"The best of the many books on the future of schools that I have read"
Peter Twining reviews Keri Facer's Learning Futures: Education, technology and social change
Many people recognise that current education systems are not meeting the needs of individuals and ‘society', and many books have been written about the future of education. The dominant discourse within most of these starts from the premise that new technologies have transformed the world (outside school), creating a global economy.
Within this discourse the role of schools is portrayed as being to prepare young people for this rapidly changing ‘knowledge age' by developing their ‘21st century skills', including communication, collaboration, learning to learn, and high levels of IT competence.
In ‘Learning Futures' Keri Facer describes this discourse as ‘the myth of the future', which she argues very persuasively is fundamentally flawed.
Her background - as a researcher in the field of ‘educational ICT' and as the research director at FutureLab - means that Keri Facer is well informed about new technologies and education, and can draw upon a wealth of practical and theoretical evidence to illustrate her arguments. Rather than being driven by a determinist (yet alone a technological determinist) view of the future, Keri suggests that schools should be reconceptualised as ‘powerful prefigurative spaces' within which communities can imagine, discuss and start to build the futures that they would like to have.
The nine assumptions about socio-technical change which underpin Keri's arguments give a feel for the richness of the book (adapted from pp.11-14):
- Significantly increased computing power will be available at significantly reduced cost, available on demand.
- There will be a shift towards ubiquitous computing and the merging of digital and physical artefacts.
- Rich audio-visual communications allowing easy communication at a distance will become taken for granted by the large majority of people.
- We will increasingly take it for granted that we are working and living alongside increasingly sophisticated machines.
- Networks will remain an important metaphor for personal, social and institutional capital.
- Biosciences will produce unpredictable breakthroughs but important new stories about ourselves.
- Population is ageing globally.
- Energy, mineral resources and climate warming will remain significant issues.
- We are starting from a base of radical national and global inequalities.
Like many books on the future of education, this one includes a chapter in which a vision for a school of the future is presented. Such visions are usually an anticlimax, often being simplistic, vague and/or unrealistic. Not so in this case.
The vision, which is deliberately set out as a starting point for further discussion, provides a clear description of a "future-building school" that reflects the rich understandings of society, technologies and education systems explored in the previous chapters. Even more unusually for books of this kind the final chapter focuses on how such a vision might be made a reality.
Without doubt this is the best of the many books on the future of schools that I have read. It challenges conventional thinking about "21st century schools" and opens up new avenues for thinking about the futures of education that we might want.
Learning Futures: Education, technology and social change
By Keri Facer, published by Routledge
Peter Twining is director of Vital and senior lecturer at the Open University