This year’s COBIS conference in London was a fascinating one – with the theme of a vision for international education in 2030, we tried to look forward and consider the future for your pupils. It is impossible to imagine the technology that will be available in just one year, such is the rate of change in this field, let alone more than a decade, but we had a good stab at it!
One key feature was the possible use and importance of artificial intelligence (AI) in education. AI is something that I was aware of, but not exactly familiar with and I now feel better educated about it. We know that when we use technology algorithms are constantly recording our choices and that data banks are filling up to make a clear image of us as users. Several of the conference presenters shared with us their innovative uses of AI, specifically in pupil assessment (adaptive online tests for example) and programmes that can target pupils’ individual needs and support on a very personalised level. Such applications could be extremely powerful in supporting every learner to have a truly personalised learning experience, and, perhaps more importantly, to create data and outputs for teachers so that they can intervene and assist pupils in a much more targeted way. I found myself considering how this might shape our reporting and communication process with parents, creating a real-time picture with incredible clarity that might allow us to support every child to reach their potential even more effectively.
Alongside these uses of technology, of course we have to consider the role of the teacher – and whether robots could replace us in the future. A fascinating presentation by Andreas Schleicher from the OECD had us considering skills for the future, and the likely shift in employment trends as more mechanisation and technology replace the human work force in this digital revolution. A frightening thought perhaps, but we found ourselves reassured that this is unlikely in all employment sectors. Robots and AI, it seems, might be artificially intelligent and able to learn, but they cannot adopt the complexities of human emotions and relationships, and hence when looking at jobs that are likely to be replaced by robots in the future, teaching comes way down at the bottom of the list. We all heaved a sigh of relief.
Of course, with the increase in use of technology, the importance of human relationships and personal (face-to-face) interaction could not be more important and one of our keynote speakers, Prof Tanya Byron, a clinical psychologist reminded us of the huge importance of mental health and wellbeing in schools. This was the second time I had heard Prof Byron speak and she was just as fresh and clear as before. Her message to help us develop resilience in our children was clear – ‘let them climb trees’ she said – and, crucially, let them fall out of a tree every now and again. This will help them to be strong adolescents and young adults, and much less likely to suffer poor mental health. As we develop and launch our own mental health and wellbeing initiative, We Care, here in school, this message could not be more important.
The closing speaker was the executive chairman of the Eden Project, a phenomenal ecological project in Cornwall, south west England. If you do not know the Eden Project, I recommend it as a wonderful vision for the future and well worth the long train journey from London next time you are in the UK. The project was born form the restoration of a former clay china pit and is a huge visitor attraction, research hub and leader of environmental thinking globally. Sit Tim Smit, the CEO, is not a scientist in fact, but an anthropologist and a very British polymath and thinker. He encouraged us to consider the world in 2030, not just form an environmental standpoint, but also in terms of the political and social situation that we find ourselves in. With so much change on so many agendas globally, and with such uncertainty around some key issues for the future, looking for big ideas and joined up thinking from multi-disciplines has perhaps never been more important.
I came away from the conference feeling refreshed and optimistic about the future for our children – and reassured that much of what we are doing at St. Paul’s is heading us in the right direction.
You can read more about the conference programme and speakers here: https://www.cobis.org.uk/cpd/annualconference