Editor’s Note: The children beginning kindergarten this fall will graduate high school in 2033. This blog series will extend over the same period of time, tracking along with this class. The various contributors will offer ideas, commentary, and prognostications related to this class’s educational journey and the world they will need to be prepared to step into after graduation.
In recent years, K-12 education has been in the midst of monumental change. From student-directed learning and flipped classrooms to an emphasis on emotional intelligence, education has been reshaped in the past decade to a degree it arguably never has been before. This has been an exciting and promising, if at times hyperbolic, period for all of us in the education arena.
And then COVID-19 arrived.
All of a sudden, the speed and intensity of educational change and emerging best practices has been supercharged. COVID forced into actual practice a host of approaches and ways of thinking that were largely theoretical or experimental for most. The effects of this rapid transformation cannot be undone; the genie cannot be put back into the bottle. Nor should it.
As a result, the Class of 2033 will experience education in a dramatically different manner than those who traveled through all or some of their K-12 years in the pre-COVID era. This will largely be to the benefit of the Class of 2033 — though their educational experience will not be without its own challenges.
Virtual Learning: Here to Stay. For Good.
What COVID has made abundantly clear is that online and distant learning can work. Yes, there are issues to be worked through: some technical, some pedagogical and some social-emotional. But COVID has all but proven that something of utmost value is not a pipe dream: A world-class education can be made available to anyone with an internet connection!
Just as students don’t need to be in the classroom to learn, teachers don’t need to be in the classroom to teach. The Class of 2033 will almost certainly be taught by some teachers from other parts of the country, if not the world. These teachers will appear via pre-recorded videos, live virtual sessions and likely even as holograms. The most captivating teachers—meaning those with that powerful combination of excellent presentation skills and top-flight subject matter expertise—can teach countless kids, no matter where they live.
The New Math of Education Economics
This and other trends will mean that the behind-the-scenes finances at schools and school districts will also be different for the Class of 2033. For example, thanks to the aforementioned approach to teaching, not every school or district will need a teacher for every subject and grade level. They will likely have the opportunity to subscribe to services that provide online-delivered teachers and supporting curriculums. In addition, districts can offer the lessons of their stellar teachers to others around the country and globe, generating income.
Some of the funds saved — and earned — from this sort of approach could help raise salaries for those educators focused on the critical work of on-site teaching and guiding and motivating students toward their very best work. This approach is particularly attractive — if not downright necessary — given the pending teacher shortage projected in many areas of the U.S. In fact, we envision the possibility of “mega-districts” in the next decade or so in which two or more combine for cost savings and other benefits.
The Virtual Needs the Physical
We at SHP believe that the Class of 2033 will continue to make use of physical schools. We don’t foresee a situation where everyone is learning from home and schools are razed to make room for other buildings. We don’t believe we have our heads in the sand about this just because we’re school architects. There will remain a need for physical schools where kids can engage in hands-on and team-based learning, and, of course, participate in those social functions and sporting activities that provide important lessons and growth opportunities of their own.
In fact, one of the biggest, if not the biggest, educational issues in recent years has been the emphasis on social-emotional learning. With the rise of AI and robots — some futurists predict service robots will number 1 billion by 2034 — soft skills will become increasingly crucial for those who hope to do what smart machines cannot.
While the Class of 2033 will certainly benefit from the shot of adrenaline that COVID-19 injected into education reform, this is by no means to suggest that they will enjoy some sort of educational Eden. If only. Big challenges — including those we have yet even imagine — no doubt await. For instance, as education changes and many kids spend less time at school, how will those who must rely on school meals manage? Is it possible that other institutions or organizations will take over this responsibility? How will other aspects of school funding change? Can we ensure that education becomes more equitable and that it lessens, rather than intensifies, the gap between the haves and have-nots?
And perhaps most importantly, how will we set the Class of 2033 up for lifelong learning—which is going to be absolutely imperative to their long-term success and fulfillment? It will require a cooperative effort between education and business to a degree we have yet to see. In his book released just a few weeks ago, “Human Work In the Age of Smart Machines,” education guru Jamie Merisotis, puts it so well: “The worlds of work and learning area merging into a single system based on continuous learning and credentials whose meanings are clear and transparent.” We have a lot to figure out
This much is certain: The Class of 2033 is in for quite the ride. We look forward to sharing our thoughts—as well as those of others—about how as a society we can make sure that the ride is not only thrilling but leads to human flourishing for all.