RIYADH – Schools have always been a reflection of the societies in which they operate. The birth of the industrial society led to the emergence of the factory model school, with clocks scheduled lessons, standardized tests and national curriculums. Today with the rise of the Networked Society, schools are changing yet again, this time in response to the process of modernization and individualization.
Progressive schools are focusing on integrating ICT into education. For example, there are several programs popping up across the world that provide all students and teachers with a computer – and this has become the norm. Often, students have their own laptops to use both at school and at home. The one on one model is not restricted to laptops. Schools now increasingly favor tablets, especially for use by younger students who find the app-based devices easier to handle.
Even though the mobile phone has been proclaimed the epitome of modern society, there has not been much support for mobile phones in education, at least not in formal educational activities, informally, students and teachers frequently use mobile phones as flexible multipurpose tools – mostly for recording information and communicating, but also for listening to music while working. Whether the school of the future uses laptops, tablets, mobile phones or something in between, the future will demand individualized, mobile, easy-to-use devices.
In the new ICT environment, where mobile devices are more common, a classroom filled with rows of individual desks no longer fulfills any purpose; students carry their mobile work tools around throughout the day. Several of the schools in progressive communities have broken down walls to make large rooms with plenty of lightweight, movable desks and chairs that can be rearranged to suit the needs of each class or group of students.
Work space includes not only physical but also virtual space, extending the classroom through the use of e-mail, social media, search engines and many other open or closed forms of software that allow students to do schoolwork without being restricted to the physical classroom.
The schools of the future will rely heavily on connectivity. As computers are used more frequently, additional control mechanisms, backups and filters will be necessary. Teachers will use ICT to manage, observe, coach, protect and evaluate students. Without stable, high-speed connectivity, many of these tasks will fail. Even in tech-savvy schools connectivity is lost from time to time, forcing teachers to improvise and always have an analog backup plan. The school of the future will require hybrid forms of connectivity, including wireless, fixed and mobile broadband, to meet the need for flexible but reliable high-speed internet access as connectivity will be required even when students are away from schools.
As the work tools used in schools change, the ways of working are also changing. With increased connectivity, information is available anywhere, anytime. This raises questions about the future of textbooks. Although textbooks are still being used in most schools, extensive amounts of schoolwork and lecturing are taking place without them. Textbooks only represent one collected interpretation and presentation of a subject - if students are not satisfied with the explanation provided in a textbook, they use the Internet to search for another perspective on the topic or can now utilize online course materials instead.
Teachers will clearly continue to play a central role in students learning process. However, with new tools and changed ways of working, a new role for teachers is emerging. Teachers will have to accept being more of a “guide by the side,” This does not mean that students are left to learn entirely by themselves, on the contrary, the teacher is more important than ever – not as an all-knowing deity, but rather as an instructor or coach whose wisdom goes beyond mere textbook facts, expanding into the realm of everyday life and including the use of social media channels and other software.
Schools are facing new challenges in their mission to prepare students for their working lives. With the rise of the Networked Society, we are seeing changes in the skills demanded from young people.
Basic skills such as reading, writing and arithmetic will always be important, but integrated technology is creating the need for new, 21st century skills, such as information and ICT literacy. A school that has access to almost unlimited information must teach students how to search for relevant, trustworthy material and how to analyze and understand information in different contexts.
When ICT is successfully integrated into schools, it can help engage and empower students, thus adding value to their education. Building on two fundamental human needs – communication and curiosity – ICT can be used to broaden students’ horizons, enhance their motivation to learn, and prepare them for their working lives in a society characterized by individualism, mobility, and the blurring of boundaries between work and play. By adopting new technology, educators hope to bring about beneficial educational and administrative changes and to better prepare students for their professional lives.
— The writer is the President of Ericsson in the Middle East Region.