Seeing Tomorrow’s School Today

The world of education will change. Are we really aware of just how fundamental this educational shift might be within a relatively short time – say within ten years

Is this more like the learning environment of the future?

We know education will change because of globalisation, demographic pressures, technological advances and emerging user expectations to which education must respond. Perhaps, though, we are not aware by just how much it might change.

Economic pressure is one significant issue, with countries now having to tackle enormous national debts. This alone is forcing many countries to reassess how education and learning should happen, tempting them to reduce expenditure, yet it is the very expenditure on education that will increase the chances of a sustainable economic recovery.

The phenomenal rate of technological growth with computing power doubling every two years itself calls into question how learning might happen in the near future, if ten years from now computers are one million times more powerful which is what some predictions suggest. As if to demonstrate progress, the Japanese electronics firm Rohm and engineers at Osaka University have developed a microchip that can communicate at 1.5 gigabits per second. In other words, data that would take ten minutes on a fast Ethernet cable with a fast connection will take 40 seconds with this chip. Coupled with increasing technological ‘umph’, is the growing capability of students in using technologies in new and different ways that is exerting its own pressure on the system to respond.

The impact of the world recession and growth in technologies arguably represent seismic shifts that will require considerable rethinking about education and learning, and therefore the role of the physical environment and how it will support education. But, to what extent are these changes really being addressed? How do we address them?

The answer to the first is: not really. Much is said about the use of technology whether in the classroom or for online learning, but whether this represents a fundamental shift in the way learning is happening is another matter. There is the danger that students are doing the same things but with new technologies. Having said that there are examples of using say gaming as a learning tool, not that gaming laboratories or spaces within schools have become standard – perhaps they should.

To explore the second question, here are two scenarios to ponder over. Scenario 1: The community is the school. While there still be schools in the future, the school will be the whole community and not fixed to one building as such. Scenario 2: A world without schools. In this world learning traditionally associated with schools happens in other ways, whether virtually or through other human interactions.

While neither of these scenarios may seem likely, they do reflect trends observable today. And, that perhaps is the point. Often the future already exists, we just need to see it.

For examples of what is happening today look at: Designing for Education: Compendium of Exemplary Educational Facilities 2011

Also: Best Practices in Educational Facilities Investments

Here is an exercise we did a year ago: “IMAGINE! Exploring radical visions for tomorrow’s schools… and how to make them work”

One thought on “Seeing Tomorrow’s School Today

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