Looking Forward – Education Trends to Watch

Educational technology, student wellbeing, the rise of the virtual classroom and enhancing digital competence is what the future of education looks like.

Photo: Pixabay

Education trends are veering towards being much more tech-related, particularly now with unprecedented world events (at the time of writing) affecting everything from exams and university entrance to how virtual learning is conducted. 

In this rapidly evolving field, new challenges are being resolved in creative ways and methodologies are adapting to the changing needs and wants of educators, students and parents. The future is not so clear-cut anymore but if there is one thing that is sure, it’s that we must create better learning environments and teaching techniques to keep students happy, confident and academically fulfilled. 

Health and wellbeing 
Students today are under far more pressure than their predecessors. Anxiety, depression and stress-related conditions are increasing especially among primary and secondary school students. A national survey of children’s health in America conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that just over 7% of children aged three to 17 have diagnosed anxiety while just over 3% have diagnosed depression. It was also noted that these figures are steadily increasing year on year. As such, schools and educators will be more focused than ever on providing care and solutions to enhance mental and physical wellbeing. 

This includes: 

- Encouraging mindfulness (being present and aware of feelings and thoughts) through sessions before exams, learning calming breathing techniques or even offering yoga and meditation classes. 
- Being and staying connected with school mates, friends and teachers through non-academic activities like after-school clubs or organising a fun event everyone can take part in. 
- Exercise and participating in sports are some of the most effective ways to improve wellbeing. Sports days, competing for the school or learning a new sport is both fun and fulfilling. 
- Lifelong learning and helping others have been proven to improve mental wellbeing. Schools are placing more emphasis on making learning more enjoyable both in and out of the classroom, and promoting activities like mentoring, volunteering and doing charitable deeds.  

There has been a surge of mental and emotional wellness apps and these are particularly suitable for students in secondary school and university. Popular apps include MindShift CBT (based on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy to deal with worry, social anxiety and perfectionism), Beat Panic (designed to guide users through heightened anxiety and panic attacks) and Mind Moose (a web app for younger children to help them manage their worries and fears, and maintain healthy self-esteem and body image). 

Digital competence 
This phrase is being used more than ever and is an important 21st century skill for everyone, particularly for students. Digital competence is the ability to understand and use digital technology for everything from daily problem solving and content creation to communication and digital literacy. 

This may sound like something everyone should know about but there are still segments of the population who do not. According to a survey conducted by the Malaysian Communication and Multimedia Commission (MCMC), there were approximately 27.8 million (87% of the population) Internet users in 2018. Non-users comprised mainly of those above 60 years old, but there were enough people in their 20s, 30s and 40s who were not connected, indicating that the digital competence needed to improve career prospects and cope with daily life is lacking.

This is where schools, teachers and ICT (information and communications technology) come into play. Teachers should have access to platforms and networks offering information and training on how to include digital competence starting from the early years through to secondary school, e.g. teaching coding to primary students using building blocks or even teaching them about online safety and how to spot fake news. 

Autonomous learning 
The classroom itself and teaching methods are changing. Students sitting quietly listening, memorising and not offering input should no longer be the norm. Autonomous learning means learning and developing ideas with minimal teacher guidance. This encourages students to work independently, teaches them to recognise their academic strengths and allows them to follow a fitting schedule of learning. 

This concept is not new and is used a lot in second and foreign language classes. Teachers do still have the essential role of guiding, motivating, creating the systems to facilitate learning, teaching students to self-monitor, answering questions and offering feedback. However, going forward technology continues to play a central role in the autonomous classroom via mobile platforms, augmented reality and special programmes made specifically for the autonomous classroom. 

Emerging technologies and the virtual classroom 

Photo: Freepik

At the time of writing, the ongoing global pandemic has affected education extensively. Educational technology was already on an upward arc but with the sudden pivot to online learning due to school closures, educators and schools have had to make big changes quickly. 

The main emerging technologies playing an important role in both the physical and virtual classroom are: 
Augmented and virtual reality: These can literally bring lessons to life, e.g. through VR headsets, students can be transported to medieval castles in the UK for a history class, dive coral reefs to learn about climate change and even visit the great museums of the world. This technology enables students to grasp concepts visually, without leaving their classroom or home. 

Schools becoming more automated: This ongoing trend is bound to gain even more ground with more smart tools being used for diverse tasks, from data analysis so educators have the information needed to teach better to automated security systems. 

Internet of Things (IoT): A concept revolving around a network of devices connected to the Internet collecting data. In education, IoT is destined to do everything from taking attendance and helping to create personalised learning to facilitating real-time connections with students and teachers around the world. This will be especially useful as schools enhance virtual classrooms and learning from home. 

Life after school and joining the workforce 
Every generation encounters different challenges and today’s students face a very different world from their parents when they finish school. As recent unprecedented global events unfold, the future does not look as certain as it once did and emotional intelligence (not just straight As!) will continue to influence a student’s future in the workforce. 
Parents and educators have realised that soft and life skills are just as important as academics. Teamwork, communication skills, work ethic, adaptability, leadership, problem solving and interpersonal skills need to be included in a school’s curriculum. 

The Sutton Trust, a leading educational charity in the UK, has stated that soft and life skills are as important as qualifications and necessary when applying for a job. Schools are being told to teach life skills like preparing a monthly budget, public speaking, CPR, professional interaction or even how to manage a job interview. The year 2020 will be the year we all changed the way we lived, socialised, learned, taught and worked.

Education too has inexorably changed, and the effects of 2020 will be felt for years to come. These trends will help teachers maintain the learning process and keep students on the right track in this new normal of virtual learning.

Tags: News & Features, Feature, Schools, Preschool, Primary, Secondary, University
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