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The future belongs to flexible approaches to education

Flexible Approaches

Guest writer Neil Bunting, Founding Principal of Shenwai Longgang International School (SLIS), Shenzhen, China argues that the term curriculum is very old-fashioned and will become increasingly irrelevant.

Curriculum in the future will – I believe– focus much more on the process of learning rather than the product. By the product, I mean examinations, coursework, E-assessment, and other ways of assessing students’ knowledge. I also think subject distinctions will become, if not obsolete, less and less important. The natural process of applying learning to real life means integration of subjects will be the normal way to go.

The role of the teacher is changing and will have changed irrevocably by 2026. The word ‘teaching’ will be largely redundant as we talk all the time about facilitating and learning. Teachers – with a new title – will remain in their jobs. As the saying goes, if you can train a robot to do your job you shouldn’t be in teaching, and you absolutely cannot train a machine to develop the teacher’s skill set.

Skills will remain important, particularly life skills and soft skills, such as the IB Learner Profile attributes and attitudes. Indeed, these attributes will expand further to reflect the innate curiosity that education will ever increasingly look to cultivate. This focus- I think – is not new, indeed Leonardo Da Vinci displayed these holistic approaches to learning (ATLS) – as the IB terms them, in his life and work, more than five hundred years ago.

Finished products – such as examinations and degrees with only one, discrete, subject of study, do not accurately reflect the needs of learners now, let alone in 2026, indeed, the term curriculum is very old-fashioned and will become increasingly irrelevant. There will remain a place for these out-of-date approaches to checking student recall, memorisation and ability to learn for an examination, but they don’t represent all that is needed anymore.

I believe there will be a diversity of smaller alternative brands of education systems, which will be good for the market and ultimately the learners.

As people move globally they will witness better examples and be dissatisfied with national systems. They will inevitably return home wanting their children to benefit from the new opportunities but to return the culture they were brought up with too. They will open their own international schools and want advanced, relevant and flexible approaches to learning that equip their children for what is required to work and reflect contemporary life.

Instead, education will deal with more and more flexible approaches to learning because people will be transitioning more and more into their jobs. Working in a multitude of places for short stints and virtual and portable approaches will be crucial and inevitable. Including an opportunity for:

  • Multiple grade classes
  • The technology used in a malleable way outside of classrooms
  • More and more STEM/ STEAM and trans-disciplinary / interdisciplinary integrated learning models.
  • Skype classrooms as a normal integrated part of teaching.
  • Flipped classrooms

What’s more -alongside the vast and varied use of technological devices and opportunities for classrooms to be beamed across the world for people to study in remote areas where educators don’t want to live and people want to learn – such as areas of great poverty war, political oppression and social unrest – there will be a backlash to the rampant and inevitable development of technology.

The backlash will involve, not rejection, but finding antidotes, or cures, for device addiction, and the mental (ill) health coming out of the excessive use, particularly for teenagers. Soft skills, emotional and cultural intelligence – with a continued fascination for cultivating new languages will take centre stage in education. Devices will enable people to learn new languages easily not just translate them. There will be a bigger and bigger move for the preservation of language and culture, alongside the maintenance of the natural environment and ecology will dominate young people’s thinking. No one, in the world of work, will do a fixed job for long and education will reflect the need to adapt and apply a multitude of skills in any given situation.

There will be a big push to eco-friendly considerations in transport: a return to bicycles and e-bikes, as well as mass forms of environmentally friendly transport. The school runs by car will become increasingly banned and the ‘drive’ will be for people to walk or cycle to school, or to bring the school (virtually) to them.

I think another crucial factor will be building learners understanding of the new truths in the age of Fake News and, as learners work integrated with technology, developing their understanding of how to analyse information for accuracy. Alongside that will be a crucial need to make religious education and appreciation – in the broadest sense – part of the education process to nurture tolerance and understanding.

Finally, and no less important and interrelated with everything else, to encourage social, emotional and physical stability, will be the role of education to develop future leaders. The old-fashioned idea in schools that you have leaders only in High/Senior School will be outdated by models where the youngest learners are educated and impassioned about advocacy, voice and choice. By the time students graduate – and again that process of graduation and attending university may change –they will be equipped to cope with everything that the world will throw at them and they will have developed the skills of self-organisation, how to articulate and communicate and they will be very accustomed to individually tailored paths of education that have taught them a whole host of skills and techniques for contributing to the world. Learners won’t think so individually, they will be accustomed to linking their ideas and sharing. This is a very idealistic and optimistic prospect for future learning.

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