On the 30th April 1993, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN) announced that the worldwide web would be open and free for all. The world had changed forever, most people just hadn’t realised it yet. Humanity rapidly moved from an era where information was printed on pages that had to be bought (or borrowed) or passed by word of mouth, to an era where almost all of the information humanity has ever known could be found on a screen that fits in your pocket. How has this affected education across the globe?
In 1993 classrooms were filled with children sitting in rows, dressed in uniform, receiving information from a teacher writing on a blackboard or from books they were given to read.
Fast forward 26 years and you will see classrooms filled with children using tablets and iPads, working together in groups, spending time in laboratories and computing suites, participating in outdoor learning and interacting with their teachers and classmates on smartboards.
The classrooms are filling up with new and innovative technologies and children are able to take ownership of their learning like never before. Knowledge used to be reserved in books only accessible to a few. Now information is becoming accessible to all. Education is adapting to, and embracing, exciting modern innovation. We are listening to John Dewey who said:
If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow
We are trying desperately not to rob our young people of tomorrow. Schools and educational institutes all over the planet are trying to equip students with the knowledge and skills needed to succeed in today’s workplace. This isn’t just happening in traditional education institutes. There is a noticeable appearance of less traditional education providers.
Space agencies, tech giants and private industry players all seem to be waking up to the fact that they rely on a STEM literate, knowledge-based society. The biggest players in the private and public sectors are pouring resources into education. Apple, Google and Microsoft all have their own classroom platforms, NASA have just announced their budget for their newly named STEM Engagement department will be $110 million and more and more companies are investing in STEM ambassadors and educational projects and challenges around the world.
In parallel, we are seeing a paradigm shift in educational policy in the Western world. There has been some resistance to the changes; some teachers are unconfident in teaching with new technologies they are not familiar with, some teachers believe that the way they were taught was the best way. However, these ideas pale to insignificance beside the growing movement of progressive educators who have realised the importance of radical change within education systems. Computer science is taking a more prominent curricular role, iPads and tablets are becoming typical in classrooms, augmented and virtual reality could soon be a commonplace teaching tool and, perhaps most importantly, conscious efforts to address equality and diversity issues within STEM subjects are removing barriers that have prevented many from pursuing careers in this field.
All of this will increase the talent pool of enthusiastic forward-thinking students. It is in the interest of humanity to provide young people with the best education possible. These students will be the ones providing the ideas and technology that will expand human frontiers and allow us to step foot on other planets. These students will be the ones to find solutions to the ever-growing threats presented by climate change. These students will be the ones to lead nations into a hopeful future of peace, prosperity and unity.
The momentum driving these changes is increasing and there is real, tangible change happening. The STEM fields are no longer exclusive clubs for the learned man. This is an incredibly exciting time for all involved in education and for everyone interested in the success of our future generations.