The past year was crucially important for the world to work on building better futures for education as societies found ways to better cope with COVID-19 and schools gradually reopened. At the same time, the world experienced tremendous setbacks, such as global disruptions caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the climate catastrophe in Pakistan, with floods that destroyed or damaged nearly 27,000 schools.
The world approaches 2023 very differently than it did four years ago. We are faced with increasing global challenges: climate catastrophes, pandemics, wars with global repercussions, and the weaponization of false narratives. Our economies and workforces shifted. We no longer feel as global with continued supply chain breakdowns. We work increasingly remotely. We are rethinking the designs of our cities. And we embraced distance learning.
So, what about distance education?
At a global level, we failed. These global challenges presented an opportunity to reinvent how we learn, teach, and share knowledge with one another. Where we could, we turned to technology, thinking it would solve everything. We never really thought about the purposive uses for technologies, however. We weren’t looking at the problem from a pedagogical perspective, we looked at it as an administrative one—somehow it became a management exercise. We were obsessed with what to do with kids, not how to attend to learning.
Flung into digital spaces that are poorly designed for teaching and learning, we expected a miracle without changing any of our core approaches to how we use technology. Not surprisingly, a miracle never happened, and the World Bank, UNESCO, and UNICEF report a net learning loss during the first years of the pandemic period. I would argue the only thing kids do is learn, so the question persists, what did kids learn while schools could not function?
We still have a tremendous opportunity to reinvent education. It’s clear that this should not be a management exercise, but an open, sober conversation—one that invites communities to come together. That means engaging with communities and ensuring they maintained engaged.
Since the start of the pandemic, I pivoted my work toward helping multilateral organizations build a resilient, global recovery. But much work needs to be done yet at the global and national levels. Some highlights from the past year:
At the Meltingpot Forum at the Colours of Ostrava music festival in the Czech Republic, I engaged in two sessions on the future of education. I was honored to be joined by Dr. Daniel Prokop and Dr. Bohumil "Bob" Kartous on stage, where we had provocative conversations, tying together the socioeconomic reality of the country with tough questions on how to approach the future. The backdrop of Ostrava was particularly inspiring as it rapidly transitioned from an industrial mining and chemical production center to one that can thrive in a post-coal, diversified economy. If Ostrava can turn itself around, so can our education systems.
Work in the Czech Republic continued with work financed by the European Union. Dr. María Cristina Martínez Bravo and I performed a meta-analysis of nearly 2,000 academic articles published between January 1, 2020 and Jun 5, 2022 , taking a deep dive into how disruptive technologies are changing the teaching and learning landscape. We identified five key global trends and four scenarios for the future. A key finding, however, is that while the five trends are generally well accepted across a variety of industries, governments still treat them as science fiction when it comes to embracing or adapting these trends in education. An English-language report will be published late in 2023, but you can view my presentation of our findings at the FutureEdu conference in Prague from September 2022:
María Cristina and I then brought the conversation to Quito, Ecuador to share our global findings with ProFuturo’s EnlightED event (Fundación Telefónica Movistar). We were graced to be joined by Dr. Alejandro Pisanty, who as one of the fathers of the Internet, provided insight and clarity on the hopes and dreams of what networking protocols can provide for learning. He argued, “applying technology to respond to social emergencies is costless,” but we must be aware of the limits of what technologies can and cannot do.
After a return flight to Minneapolis, I had just enough time to change my socks before heading back to South America—but this time to Buenos Aires for the 3rd Congress on Digital Education, organized by the city and UNESCO. Joined by hundreds of teachers from Argentina, I again shared the findings of our global study and made an argument that the future indeed belongs to nerds, geeks, makers, dreamers, and knowmads.
Engaging with communities through action research remains a priority. To this end, Education Futures has engaged in a partnership with the development firm, Quantica, to build a new research tool to aid in data collection, reporting, and building collective capacities to create change. An announcement on this Knowmad Café tool is coming soon in 2023, together with several field deployments in large municipalities, and availability for researchers. Stay tuned!