Is There A Role For Schools in the Future?

This week’s readings have again caused me to wonder what the current goal of education is and what the future goal should be.  We can quote that we are preparing students for the future, yet we have no idea what that future will look like or what skills will be valued.  Even our own jobs as teachers threaten to change dramatically in response to technology.  Is there even a need for teachers anymore?  Or schools for that fact?  This has lead me to question what the role of school is in society.

Schools perform a variety of functions including training students to follow the spoken and unspoken norms of society.  Much of this “training” is based on the behaviourist learning theory as summarized in the article by Saul McLeod.  Essentially much of the ways schools are structured and function is based on the behaviourist perspective.  From the beginning, we model proper behavior, provide positive rewards when students comply with expectations and negative feedback when they do not comply.  Students who do not sit in their desks are provided with negative feedback.  Students who put up their hands to answer questions are provided with positive feedback.  Schools create this social environment where students are exposed to a variety of peers and instructors with whom they can chose to model their own behavior after.

Photo Credit:  Pixabay  Licence:  CCO Public Domain
Photo Credit: Pixabay Licence: CCO Public Domain

Schools also perform functions based on the cognitive perspective.  We directly or indirectly teach students content with the primary goal being that they will transfer this content from short term memory into long term memory.  Once in long term memory, the information will be available for students to retrieve as needed.  This is occurs when we ask students to learn spelling words, times tables, memorize information for a test, and recall facts at later times. Our curriculums are based on the idea that information learned in the previous year is stored in the long term memory of students and can be recalled and built upon in the next year.

Photo by:  Pluke Licence: CCO 1.0 Public Domain
Photo by: Pluke Licence: CCO 1.0 Public Domain

Schools additionally perform functions based on the constructivist learning theory.  Constructivism is essentially the idea that students come to your class with a wide range of experiences and knowledge.  The goal of education is to access the current knowledge the individual student has and to provide opportunities to build upon that knowledge.  Information is stored by students making connections in their minds between pre-existing knowledge and new knowledge.  We incorporate constructivist perspectives when we assess student’s prior knowledge and try to provide experiences and connections that are relevant to the learner.  We also support this by including inquiry, problem-based learning and providing independent learning opportunities.

Photo by: Tom Burke  Source:  Flickr  Licence under:  Creative Commons Attribution 2.0
Photo by: Tom Burke Source: Flickr Licence under: Creative Commons Attribution 2.0

The article by George Siemens provided an alternative perspective – connectivism.  This is the idea that perhaps learning is not (or does not have to be) within the constructs of one persons’ mind, but could occur within a person’s social network.  Learning could be the result of diverse perspectives coming together to create a solution.    I thought this article raised many interesting points about whether it really is knowledge that is important or simply the rapid evaluation of knowledge that is the current skill.

So what do these perspectives mean for 21st Century education?  Today’s learners are different.  Students come into my science classroom with a wide range of random knowledge and experience made possible by the learning they have already accessed using technology.  In an ideal classroom, I would be able to adapt individual lessons for each student based on their knowledge base, need and interest.  This is how I informally educate my four year old.  The only difference is that this becomes a daunting task when you try to teach 30 students.  This is what makes today’s education so difficult. We have good intentions, but we are still trying to educate mass amounts of students in the most efficient time.  The system is still set up to focus on quantity rather than quality.

Does this mean the answer lies in deschooling or unschooling?  Or creating rhizomatic learning experiences?  Perhaps Personal Learning Environments or tapping into student learning success in participatory culture?

I do not think the answer is to replace our current education system as society still requires many of the functions it serves, but I do think there exists much opportunity for creating these online experiences for our students where they are sharing, evaluating, participating, and publishing information.  The video on the grade 7’s PLE is a model that could be incorporated at many grade levels. There still exists a need for schools to teach students the skills they will need to be successful in these online communities.  They cannot share, evaluate, participate, or publish until they possess basic literacy skills.  Teachers can also bring real-life experiences into the classroom and expose students to information they never anticipated they would have any interest in.

Perhaps it is not time to move towards unschooling, but we do need to adapt our education system to the unknown future needs of society.  We need to start creating curriculums that are flexible and based on the understanding that knowledge is rapidly changing.  We also need to trust that teachers will create meaningful learning experiences for student if given the freedom to do so.

These are some of my perspective on the direction of education.  What are yours?


4 thoughts on “Is There A Role For Schools in the Future?

  1. I often wonder about our future careers and what they will look like. It seems that you can find just about anything on the internet these days. Teaching high school math I often hear students say I was watching this Youtube video and it showed how to do this question this way. Sometimes it is accurate, other times it is not. I guess that answers one of the questions I have about our careers. Although there is loads of information on the internet some of it is not truthful or accurate. Without teachers guiding students and helping them along the way, how are they supposed to know whether or not the information they find is correct. I had often wondered if there will still be teaching jobs with all the information available, but I believe there will always be a demand for teachers. I do believe that our jobs will change as we move forward. In some ways I feel like we may have more of a facilitator role than a teaching role. Students will be free to choose what they want to learn and how they want to learn and we will help them along the way. That being said there is still a lot of things that students need to learn like reading, writing, math, communicating etc that teachers will have to teach.


  2. […] Ashley’s blog, especially the idea of unschooling by Callie Vandeweil, led me towards reflecting on the way that students learn.  Students can learn in a multitude of ways – and I agree with Ashley – we should not get rid of the traditional school but as facilitators we can do just that – facilitate the way that students learn.  By allowing our students to become responsible digital citizens, and to learn effectively, we are only opening up the doors to the students own learning experiences.  Especially in the classrooms of today, where we may have 4 different curriculum’s to teach (modified, adapted, regular, alternative) – teaching our students to learn digitally and to be good digital citizens with the teacher being the vessel facilitating the learning will/may allow for a deeper understanding and supportive learning of the content material if we allow the students to take the lead of their learning and assessments.  Jennifer posted a great site to our google plus community, Digital Citizenship, which explains the importance of allowing our students to become literate digital citizens within our classrooms. Cultural Anthropologist, Mimi Ito – hit the nail on the head when she stated that our current educational practices are missing the piece of supporting engagement in learning via “geeking out” through social media and digital citizenship and proactively engage students.  We must break through the idea that the internet is a hostile place to learn, and teach our students that there are many opportunities to engage and learn effectively, and as educators we must give students equal access to on-line learning communities in a safe place (classroom) and teach them the responsibilities of on-line learning. […]


  3. Great post!…. you have derailed my thinking as I was finding my way through the course readings and caused me to dig a little deeper to challenge my own perspectives. I am at the end of my course route in completing my MEd. and feel like I am just beginning my learning because of EC&I 832. My role as a teacher has change over the last 10 years and in many ways I have failed to adapt with it. I embraced technology but have failed to follow through and keep up with the ways to guide student learning in the digital world. A course like this needs to be mandatory at the undergrad level (maybe it already is?) so that pre-service teachers aren’t afraid to allow learning to look a little different in their classroom (fear has always held me back) as well as do our students justice by teaching them to use their skills and access in a responsible way.
    I don’t think school will ever cease to exist but I do think that the way education is delivered most definitely has, will continue to and should.


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