Ambika Gulati, Principal of The 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 a blend of both?
The one thing I am certain of is that bricks-and-mortar schools will continue to exist. Students need to interact with each other in order to enhance their emotional social well-being, while 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 brought on by the global pandemic 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. Once the teaching, learning and assessments 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 of the traditional bricks-and-mortar model combined with remote learning. Existing school spaces would need to transition from being specific, specialised areas of learning to non-dedicated, more 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 need to become more flexible, adaptable and personalised 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 layout of desks? Can the class setup 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.
Digital tools and platforms are transitioning from being standard, one-size-fits-all to being 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 the allocation of budgets to provide adequate Wi-Fi, digital hardware and cyber security platforms that can support students’ learning in a safe and secure virtual space. Investment in EdTech solutions that have the ability to provide economies of scale, yet provide personalised learning experiences will be the norm.
The new normal involves 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 they have been 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.”