We are so used to talking about technology and artificial intelligence that we don't talk much about everyday things: what will we eat, how will we sleep and how will we teach our children in the middle of the 21st century?
The American science-fiction writer Charlie Jane Anders encourages us to dream the future to the fullest and imagine everything in the smallest detail: not just our houses on Mars, but how they will be built, the wiring and plumbing, how many floors and what rooms. Not just imagining that robots will be our best friends, but thinking about exactly what they will look like, communicate, what they will wear and what laws we will have to write to regulate their existence and behaviour.
Let's follow Anders' advice and present the various education scenarios - from the most likely to the craziest - in as much detail as possible.
Scenario #1. We will be lifelong learners
The concept of lifelong learning is hardly surprising these days: we continually take courses online, learn new skills in the workplace, and sometimes even change careers completely as adults.
The time we devote to learning is increasing. This is not only because science is becoming more complex and evolving (which means more time is needed to master it), but also because society can allow young people to take longer off work to spend their teenage years studying.
Is there life after university?
Another period that used to be overlooked in relation to education is the rest of one's life after graduation. But in modern society, it is no longer possible to learn something in your youth and then simply use those skills for the rest of your life. The world is constantly changing: new technologies transform the structure of the job market, some professions appear and others become obsolete.
We are now lifelong learners - but the public education system has not yet adapted to this. And there is still a strong stereotype in society that childhood and adolescence are a time for learning and adulthood is only for work.
Perhaps in the future this stereotype will break down and we will all (and not just individual enthusiasts) study for life. Incidentally, this approach is also in line with the latest research in neurobiology.
Modern researchers insist on abandoning the dominant view of education as an 'investment in the future', which must necessarily pay off later, at work. Of course, we often study for practical purposes: we want to use these skills later on, but this is not always the only reason for studying. Sometimes it is an interest or a hobby. A way of having an interesting time, trying something unusual or making new acquaintances.
If we look at education from different perspectives, we see that learning can and should be done at any age - literally at any age. Education at an older age improves mental health, reduces the risk of cognitive impairment, gives rise to new emotions and promotes communication.
In the future, the notion of an age designed for learning is likely to disappear: we will be learning throughout our lives - and the education system will adjust to this need.
Scenario No. 2. No more schools and universities!
Until 2020, online education only complemented offline education. Various courses, learning apps and websites were used either as additional tools in the classroom or to get another, independent from school and university, education.
The pandemic changed a lot and the education system was forced to switch to online: schoolchildren and students all over the world stayed at home, turned on their computers and started studying remotely.
Until 2020, the online education market was growing rapidly (global investment in educational technology reached $18.66 billion in 2019), and now experts believe that a real boom awaits it.
Could we be looking at a future where we are all learning online and offline learning becomes either a relic of the past or, conversely, a luxury available only to the rich? Perhaps. But do not think that online education will make education more accessible. There is a problem of the so-called information inequality: today not every family has access to the internet and personal computers. This problem is part of the global educational inequality (and economic inequality in general), and the pandemic has only exacerbated it.
Poor-quality education in childhood results in an inability to get a better education later in life and, consequently, in a country lacking good professionals. The result is a vicious circle that is difficult to break.
Educational inequality manifests itself at all levels: it concerns families, whole communities and countries. So a boom in online education cannot fundamentally change our society if the problem of inequality is not solved.
More practical training
What if we do something quite radical and do away with the usual schools and universities? Throughout history, most of the time, people have learned by doing, say, children learning to grow plants and harvest crops from their parents' presence. No one needed to study biology or chemistry beforehand.
Philosophers of education observe that the more complex knowledge and sciences become, the greater the distance between the phenomenon and its study: we learn by listening to a teacher and trusting his authority, reading books, solving equations and writing down texts. In philosophy, this problem is particularly acute: philosophers are often criticised for what is known as desk philosophy, when a thinker, without leaving his or her office, reflects on global things that he or she has never encountered.
A similar thing happens all the time in education: we learn many things from books instead of studying them in practice, and our teachers have often never actually encountered what they teach. Why not change that too?
In the mid-twentieth century, an interesting experiment was carried out in some schools in France: there were "snow" and "sea" classes. The teacher would go with the primary school pupils to the mountains or to the sea to relax and at the same time learn about the natural phenomena and history of the area by experiencing it directly. Today's schools and universities have extracurricular activities, but often their main purpose is socialising and relaxing together. Perhaps more education should be added to them: stories about the history and geography of the region, and showing plants in the forest instead of pictures from a textbook.
In the modern Western world, they increasingly abandon lectures and focus on practical teaching methods: ask students to create their own projects, teach each other and conduct experiments. The teacher no longer dryly retells what students can read on Wikipedia, but guides and moderates the learning process.
The end of the state monopoly on education
Already now Elon Musk is setting up his own school right in SpaceX, and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is launching a "Bezos Academy" for children from low-income families. It seems that this trend will only grow and the state will finally lose its monopoly on children's education. Perhaps in the future all self-respecting corporations will establish their own schools and our descendants will find the idea of comprehensive schools hopelessly outdated.
Scenario 3. Choosing the teacher of the future
Another of the likely scenarios for our educational future concerns dreams of how the role of the teacher and the educator will change. After all, while subjects, time, place and methods of learning are all important, the teacher has an equally important role to play in the education process. We are social creatures and we learn through imitation and trust.
About twenty years ago there were discussions about the schools of the future where robots would replace teachers: it seemed that such teachers would provide more information, would be more objective and would not get tired. Nowadays, no one even mentions teachers among the professions that robots will destroy, on the contrary: it is social and helping jobs that are protected from robotization.
Robotics seems to focus on self-driving cars, military drones and sex robots and not at all on education. One reason is that we understand: the teacher's role is not to dryly impart information, but to build a special relationship with learners. And artificial intelligence is still weak in terms of human relationships (but maybe that will change).
The crisis of the teacher figure
Psychologists point out that a strong and charismatic teacher figure is especially important during childhood, when a child not only needs the unconditional, demanding love of parents (when a child is loved just for being there), but also an outsider's perspective. The relationship with the teacher is not the same as with the parents: the teacher is critical, his or her positive evaluation and recognition have yet to be earned. Such a relationship helps a child to develop and not to be afraid to make mistakes, because there is always a reliable rear - parents, who, unlike the teacher, will love "just for fun".
Unfortunately, in today's society, this relationship is often confused: parents criticize and evaluate, and a charismatic teacher... it is good if there is at least one for the whole school or university. Such teachers are remembered and stay with us for life.
Perhaps because of the lack of charismatic teachers and the lack of trust in the education system, more and more parents are taking on the role of mentors: not always teaching some subjects themselves, but hiring tutors and sending their children to various extracurricular courses.
In traditional societies, teachers are elderly, respected and charismatic members of society, wise men to whom one can always turn for advice. Throughout history, becoming a teacher required a long apprenticeship and was considered a prestigious profession. It is no longer so: education has become available to everyone and is no longer something special, elite or prestigious.
Teacher: from facts to method
The majority of people in our society have been educated at school and university and learning new things has never been easier: there is the Internet, all kinds of courses and access to books. In addition, knowledge accumulates more and more rapidly every year, and it is physically impossible for a single person to remember and know everything.
This is why we are now increasingly aware of our need for mentors - someone who will not so much give us specific information (which is about to change anyway), but rather teach us how to handle this information, act in an ever-changing world and think for ourselves.
The lack of this is most acutely felt by today's adults - hence the boom in bloggers, mentors and coaches. We want to learn - it's a basic biological need. In the future, when continuous learning becomes the norm, it seems logical to organise a flexible mentoring system at all levels of work: the same person can be both a mentor for one and a student for another.
Today's education system is still struggling to keep up with these trends and is still focused on the teacher's knowledge of the subject: we need the maths teacher to be great at solving trigonometric equations and the music teacher to know all of Tchaikovsky's works.
But the world has changed: any information can be found on the Internet in seconds, so practical skills, critical thinking and emotional intelligence take centre stage.
In this context, relationship building and emotional intelligence will be among the core competencies of teachers of the future. Teachers of the future are more likely to be performers, coaches and knowledge promoters who, through games, discussions and emotional engagement, generate interest in new knowledge rather than dryly retelling what is already known.
Will artificial intelligence be able to teach?
If artificial intelligence can learn empathy and we can get rid of the sinister valley effect (a robot that looks and acts like a human causes us to fear and dislike rather than sympathise), perhaps we can expect such teachers. In the meantime, we can dream of an artificial intelligence that adapts to our educational needs.
Right now, people are mostly negative about personalised advertising: we know that a social media feed tailored specifically to us is set up to keep us on the site as long as possible, not to teach us anything new.
But what if we were optimistic and imagined a future where personalisation and the ability to hold our attention is used to make us learn more effectively? And then personalised textbooks and assignments await us.
Also, artificial intelligence could identify gaps in our knowledge and personalise course content and books, as some language learning applications already do. And, of course, artificial intelligence could help teachers with administrative tasks and thereby give them more time for creative interaction with students.
So, what kind of future did we get?
There will be no special age for learning: people will learn throughout their lives - and, most importantly, enjoy learning tailored to their interests and needs.
In the education of the people of the future, there will be more practice and links to real work. Educational institutions will transcend the boundaries of specific institutions: our descendants will learn both online and offline, and various companies will begin to graduate their students into the world with respected diplomas.
Personalised educational content and a fully personalised approach await us, as well as (finally!) an emotionally healthy relationship with teachers.