The Educational Requirements of the Future
By the year 2005, students will be holding a plastic box the size of a loose leaf binder. Below will be a keyboard, a microphone and an earphone jack. You may call it a computer yet it does so much more. Imagine tapping into the school network on this machine and skimming through project after project in search of one that catches your eye. An E-mail address is printed on each assignment and some person at the other end receives it, marks it, and then returns it back to you.
Picture a 3D teacher projected on your screen that will present you with your homework, your assignments, and guide you along to overcome obstacles. How about watching a space ship launch or a televised trial on your computer while collecting facts for your project? With this technology, many teachers won't even need to come to school. This will bring down the walls of classrooms everywhere and will alter the notion of school as it is today: "a building with classrooms manned by teachers and occupied by students". How will the curriculum for this computerized, networked society meet needs and help produce the kind of people Canadians should be in the next century?
Is the present day school system meeting the needs of the future?
Is our school system really meeting the needs for the future? Well, according to Crawford Kilian, author of 2020 Visions, The Future of Canadian Education, the school system does not meet the needs of students and therefore will not survive. Education in its present state should be dismantled because society has outgrown it.
There are huge generation gaps between students and teachers. The average age of teachers is much older than students. Those attitudes developed in the '50s and '60s will be inappropriate in Canada in 2010. A high proportion of students will be immigrants and therefore inter-cultural understanding will be crucial. Will teachers in their 60's be open to develop these skills?
Over the next couple of decades, demographic prospects for education will change. Teaching the echo-boomers will not be a lifetime occupation as enrollment will fall again early in the next century. There will be a relatively small multi-ethnic student population competing for resources with a relatively large population of seniors while the working population tries to support both of those groups and itself in a rapidly changing society.
There is an increasing amount of violence in our schools reflecting the violent nature of our society. When computers and fiber optics become as available as the telephone, students will have little reason to congregate in one building and therefore violence in schools need not exist.
For thousands of years, people have gone to schools because that was where the knowledge was. But for the first time, the flow of knowledge has gone horizontally and not vertically to the point where kids with access to computers are likely to break out into that horizontal knowledge flow and escape teacher control. Technology skills are developing among students faster than among teachers, which brings us to the point of teachers who are no longer crucial to their transmission. If students can define their own curriculum and pursue their own interest, do they really need teachers at all? The function of the on-line educator will be to save students from wasting time, to provide some intriguing challenges and to get students out of the academic "nest" as soon as possible.
The school system hierarchy as it stands now finds reasons to prolong education. Every year, students are required to take several different courses many of which serve little purpose. Students could actually go through school quicker by eliminating mandated courses and picking up skills and knowledge that serve a purpose and contribute to their learning. Presently, we are entrenched in "the system" from which we must break free.
To produce the kind of people Canadians should be in the next century, the school system must offer a curriculum that suits many different cultures, lifestyles and classes. It will need to foster independent learning and critical thinking skills. The system will be interested in standards but not standardization. It will train citizens, not employees, and it will enable students to gain access to information.
The average person will need many more skills to survive in the workplace in the upcoming century. One of the most important skills is communication, both oral and written. You will have to write clearly, concisely, and grammatically. There will be a continued demand for people who can go up in front of an audience and make an effective oral presentation. Computer skills will play a big part in getting a job. You will also need the ability to work as part of a team, be able to assemble information, analyze it and think about it. A continued demand will exist for skilled people who can work well with their hands, as well as their brain, such as a skilled machinist and other trades persons who will have to be much more multi-talented.
The type of people who will succeed in the new decade will be very flexible individuals. Every person will have to offer a range of services within a broad specialty and must be able to adapt to rapid change to stay employed.
In 1994, 145 000 jobs in Canada disappeared for people with high school education or less while 422 000 jobs evolved for workers with post-secondary education. As the 21st century advances, an increasing amount of these high school education jobs will continue to decline and eventually these jobs will all be controlled by computers and machines. The new positions will require higher skilled workers.
One of the major differences between post secondary education of the future, as compared to the present, will be students attending school to learn skills that they can apply immediately in the work force and not necessarily to get a degree. It is the system that says a degree is necessary. All the employer is interested in is specific skills that relate to their needs.
The problem with these courses as they now exist, leading to a degree, is the length of time they require to complete. That is why three week courses will be in demand by companies wanting to upgrade employee skills.
The curriculum of the 21st century will obligate high schools to provide for the following outcomes: fluency in French and English and a readable knowledge in a third language, a comparative Religious course, Physical and Biological Sciences, Mathematics at least to Calculus, Philosophy from Plato to Marx, Basic Economic Theory, Canadian and World History, English and North American Literature with some exposure to other continents, Public Speaking and Listening, Physical Education, the History of Western Arts, Music, Art, Drama, frequent experience writing for a large audience and a convertible use of Computer Technology.
Given the kind of future in store for Canada: multi-cultural, economically turbulent, and demographically skewed, can any of these subjects be eliminated?
The immediate future in education in Peel
Linda Palazzi, Superintendent for the Peel Board states that the curriculum in Peel should be 1/3 about the past, 1/3 about the present and 1/3 about the future.
The immediate changes in Peel will be the class room sizes, salaries, planning time, and support staff. She insists that the focus will be on the best education for the success of all students.
What is in store for Peel in the immediate future? Bill 104 will give unparalleled powers to the Education Improvement Commission headed by Ann Vanstone and Alan Cooke. Nobody can be hired, promoted and any changes made without their approval. On the horizon will be privatization of schools and home instruction. Parents will be given a voucher and will have choices to make as to the schools their children will attend. Charter schools will develop where parents and teachers buy into a certain philosophy of education. Teachers with disabilities who are unable to physically come to school will be able to teach from their homes using telecommunications.
The Peel Board is one of several boards involved in a number of initiatives for the future. One of these is the Lion's Quest program taught in many Senior Public Schools in Peel. It is a program supported by the Lion's Club to develop good citizenship skills amongst out young people and to foster critical thinking skills and independent learning. Another initiative is the Gallery Project. This is a program involving literary and numeracy in grades 1-3 by immersing students in integrated programs of the arts and information technology. It is a unique project beginning in September 1997 in 10 Peel schools that seek to bring together education, business and community resources to enhance learning in the publicity funded system. This learning partnership is raising financial resources in access of $22 million from the private sector, Board of Education and Ontario Ministry of Education and Training to support development and implementation of the project over 3 year term of the project. The Gallery Project places teacher capability at the core of learning quality and seeks to use technology to break down the walls of classrooms to provide access to the world of resources to enhance learning. The mission is to enable every student to strive for personal excellence, to make a contribution to society and to acquire the skills, attitudes that prepare him/her for life-long learning and global living.
We must redefine our curriculum for the future to meet the needs of students and help produce good citizens. The curriculum of the 21st century must reflect the small world we actually live in with the advent of technology, the fast pace of communication and the speed at which we travel. For the first time in history, education will need to talk about the future as much as the past and the present. We may not recognize the education of the future to be like anything we knew in the past because in the next decade education will change more than it has in the last century.