There is a growing awareness among education researchers and practitioners on the need to evolve today’s education system to meet tomorrow’s demands. Beyond just the provision of tools and technology, it is also important to help our students develop skills that can help them ethically navigate the digital age and overcome the challenges of living in a global society. The guest editors of this issue of SingTeach share some possible changes in education and shed some light on the increasing importance of inculcating greater social consciousness in our learners to meet the challenges of the future.
New technologies and approaches to education, like artificial intelligence (AI) and Science of Learning, have the potential to transform teaching and learning. However, to fully transform educational practice also requires changes in mindsets and school cultures.
“The future of education will continue to be about meaning-making,” says Associate Professor Mark Baildon, who is Associate Dean with the Office of Education Research (OER) at NIE. “And the advent of new technologies and neuroscience research in education today must be accompanied by new ways of thinking about education. As educators, we must think about the ways we can further enable teachers and students to learn in ways that are deeper, more meaningful and more personal while contributing to the well-being of society.”
So how might technology and neuroscience research enable that, and what changes exactly will these bring about in our future classrooms?
Science of Learning in Education
The all too common one-size-fits-all traditional approach to teaching and learning is a thing of the past. Moving forward, imagine teachers being able to confidently meet the needs of all learners.
“It remains an educational priority to ensure that students with individual learning differences are provided with the necessary assistance as much as possible to help them thrive during their schooling years,” explains Dr Dennis Kwek, also Associate Dean at OER. “This is where Science of Learning can help.”
In a nutshell, Science of Learning in the context of education is the combination of brain sciences and classroom research. “It is an evidence-based approach to teaching and learning,” Mark adds.
Science of Learning is an approach that recognizes the importance of cross-fertilization of ideas across different fields of study. In particular, it involves the combination of neuroscience and education research to help teachers and school leaders make more informed education-related decisions involving the learner to enhance his or her schooling experience.
“It provides teachers with insights into their students’ learning and also serves as a tool for reflective teaching in a way that allows teachers to think deeper about how their students learn best and the areas that need improvement,” Mark explains.
While the intention of Science of Learning, through combining different fields of research, is to understand why students learn a certain way and how teachers can appropriately intervene to maximize their learning, Mark and Dennis note that there is one more concept of the tech future that can further facilitate and enhance this entire education process.
Artificial Intelligence in the Classrooms of Tomorrow
Much like the idea behind Science of Learning, AI in the context of education focuses on three core areas – students, teachers and processes – through the gathering and analysing of big data.
“In terms of learning, AI can help create a personalized form of learning experience for students based on their individual needs,” Dennis shares. “When it comes to teaching, on the other hand, AI can help teachers customize curriculum through processing big data. This in turn allows teachers to better their teaching practices.”
Beyond teaching and learning, AI can also reduce teachers’ administrative workload such as marking and certain decision-making. However, Mark cautions that it is crucial that teachers are involved in the design of these AI approaches to ensure that the main objective of AI is constantly met – to serve students’ learning.
“In the use of AI in education, we must always remind ourselves that the goal is to support teaching and learning,” Mark says. “The data collected should not be weaponized against individuals or used as a sorting mechanism to classify students into particular kinds of groups.”
This means that it is increasingly crucial for both educators and learners to understand the risks associated with technologies. According to Dennis, one way around this is to frequently infuse discussion on ethics and social consciousness in the classroom.
“In the use of AI in education, we must always remind ourselves that the goal is to support teaching and learning. The data collected should not be weaponized against individuals or used as a sorting mechanism to classify students into particular kinds of groups.”
– Mark emphasizes that we should be socially responsible users of technology
Social Consciousness in the Digital Age
“Technology has inadvertently transformed the way we live, work, play and think. It is also technology that has created a growing need for us to ensure that our students remain on track in terms of their values,” Dennis shares.
While technology will continuously transform the way teachers teach and how students learn as it progresses, he opines that one’s values should remain a constant throughout one’s life.
“It is important that teachers discuss with their students about how technologies can impact lives in both positive and negative ways,” Mark adds. “So the connecting thread with AI is literacy and inquiry to foster critical thinking and the deliberation of values such as responsible decision-making and greater social awareness.”
This means that the future will bring about an increasing importance on subjects such as Literature and the need to educate students about pressing societal and global issues. Largely focusing on helping students to develop empathy and the ability to think critically and have multiple perspectives on issues that affect them, Mark feels that exposing students to Literature and Humanities subjects can benefit them in the digital age.
“Literature can definitely help students to think about the ethics behind certain choices that we make,” he says. More than just that, however, both Mark and Dennis also believe that all the other subjects also have the potential to open learners’ eyes to the world around them.
“In Math, students are exposed to logic, symmetry and rules that exist around them. In Chemistry, students are exposed to the nature of interactions of certain compounds, leading to a greater understanding of nature itself,” Dennis shares.
Education will, by and large, continue to be about more than just equipping students with the hard skills required to navigate the digital age. As Mark simply puts it: “As educators and as citizens, we need to take greater responsibility for the kinds of futures we create – futures that might ultimately be more meaningful, just, sustainable and satisfying.”