Why I’m Scared of the Future of Education

Topics: Education Policy, Future of Learning

When I started at KnowledgeWorks almost a year ago, “strategic foresight” was a new concept to me. I had seen the KnowledgeWorks future forecast and thought through what the future of learning could look like, but my understanding of “forecasting” was limited to the Weather Channel telling me whether it was supposed to rain.

In May, I had the opportunity to learn more about strategic foresight when I took a leap out of my comfort zone and attended the Institute for the Future’s 2015 Ten Year Forecast Retreat. I’ve sat through plenty of conferences discussing how to tweak our education system to push it toward improvement, so trying to wrap my head around the education implications of Application Program Interface (API), block chain, and the seven economies that give structure to our world was mind-bending to say the least.

As much as I wish I could write a clear piece on how the corporate, consumer, creative, collaborative, civic, criminal, and crypto economies are going to be shaping education in 10 years, I still haven’t really wrapped my head around what those words even mean. I highly recommend looking to Katherine Prince’s reflections for deeper insight on the educational implications.

Along with major brain overload, I left the retreat with a revelation that I can fully comprehend and that I hope all involved in education and policy will start to take note of, as well.

First of all, our world is advancing very quickly, and while that can sound a little scary, that kind of fear is misdirected. The real scary idea is that our system of education – and the politics surrounding it – is not innovating even close to quickly enough to keep up with the reality of today, let alone the reality of 2025.

A lot has changed in the education world since 2005, regardless of whether or not we see it when we walk into a classroom. Most, if not all, of the students have always known smart phones, the internet, and social media and probably never had to use those things called Encyclopedias on research papers. There are innovative programs and schools that have popped up in the last 10 years that keep up with the reality of what it means to be prepared for tomorrow’s careers. Students are encouraged to focus on STEM classes to be competitive in the job market.

However, when I flash back to my time in high school, compared to my recent teaching experiences, I don’t see those changes in the education system.

When I walked into my first kindergarten class, an overhead projector was the most advanced piece of technology students could interact with (and by interact with, I mean look at). Students were leaving that K-8 school for high school without knowing how to type, let alone use the internet for research. Sure, my students were learning math and reading, but so were students in the 80s. Technology, progress, and future education’s potential weren’t even an option for my students.

And while there are future-ready schools that are willing to break from tradition to push children’s potential, they are often only available to students from well-off families. Game-changing innovation is happening and technology is advancing exponentially, but for the most part, it is reserved for the privileged and wealthy. Schools similar to the one where I taught are sliding farther and farther from the cusp of innovation.

I’m left frustrated with the system that too many students are being pushed through. As long as education conversations are dominated by the constant fights over the same controversial topics, we stall progress in public education, and the wealthy are able to race ahead with students prepared for the jobs of the future. Without the education community’s investment in the drastic transformation required to prepare all students for the future, education in 2025 looks devastatingly inequitable.

My experience at the IFTF retreat grounded me in the fact that my work in education is not about responding to the squeaky wheel, helping the rich get richer, or creating more stability for those with power. This work has to be about addressing the desperate reality that if our system doesn’t change soon, this country will continue find that the gap between the haves and have-nots will continue to grow until it is insurmountable.