Editor's Note (The View From Here)

Changing Times

People have said it before…education is a continuous process, a process that must change as we do. For students to learn, they need to process information in a way that relates to them. For us to better understand the present and forecast the future, it’s helpful to understand the social factors that shaped the systems of the past.

Agriculture — Prior to the First World War, farmers composed the largest single group in the country. Education was informal, taking place anytime, anywhere. Family provided many of the necessary skills and knowledge. The more advanced skills were learned through apprenticeships. The facilities where learning took place included the home, the church and the one-room schoolhouse. The learning environment was multi-age and multi-disciplinary, with formal education being reserved for the elite.

Industry — As the population shifted from rural to urban, education became institutional. As the family dispersed, social institutions grew and the factory model for schools was born. School buildings mirrored the factory — central corridors, symmetrical classroom wings, egg-crate design. Education reflected the values of the time — conformity, compliance, centralization, standardization. The goal of education was to “finish”.

Knowledge — The “Industrial Age,” born with the steam engine, died with the silicon chip. Unlike the smooth transition of the farmer to a factory job, most factory workers did not possess the qualifications to thrive in this new information-driven age. Education and lifelong learning are at the core of the “knowledge age.” Rather than to finish school, the goal of learning became to acquire access to more knowledge well past the age of formal schooling. In the past, the definition of an educated person was based on their completion of a prescribed knowledge base. Now, an educated person will be someone who has learned how to learn, and continues learning throughout their lifetime.

Technology is an enabler of change for our current generation, allowing education to become customized, personalized, specialized and portable. Technology-enhanced classrooms promote interaction and collaboration. Access to the Internet, distance learning opportunities and BYOD have allowed learning to happen anytime-anywhere. Global competition, jobs and the economy have also been drivers for change, spurring programs in S.T.E.M/S.T.E.A.M., technical/career and adult education. But the real driver for change is the new generation of students. They have been comfortable with technology since an early age, interact on social media, prefer hands-on learning, are entrepreneurial and are the ones changing how change is made.

This article originally appeared in the November 2016 issue of School Planning & Management.

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