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Wednesday, 28 October 2015

VISIONS OF THE FUTURE


I was fortunate enough to attend this year's EduCon conference in Singapore last week. It was divided into three parts, and the one of most interest to us at KYUEM dealt with K12 education.

Malaysia was well represented with several major schools in attendance, together with a guest speaker from PEMANDU. I was also able to link up with the SE Asia representative of Cambridge International Examinations who gave an informative overview of the CIE secondary curriculum and its likely progression in the years ahead.

The most interesting and thought-provoking sessions challenged our preconceived notions of education and what lies in store for us as teachers, parents and students. An oft-repeated question referred to classrooms of the future - indeed, if there are even going to be any. Many of our cherished beliefs were questioned. The point was made that the traditional classroom owes more to the industrial revolution than to the 21st century. Do we need whiteboards and textbooks in the era of the Internet, Facebook and Virtual Reality? How do we meaningfully assess progress and prepare young people for the adult world?

As expected, much was made of Generation Y - the kind of tech-aware students we have at KYUEM. This sort of presentation makes me identify more and more with dinosaurs. I remember my family's first-ever black and white television with its minuscule picture contained in a vast cabinet. It took about five minutes to "warm up" and gave about three hours of programmes a day. Generation Y have grown up with personal computers and smart phones. So what of the babies around at the moment - Generation Z? How will they amuse themselves and what will be their preferred means of communication? Last week the news media made much of the anniversary of the movie "Back to the Future." So many of its predictions have failed to identify the most important developments of the past quarter century, notably the ubiquitous mobile devices and the enormous influence of Google as our prime source of answers to questions.

Pondering on much of this, I was reminded of conversations I have had throughout the decades in which a highly technical individual would inform me that the revolution was about to sweep me away; that the future would not need any human teachers. Yet, here we are, my colleagues and I, as relevant to education in 2015 as we have ever been. A Headmaster from a school in Singapore lamented the fact that in a modern restaurant at any time of the day or night, you will see four young people busily texting or taking photos of their meals, but barely interacting with one another at all. He said how sad it was that many of his students only read short texts for instant gratification, and that the demands of a lengthy piece of prose such as a novel are seemingly beyond them.

I do my best not to be closet Luddite, but he has a point. When technology works only for itself, it ceases to aid education - in fact, it hampers it. One of the best sessions at EduCon was simply entitled "Tools or Toys?" and had some pointed observations to make regarding the less valuable aspects of the digital age.

However, there was much to marvel at, too. The so-called "Flipped" classroom and the use of Google Education for the whole of one's school management needs; new classroom furniture which is not only comfortable but actually aids learning. Above all, there were fascinating displays of teaching where the teacher acted as facilitator - even as participant - in a voyage of group discovery.

I could have done with more of the latter, and when we were asked for feedback, my own suggestion was that in future, we should leave the conference hall behind us and go out to visit some schools to see such great things in action for ourselves.

I hope to showcase KYUEM in next year's conference as I was honoured at the end to be asked if I would like to return in 2016 as a featured speaker. Maybe there's still room for the odd Luddite after all.

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