The challenge this week was to try to predict what education would look like in 2050 by looking at the difference between 1980 and 2015. Thus a none too comprehensive list of differences between 1980 and now was compiled – internet, mobile phones (communications), PCs, laptops, tablets, smartphones, smartboards, the National Curriculum, SATs, the rise of high-stakes assessment, league tables were brought up. It was very obvious that Prof Mitra’s preference was to look at the “advances” in technology rather than the changes in curriculum, assessment and pedagogy. In some ways, this should hardly be surprising; he is, after all, Professor of Educational Technology but it raised a question in my mind which has been impossible for me to ignore – are we trying to put the cart before the horse here?
Technology should be a support – it should help the delivery of education and the curriculum. By focusing on how technology might change in the future we are in danger of prioritizing technology over purpose. A much more important question to be asked is “How is what is declared to be the purpose and content of education going to change in the future?”. Once that has been decided then we can look to see what technology might be able to do to assist the achievement of the agreed aim or aims. We need to agree on what we are going to include in education (both the formal and informal curriculum) and then we can work out the best way to deliver it. Certainly technology will have a role to play, probably a major one, but it will not be the whole story.
Humans learn in many different ways, some of which will be supported by the use of technology and some of which will not. The recent announcement by the University of Cambridge of the establishment of a permanent LEGO Professorship of Play in Education, Development and Learning shows that there is still much to be discovered in how children acquire knowledge and a variety of stimuli are of the utmost importance now and well into the future. The “what” and the “why” of education seem to me to be far more important, even fundamental, to the future than the “where” and the “how”.
Education may very well look very different in the future compared to what it looks like now. There may or may not be buildings that we recognise as schools; the curriculum in 2050 will almost certainly include things of which we cannot even dream in 2015 and the technology available to assist us in educating people (not just children) is yet to be invented but one thing is, I believe, almost certain – the role of technology will be the same as it is today; supportive but not the primary driver. The internet should not (and, I trust, will not) be the fountain of all knowledge, the modern day equivalent of the Oracle at Delphi. It has already shown its vulnerability to manipulation and this will only increase in the future as it becomes more central to our lives. Relying on such a flawed tool as the sole (pun intended) source of knowledge is foolhardy, dangerous and invites dictatorship and demagoguery. The internet, and technology in general, has a vital role to play in supporting humankind in the future but it should not be endowed with powers that it cannot have. Education is a human right and, as such, should not be given to machines, however artificially intelligent they might be, to deliver.