Education has been forced into huge change during 2020, with COVID-19 pandemic resulting in school closures around the world, and more than 1.2 billion children out of the classroom globally, according to the World Economic Forum. So changes that were perhaps already underway at a relatively slow pace were put into place immediately out of necessity, with e-learning replacing physical classrooms, and digital platforms taking over from whiteboards and textbooks.
Thanks to technology, children of all ages have managed to continue some form of schooling despite being at home, though the consensus is that there will always be a need for great quality schools – the true value of face-to-face teaching cannot be exactly replicated virtually and children learn so much through the social experience of being at school and playing together, from creative problem-solving to cooperation and logical thinking.
While schools are undoubtedly here to stay, 2020 has demonstrated that education providers will have to adapt to the landscape of the future, whether that’s in the way children are taught or the way the education sector impacts the environment. So what will the schools of the future look like?
Tapping into technology
The use of technology has sky-rocketed during the COVID-19 pandemic, making it easier to learn remotely and bringing benefits in retention, but a switch to interactive learning brings environmental benefits too, such as huge reductions in paper usage. Technology is included among eight critical characteristics named within the World Economic Forum’s Schools of the Future report as being necessary to define high-quality learning in the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’, dubbed ‘Education 4.0’.
Technology has undoubtedly changed the way children learn at schools, says Kapes co-founder Seb Francis, but that doesn’t mean it will make physical schools and teachers redundant. “There has been a huge shift with the introduction of online platforms and shared content within schools,” says Francis, who is also founder of e-learning provider Titus. Technology is facilitating what is known as ‘blended learning’ as well as so-called ‘flipped classrooms’. “Flipped classrooms allow students to learn and access content away from school and then use schools to facilitate discussion and evaluate learning,” says Francis. “It extends the classroom so kids can go away and do their homework, allowing more self-paced learning.” That kind of use of technology will continue, he predicts, helping to facilitate more collaborative work areas that allow more freedom and creativity.
On top of that, technology like augmented and virtual reality will inevitably play a role in the schools of the future, says Francis, as well as elements that allow learning to be personalised to each individual pupil. “Each person learns differently, at a different speed and different times, so how can a teacher better assign different pieces of work and projects to their standards based on their previous learning or background? How can the learning be more tailored to what they need? Also, we’re likely to see learning in a more modular fashion, removing some of the boundaries between lessons. For example, economics and maths overlap, so we could see those taught together.” He cites examples of schools where children are taught in projects, rather than separate lessons, allowing them to apply different skills to a wider project – such as growing produce, looking at its market value, cooking it into meals, then looking at how to market and sell those meals. “That way, you’re not remembering the theory or the equation, you’re remembering the project, the story and the journey of what you did at the time. It’s learning by doing things and using real-life examples.”
As someone who has worked in the e-learning sector for a decade, Francis has been asked countless times whether the aim is for technology to replace teachers. For him, the answer is a firm no. “There may be more of a push to the flipped classroom but we are always going to have teachers there to facilitate things. Schools need to be there, teachers need to be there.” “Technology can only do so much – it can transfer knowledge, but it can’t teach,” he adds, citing examples like social skills, or the ‘awkward conversations’ that have to be had between humans. “That’s what makes people people ultimately.”
The schools of the future won’t just be eco-conscious, they’ll be actively eco-friendly, from the uniforms children wear to how waste is dramatically reduced. Global citizenship skills, including sustainability, is another key factor named in the World Economic Forum’s Schools of the Future report. This goes way beyond recycling and talking about going green – with environmental sustainability at the heart of school life, some institutions might produce their own food or go off-grid.
The UAE’s first truly sustainable school, Fairgreen International School, which opened in 2018, integrates sustainability into its educational programme. Located in the ground-breaking Sustainable City, the school builds in learning experiences that involve environmental challenges its students will inevitably encounter, including climate change, plastic pollution and food shortage. Equally The Arbor School is one of the first schools in Dubai to offer a focus on sustainability, providing its students with “opportunities to plan, collaborate, reflect and make meaningful changes to the world around them”.
That kind of focus on sustainability is something close to our hearts at Kapes, as co-founder Matthew Benjamin explains: “I foresee a future where a school practises circularity, where waste is composted including uniforms when they can no longer be worn, and this is used to make produce, which can then be used for school lunches for example. This of course means that uniforms have to be designed with this in mind, which means using natural fibres.”
Education for all
The schools of the future won’t just operate individually, but as part of a connected eco-system that allows those in more fortunate positions to help others. The Schools of the Future report shares the example of the crowdfunding campaign by Belgian teacher, activist and entrepreneur Koen Timmers to provide laptops, solar panels and internet equipment to the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya, connecting volunteer teachers with refugee children in a model that is now spreading across the world.
In this way, schools of the future will be connected on a global scale, with those in more affluent settings able to help others. It’s an idea we already work with at Kapes – every time we sell a uniform to a child, we provide a free one to a child in need in Africa and send a picture of them in it at the start of each term, as well as sharing the impact each school has made.
The education landscape is evolving, and schools are having to change too. While they may be unrecognisable in a few years, there will always be a special space for them in society. But developments in technology, sustainability and social conscience will all contribute, adding to both the experience schools provide and the positive impact they have on the world. That kind of positive impact is what we really value at Kapes, and we look forward to seeing how we can play a part in the schools of the future.