The future of education

I've been an educator for over 15 years now and have had most of my experience working in China where a population of over 1.3 billion puts tremendous pressure on academic performance. Chinese students go to school 5 to 6 days per week depending on their grade, and fill-in the rest of their schedule with countless after-school courses. It's not strange to find a 2nd or 3rd grader attending an extra 6 courses on a weekly basis; math. Chinese, English,.piano, dance, chemistry, and physics are among the most popular, although other less-traditional courses such as horse-riding, ice-jockey and football are gaining popularity.

Chinese homes are quite different from their counterparts elsewhere around the world: there's no play, no TV, iPads or any other form of entertainment that might distract the children from their studies. Any electronic gadget to be found in a Chinese home is for the parents' entertainment alone.  I've tried many times to implement the use of computers, pads and other gadgets in lessons of different subjects unsuccessfully. Parents are very strict and will strongly oppose any form of technology in the classroom. The reasons supporting this to, us draconian attitude towards technology, comes hand in hand with many reasons: screens damage the eyes of children,  the Internet is full of malicious content -  this one is very true, video games cause addiction (and even death as has happened in some "web bars" in China), content is not suitable to the achievement of the academic/career goals in mind, etc.

I constantly complain of the lack of creativity and critical thinking in Chinese education, sacrificed in favor of rote memorization and the application of mechanical methods for problem resolution. My daughter has been a student in China since kindergarten - the things I complain about are deeply rooted in her manner of reasoning. Her math skills are exceptional, and without a doubt very superior to the those of students her same grade in America or South America. The method employed for solving math problems is odd, yet effective; they they are trained to  look for patterns in numbers, equations and word problems. The logic of things we so hard strive to find and follow in western education is often lacking. A correct metaphor to how a Chinese student does things is learning to put together an engine in a factory line without knowing what any of the parts do or how they work in unison to get the car moving. The car gets a perfectly running engine though, and up to a certain point, this is all that should matter.

Extreme academic and social pressure, in addition to learning through mechanical means and endless repetition produce students that do nothing but excel in western universities. This is a fact supported by years of statistics - a Chinese nerd is the stereotype of the top student in any American institution of higher learning. From this a couple of things become apparent here: the necessity of computers and high tech gadgets in schools (or homes) to facilitate learning is a myth, and learning how the nuts and bolts of an engine work in unison does not necessarily precede knowing how to put the engine together.  Creativity an critical  thinking can also be learned.

We might argue that creativity and critical thinking skills are invaluable for the development of any future technologies, but what should concern us here is whether the majority of our students possess the necessary fundamental skills that will enable them to participate in the development of new technologies should they choose to do so. Mr Jobs and Mr (Jack) Ma (Alibaba) might have been incredible visionaries, but their visions would've never turned reality be it not for all those number crunchers and engine builders in the background.

The school of the future does not need computers or pads, except when research is necessary or coding is learned. The school of the future requires more practice and concentration  to achieve content and method mastery. We don't need machines to propose a game or to imagine what things may look like or be able to do. Technology should be adopted only once we have trained our children to make full use of their brains and their natural capacities.