is done collaboratively, and not in silos. The complexity of this task is vast, especially as we interact with more intelligent environments.
Perhaps the starting point for us all is to clarify our understanding of intelligence, in order to think more about the aims of a 21st-century education system. Professor Rose Luckin, in her book Machine Learning and Human Intelligence, shines a light in this area. I think this is important because schools are picking up on the discussion of intelligence, and this will give them a starting point.
Technology is a major driver for change, and is developing much faster than most of us can keep up with. It offers the promise of so much to so many, in increasingly shorter timeframes: and education is no exception. Faster processing powers, for example, open up new experiences in both virtual and immersive worlds. Student identities could be tied more to biometrics, which would make personal data more secure. And artificial intelligence has the power to reduce a teacher’s workload with a whole manner of iterative tasks.
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The positive impact of all these developments will only be felt, however, if educators have time to better prepare ourselves for these transformations. As educators, we will be the ones using these tools, and we need a framework to reasonably self-assess or challenge their benefits – and not just believe what we are told.
In 2020, in short, to quote Charles Leadbeater, “We need to be more human as society becomes more technological… to take the initiative rather than to meekly follow instructions, to work together rather than go alone. We are not robots. We must excel at being human.”