Transformative Societal Change: Will schools even be relevant?


(Photo by Jens Johnsson on Unsplash)

We are at the cusp of a wave of transformative societal change, in which traditional boundaries become blurred. Augmented and virtual realities are moving into the mainstream, AI already permeates most aspects of our daily lives, human intelligence is being extended through integration with technology, and the implications for society, work, learning and wellbeing cannot be overstated.

On the one hand, massive potential exists. It's a fluid and changing world, in which participation can be negotiated and adapted according to the needs of particular groups - they can participate on their own terms. Traditionally marginalised groups are finding a voice, solidarity can be found, along with possibility.

On the other hand, the blurring of traditional boundaries can cause confusion: human/machine, reality/virtual reality, inclusivity/exclusive identities, structured/fluid. The rate of change will only increase - how are we going to figure it out? Does this mean total upheaval for how societies are organised? Can schools and education systems keep up? Will they even be relevant?

Today we're looking at how things are changing, how things might change, and what this means for how people learn in schools, work and life. We start with a New York Times article that looks at the huge scope of developing possibilities for humanity, and asks two questions:

  1. How should we negotiate this dauntingly large space of human possibility?

  2. What costs are we willing to tolerate along the way?

Practically speaking, with so many potential ways of 'being' (virtual and non-virtual) emerging, which one is for us? Ethically, what costs and inequalities emerge? What are the implications for rule of law? Can it evolve quickly enough? Will law, education and social policy lag behind? If so, what happens next?

Next up is a long but very interesting read from Dan Wang, who looks at the nature of technology, how it grows, and the importance of process knowledge along with definite optimism. Briefly, Wang argues that process knowledge, or the knowledge of how to develop, sustain and grow technology is essential must be preserved and recirculated at risk of it becoming lost. History is littered with examples of technologies that have been lost and can not now be replicated (think Greek fire, ancient building techniques etc.), because our understanding of the process has been lost. The argument goes that we can't allow that to happen, and highlights the example of the Ise Grand Shrine in Japan, which has been torn down and rebuilt every 20 years for 1200 years? Why? So the process knowledge is not lost.

Wang also argues that technological innovation and growth rely on optimism and people with the right priorities. We need to be excited and think about human and technological potential, along with people learning how to think in terms of systems and networks. Interesting!

What will the year 2050 look like for humankind? Yuval Noah Harari shares three major trends that he thinks will be a major part of the human experience:

1. Change is the only constant. In the past, humans who lived in 1950 knew that five years in the future might be a little different, but that things would look and go on pretty much the same as they usually. In 2050, that won't be the case. In such a world more information is not the solution, but teaching people how to make sense of the overwhelming amounts of information they will receive. It's already happening.

2. The heat is on. We have no idea what skills humans will need in 2050, and that the traditional approach to teaching predetermined skills such as coding is already redundant. Some think that the 'the four Cs' of critical thinking, creativity, collaboration and communication will be key. Humans will need the ability to deal with change, learn new things and maintain the mental resilience to cope. The idea of what is means to be human will probably be radically different and constantly changing: gender fluidity, migration to cyberspace, technological implants, relying of AR and VR to perceive the world and using algorithms to help make sense of everything. Lifespans may be radically longer.

3. Hacking humans. Biotechnology is expanding massively - we know this. Is your very being an operating system that's ready to be hacked and upgraded? Can algorithms help you think faster and more efficiently?

Harari cautions that any attempt to accurately predict the future must be treated carefully, and no-one can predict what will happen with certainty. However is does appear certain that change will be vast and rapid, and we need to be ready to learn how to cope.

How will schools adapt? Will they even exist?

Thank you for following us this week. We welcome any and all feedback on this new weekly format, and please contact me with any questions or suggestions you have.

Sean


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