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An ideal school of the future: What should it be like?

Technology can help schools become more accountable to parents, and to students, in the way that they develop, measure and tap into the children’s progress, to set their feet on a career path

education Updated: Nov 14, 2017 18:51 IST
Schools,Elementary education,Best school
Technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning will make it easier for us to assess a child’s weaknesses and strengths with accuracy and focus on learning in the areas where it is needed.(Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Since several months, I have been occupied, as a parent, with thoughts of selecting a good school for my child. Going through various websites and brochures and being an entrepreneur, this thought came to my mind – if I were to open a school, what kind of school it would be? This has little to do with my core business of mobile application development. Schooling and education fall back on old and time tested traditions and we tend to not change many things with time. Whereas technology, and specifically mobile technology, which is my forte, are extremely dynamic, even unstable and always in a growth phase, it may seem easy to add technology purely at an execution level to a school (eg develop a homework app) but that will not really re-define the way learning is enabled.

When we think of technology, my belief has always been that we must start with the consumer needs, in order to design the most meaningful solution. Needs are social, physical, financial, even emotional – how can our technology serve them best, when it comes to education?

We need to remember that the years of schooling are years of great expectations and great stress, for both parents and children. Huge amounts of money are spent – even poor people spend beyond their means for a better school for their kids, because schooling represents a brighter and better future.

Parents trust certain school brand names, but in a competitive world, I think branding is not enough in the field of education. Schools will need to become more accountable to parents, and to students, in the way that they develop, measure and tap into the children’s progress, to set their feet on a career path. In this accountability, I feel that technology will play a crucial role.

Here are four dimensions of the school of the future, as I see it:

1) Personalised learning

As classrooms grow bigger, even the best schools have less individual time to devote to a child’s progress – a root cause that has fuelled the boom in tuition classes. Parents rightly believe that more individual attention can benefit a child, with time being spent on strengthening the areas and concepts where they are weak.

But this is an expensive and even impractical option. Tuition classes are not growing smaller in size either, and personal (one-on-one) tuition will remain out of the reach of many. On the other hand, technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning, make it easier for us to assess a kid’s weaknesses and strengths with accuracy and focus on learning in areas where it is needed.

In Japan, app-based pets and companions are very common. Why not an app-based virtual teacher who is familiar with the areas in which a child needs attention, and imparts knowledge in an interesting way? The school of the future will integrate such ‘after-learning’ technology tools into their teaching methodology, thus keeping the educational development of the child in their custody.

2) More accurate testing

Parents often feel out of their depth in evaluating the school or even their kids’ progress. Teaching pedagogies have changed, subjects have changed, career and higher secondary/college course options have changed hugely, yet the only benchmark of a kid’s progress remains ‘examination scores’.

Yet many of us bear witness to the fact that examination scores have not dictated our success in life. The question becomes – are we measuring what really matters for the progress of a child?

Here again, technology can give solutions, designed in conjunction with inputs from educationists. We can actually create increasingly accurate tests that measure a student’s real capacity, abilities and inclinations. Have you taken Facebook quizzes on ‘which actor are you?’ and been surprised by how well they know you? The data pulled from your social media stream is becoming better and better at identifying who you really are. When we start inputting responses to personality tests, mark sheets and even unstructured data like school essays, we can start forming a very accurate picture of a students’ personality and abilities and thought process.

Schools which do this, will be better at counseling students and parents to make the right higher education and career choices, leading to more happy, successful students who build the brand value for the school.

3) More inclusive approach

The banking and finance sectors have a mandate from the government to increase their reach among unbanked and poorer sections of the population, using mobile banking, UPI (unified payment interface) and many other means. As India increases in prosperity and connectivity, there will be an onus on future schools to also reach out to the less privileged. In fact, this is of the utmost urgency, given the poor outreach of high quality primary education in India today. Schools have access to the latest course content, skilled teaching resource and a strong talent pool in the form of parents. Schools are in a unique position to bring together different stakeholders who can bring a change. Initially, the resource for such a programme may be restricted to the larger school networks and more affluent schools. But the values of education demand that we give back and contribute to our society, and technology can provide a cost effective platform to even smaller schools to do this. Even the simple act of making some classes available through an app, in local vernacular language, can help provide resource material for volunteers to teach. And papers/tests can be scored through an app to measure progress as well.

4) Less time in school, more time in field

All of us are fond of saying, that we learnt the most on the job. Yet we tie children down to sit in classrooms for hours, at the age when they are most curious and have inexhaustible energy to explore their environment. Is this really the best way to learn?

I believe that the school of the future will conduct most of its teaching outside the classroom. Through devices or through hands-on experience, students will be ‘out there’ in the world much more, to do their learning. And what will be the best tool for them to capture and document their experiences? An ethnography app that lets them record their stimuli, perhaps, incorporating audio recording, video/photo capture and field notes. A cloud based repository that can be retrieved by hashtag. A kids’ version of the popular office communication app Slack – who knows? But we know that technology has great power to unite people in remote locations and share ideas and experiences. Our usage of communication tools like Facebook and Whatsapp bears this out. So why not apply the same logic to designing the school of the future?

5)Nurturing entrepreneurship : The 5th dimension

My personal belief is that Young India is moving away from a risk-averse mindset of ‘getting a government job, to a more entrepreneurial and dynamic perspective. Young people today want to play big and pursue a dream, even if it means walking an unconventional path. In general, entrepreneurship is directly linked with starting your venture, which is a great myth . I have come across very dynamic CEOs who have far more entrepreneurial mindsets than most startup founders . It has more to do with taking responsibility with an inclusive approach where personal ego becomes secondary and work becomes primary . I personally believe this cannot be taught but needs to be nurtured over a period of time. This nurturing process must start from the early days. For this, the ambience of the school and how they teach, will play a major role.

The author is an IIT Kharagpur alumni and a serial entrepreneur who carries a clear vision for digital and financial inclusion in India.

First Published: Nov 14, 2017 18:50 IST