Sunday, June 26, 2016

Future Ready

The opening Keynote for ISTE 2016 Michio Kaku — futurist and theoretical physicist-  connected with a train of thought that has been running as we have travelled around the world and connected with educators in many countries on the #BurtsLearn journey.


First a little about the Keynote.
Michio Kaku was an entertaining and knowledgeable speaker who challenged every preconception any of us non-scientists may have had. He posed all kinds of challenging questions from a physicist’s perspective and had the engaging ability to laugh at himself and make the audience laugh. His topic was a futuristic one and he undertook a wide-ranging view of the world our young people will be living in when they are our age.


I am not going into detail here about his speech as the journalists from the ISTE team have done a wonderful job of recording his points and they can be read on the ISTE Blog.


It was his reflections on education that connected with me most directly as I was able to bring a modicum of intelligence to the content, whereas I simply had to take his word about the medical and technical insights he shared.


Before I comment on his predictions I will backtrack over some observations from the previous couple of months.


  1. In some of the places we visited and shared with educators they expressed surprise that our parent community in Manaiakalani subscribe to a pervasive 1:1 digital approach in our schools.  We heard many stories of parents defining the number of hours, or in some case minutes, that young people were allowed to be on digital devices in school for various reasons cited by parents.  One of the recurring themes was that digital devices isolate children and stop them being sociable.
  2. We have heard around the world of the growth of compliances as allergies dictate the actions of schools and teachers. Approximately 1 in every 13 children in the United States lives with food allergies. That’s roughly two in every classroom. Eight foods account for 90 percent of all reactions: milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, wheat, fish and shellfish. Even trace amounts of a food allergen can cause a reaction. Classes and schools are issuing stringent rules curtailing the eating behaviour of the 12 in every 13 children who do not have these allergies - and of course the teachers have to abide by these rules too. Then there are the non-food allergies, some of which are potentially fatal.
  3. We were quite taken aback at one District conference we attended to find a notice on our table requesting we refrain from wearing scented products eg perfume or aftershave, as it could produce a fatal reaction in those allergic to it. These environmental allerigies are being taken very seriously in Canada with schools having policies about this.
  4. We have also seen and heard a lot about the fear in schools of acts of random terror and violence on a large and fatal scale.

These barrier and risk free environments being created in school systems may well a the pressure point that causes society to look closely at the industrial model of education, which is less than 200 years old, and question how much longer we can continue to bring children together for much of their waking day and contain them in social groups for the purpose of learning. Particularly when we consider that there are many more factors (take unacceptable behaviour as an example) that make parents concerned about the particular group of young people their own child is required to spend the day with.


It may well be that the parental concern about time on devices in point (1) above will be counterbalanced by the subsequent points. And they may conclude that the benefits of learning in a different physical environment being supported by technology delivering learning opportunities, outway the increasing risks when children who are strangers are brought together in one place.


It would be a shame if it was negative drivers that brought about the disruption to the status quo of ‘school looking like it was when I, the parent, went there’ that innovative teachers and school leaders have been modelling in increasing pockets of a number of countries around the world. But it is looking quite possible that it might be far more pragmatic factors than striving for innovative approaches to learning enabled by modern technology and creative minds that change the way we bring young people together in school buildings.


And so I return to our Keynote speaker. Professor Kaku introduced us to exciting technologies and innovations that will make learning even more delightful and engaging, and accessible to more people, perhaps everyone in the world. Where I was disappointed was that the examples of applying these futuristic innovations was in the context of a kind of school building/congregating system that is an extension of what we currently do.  One of his examples was that when unable to attend school a child would be able to have their surrogate sit in their chair and absorb the learning.  

It is understandable that with an audience of 15, 000+ educators he felt the need to assure us several times that we would not be losing our jobs and schools and kids will still need teachers. But I had been hoping for more.  I had been hoping that he would have taken us beyond this industrial model to a time when our children will not be herded unilaterally into groups for hours for learning to occur.