Over the past few months, I have been occupied as a parent with the selection of a suitable school for my child. While going through various websites and prospectus the entrepreneur in me wondered: 'if I were to open a school, what kind of school it would be?' This subject has little to do with my core business of mobile application development. Schooling and education fall back on old and time-tested traditions that people tend to not change much with time. Whereas technology, and specifically mobile technology, which is my forte, are incredibly dynamic, even unstable, and always in a growth phase.
It may seem easy to add technology purely at an execution level to a school, for example, develop a homework app, but that will not re-define the way learning is enabled.
We need to remember that the years of schooling, are years of high expectations, and high stress, for both parents and children.
When we think of technology, my belief has always been that we must start with the consumer needs 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 high expectations, and high stress, for both parents and children. Huge amounts of money are spent, even those who can't afford it spend beyond their means for a better school for their children. All because schooling represents a brighter better future.
Parents trust in 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 students and parents alike in the way that they develop, measure, and tap into kids' progress, to set their feet on the career path that they will pursue in their lives. In this accountability, I feel, technology will play a crucial role. As I see it, a school of the future should have four dimensions.
1: Personalised Learning
As classrooms grow larger, even the best schools have less individual time to devote to a child's progress, and this has fueled 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 a personal, one-to-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 learning on the areas where it is needed.
In Japan, app-based pets and companions are very common. Why not an app-based virtual teacher who always knows what areas the kid needs attention, and imparts knowledge in the way that the kid gets it best? 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, and higher secondary/college course options have changed to a great extent, yet the only benchmark of a kid's progress remains 'examination scores'.
Many of us bear witness to the fact that examination scores have not dictated our success in life. The question is: do we measure what really matters for the progress of a child?
Here again, technology can give solutions. Designed in conjunction with inputs from educationists, we can 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 truly 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 student's personality and abilities and thought process.
Schools are in a unique position to bring together different stakeholders who can bring a change.
Schools that do this will be better at counselling students and parents to make the right higher education and career choices, leading to happier, successful students who build the brand value for the school.
3: More inclusive approach
The banking sector has a mandate from the government to increase their reach amongst unbanked and poorer sections of the population, using mobile banking, UPI (Unified Payment Interface) and other means. As India progresses in prosperity and connectivity, there will be an onus on future schools to reach out to the less privileged and give them a boost. 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 program 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 for 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: More time outside classrooms
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 the 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. Whether through the medium 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. Perhaps 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
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.
Entrepreneurship is linked with the starting your venture--this is a great myth. I have come across dynamic CEOs who have far more entrepreneurial mindset 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 believe this cannot be taught but needs to be nurtured over the period of time. This nurturing process must start from early days. For this, the ambience of the school and how they teach will play a major role.
I happened to share this perspective with some of my entrepreneur friends, many of whom have an interest in education. Interestingly, it reached the ears of a distinguished group of people including successful entrepreneur, alumnus of IIT/IIM/AIIMS, IAS and army professionals, who were actually in the process of opening a school. They have incorporated my thinking into their vision.
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