Ambika Gulati, Principal of GEMS Millennium School, Dubai is confident that the future of education is secure, but does this lie in a bricks and mortar format, a virtual environment, or of a blend of both?
The one thing I am certain of after this lock down is that the brick and mortar schools will continue to exist. Students need to interact with each other for enhancing their emotional social well-being whilst non-verbal communication is important and learning collaboratively is critical. The development of co-scholastic skills like music, dance, sports, art and theatre needs students to interact in a physical space.
At the other end of the spectrum, the lock down has made schools more resilient as they have demonstrated that nothing is impossible – learning never stops. Thanks to the digital age, schools have managed to deliver high quality learning experiences to students. Remote learning plans across the globe have been successful in providing the right mix of synchronous and asynchronous classes. Let me add – once the teaching, learning and assessment were taken care of, schools began experimenting with virtual investiture ceremonies, virtual assemblies, remote learning of co-scholastic subjects like music, dance and physical education along with virtual breakfasts, coffee mornings with parents and guest lecturers from across the world.
So what does the future of school infrastructure look like? There may be a shift to more blended models that have elements from the traditional brick and mortar and the remote learning. Existing school spaces would transition from being specific, specialized areas of learning to more non-dedicated, informal spaces, catering to the skill sets of students. Learning spaces may need to be redesigned to allow for building 21st Century skills, shared with students beyond traditional school hours. School furniture and equipment will become more flexible, adaptable and personal to allow for collaborative work and group learning. For example, why must we have designated computer labs? Laptops can be used anywhere. Why do classrooms have a factory style setting of desks? Can the class set up change across lessons? Do we need walls between classes? I see the world entering into school spaces, thanks to the digital era. By using virtual platforms, students can access the best minds from anywhere in the world.
Lastly, digital tools and platforms are providing transition from being standard, one size fits all to becoming personalised, based on the individual needs of a student. Students can access digital learning material from anywhere, anytime. It is adaptive and it allows students to pace their own learning. The implication of this for infrastructure is allocating budgets to provide adequate WiFi, digital hardware and building cyber security platforms that can support students’ learning in a safe and secure virtual
space. Investment in ‘Ed Tech’ solutions that have the ability to provide economies of scale, yet provide personalised learning experiences will be the norm.
The new normal is learning beyond all confines of time, space, structure and material resources; but you cannot do away with the teacher – the heart of the education system. Our teachers have made significant changes to their assumptions and mindset during these days of remote learning and have catapulted further into the digital age. In the words of Keith Krueger: “It is important to remember that educational software, like textbooks, is only one tool in the learning process. Neither can be a substitute for well trained teachers, leadership, and parental involvement.”