When Les Anges Montessori Academy started nearly 40 years ago in the basement of my great-grandmother’s home in Lahore’s then leafy Gulberg, the world was a very different place.  Though man had (apparently) charted a course to the moon just a few years earlier, we were living in relatively simple times.  If you had told somebody then that, one day, all information known to humankind could be searched in a split second on a liquid-crystal display, that telephones would fit in the palm of your hands, work without wires and play movies, that watches would measure your pulse and potentially send health updates to your doctor’s watch (and probably Mark Zuckerberg’s) and that you could marvel at your Birmingham-born grandchild’s first footsteps in real time – all the way from Gujrat – and that it would all be completely free, they’d have told you to go hang out with Captain Kirk.  Yet, in today’s world, you can do all this and much more for a fraction of the cost of— well, nothing, since you couldn’t very well do any of it in 1975.

As the world has evolved, so too have schools, because schools are a reflection of our changing needs.  Other than the physicality of it – for instance, the sad reality that Gulberg is no longer terribly leafy (thanks, in some measure, to two gentleman whom Freud might have argued were transport-deprived as children) – much else has changed in ways that are both physical and deeply psychological.  For one, schools are no longer the ‘carefree’ places we imagine them to be, with advanced weaponry now as fundamental to the landscape as advanced math, and dropping off your child’s forgotten lunchbox about as simple as visiting an inmate at a prison – an experience I well remember as a child, but that story’s already been told (http://archives.dailytimes.com.pk/editorial/20-Jul-2002/a-hitchhiker-s-guide-the-perfect-compromise-low-cool-kasim-kasuri).  And what of the psychological impact of growing up in this idyllic situation? What of the child who is just too nervous to go back to school after a long summer break and the mother who wishes she didn’t have to send him, but must instead offer hollow assurances?

As school administrators, we face the unenviable task of maintaining the balance between the fortification of school buildings and its impact on the psychological wellbeing of children, teachers and parents. The scariest part? There’s no textbook for this; we are truly learning by doing.

Ladies and gentlemen, schools have changed – and they’re not changing back anytime soon. But what does this have to do with the School of Tomorrow? Simply this: if ‘learning’ is to once again become the raison d’etre of a school, then schools have a lot to learn.  I do not pretend to know the answers but I know that the ‘schools of tomorrow’ had better have some answers unless we want to raise a generation of nervous wrecks.

I am also inspired to understand the emerging yet powerful pull of media and technology on our children – and am simultaneously curious about how we, as educators, need to respond. Let me illustrate with a small anecdote: a few years ago, I walked into my children’s playroom where I found Kyan, then aged 5, and his non-Urdu speaking nanny Evangeline watching ‘Dora the Explorer’ on some unknown cable channel.  (For those without young children, Dora is a popular children’s show about an exasperating little bilingual girl who speaks English and Spanish, aimed largely at the US market.) However, on this strange cable channel, Dora was entirely dubbed in a foreign language that I couldn’t even begin to recognise. When I asked Evangeline what on earth they were doing, she replied chirpily ‘Oh, Kyanu and I are learning Urdu!’ While this odd little vignette will hopefully not creep into more normal Pakistani households, my broader point is that media has led a cultural invasion into our homes that is so insidious that we don’t yet understand its full implications. Whether it’s Dora bombarding our heads with ‘uno, dos, tres, cuatro, cinco’, or the equally annoying Japanese cat Doremon moaning and groaning in Hindi, our children’s brains are constantly being bombarded with a heady mix of visual, linguistic and cultural confusion.

There is simply too much we need to understand – whether it’s news channels flashing graphic images that are inappropriate even for adults, “talk shows” showcasing screeching politicians who are no role models for anyone, minute-to-minute live coverage of the latest disaster, or inappropriate Internet content. The impact of today’s media on developing minds is a powerful force that cannot be ignored by the schools of tomorrow, unless they wish to be complete ostriches.

And now onto my love-hate relationship with technology, a pendulum that moves from day to day:  should you really be proudly bragging to your friends that your 1-year-old can switch on your iPad all by herself? Is finger swiping on a glass surface a necessary and sufficient motor skill for your toddler? Is there any connection between the excessive use of digital devices and – say – obesity, shyness, social awkwardness, anxiety, learning disorders, depression or some other mental illness we’d rather not think about? Are the doomsayers that are posing these questions simply miffed that they didn’t have access to the same gadgets when they were growing up? Why do they stubbornly keep overlooking the obvious benefits of technology? Should you really worry if it’s okay for your 10-year-old to be on Facebook?  Is it true that Steve Jobs did not allow his own children to use the iPad?  What are the benefits and pitfalls of social media for the very young? Is there any such thing as an online predator, or is it yet another monster that Western parents have invented to keep their kids away from the Internet?  (After all, nobody preys on children in Pakistan, right?) How can our children derive the maximum benefit from digital technologies without being exposed to any of this stuff?

So what does all this mean? Clearly, the potential pitfalls posed by unhindered access to media and technology are not as obvious as the threats discussed in my opening thoughts.  But here’s the difference: unlike the former, the more recent scenes are being played out in every home that I know – day in, day out, unmonitored, unknown.  And yet, high technology is humankind’s most glittering achievement; it is what keeps our race moving forward. So what do we do?

I don’t know, but I certainly hope that the parents, teachers and schools of tomorrow can reflect on these questions and make necessary adjustments before it’s too late.  We need to continuously challenge all our ideas, even those very progressive notions we picked up in the 1990s and have held dear for so long – truths beyond question!  And we need to understand that all of today’s emerging forces (of which I’ve only touched upon a few) will truly mean the end of education – as we know it.

End of Part I.

This is hopefully the first in a few posts about the School of Tomorrow. Given this blog’s track record, however, it may also be the last. 

  11 Responses to “Why the School of Tomorrow matters to me”

  1. Dear Mr. Kasim,
    I always look forward to reading your blog, not only because of the subtle humor but also because of the questions you raise for reflection both for practitioners and policy makers. Being a true Lahorite and having lived in Gulberg forever, I loved your reference to the once leafy and serene Gulberg that was. It made ones feel nostalgic, but like you have written times have changed and the needs have changed, be it schools or cities. School of tomorrow will be very different and its heartening to see that at least someone is thinking and is preparing today’s generation for the world of tomorrow.

  2. Fear not, for no emerging forces of yesteryear’s could put an end to education as we knew it or they knew it. We have to let go to move on with the waves as they come in and swell up and beyond. The tsunami of technology will either surf you to safe shores or drown you in… all a matter of collateral damages of the evolution of mankind and life on earth.

  3. Indeed many a time educationists stood at crossroads and asked questions. These questions have not led them to answers but have opened new doors for the coming generations. The philosophers have proposed theories, ideas but how far to implement and follow has never been in their hands. Technology is a blessing and a monster, having an 8-year-old child growing up in this age plus being a teacher, this is my experience. Why do we forget that the beginning may be full of doubts but once we move on to the path we find ways and means to reduce the evils and increase the benefits. I believe that we have an intrinsic motivation to experiment and experience, this is only the beginning, let us tread further on this path of technology and instead of hindering our progress by questioning our own abilities let us explore and learn as we go.

  4. Dear Mr. Kasim,

    You have raised very important questions and being a teacher myself I monitor my own children very closely. Since I have been training teachers for the past sixteen years now, many of my examples come from my own daily life experiences of my children.

    Technology has invaded our children’s lives in many ways. The questions you raise are all good research questions and we as educationists need to definitely discuss them and do some form of research too. But one thing is certain, the future is of technology and it is evident that our children need to study it as a well integrated subject.

    Schools have become more dynamic places than before and we too need the skills and knowledge to face this enormous challenge and provide the best in a safe and caring environment.

  5. Kasim sahab, brilliantly written sir. I reflect with you and I add that the wonders of technology and its impact on our children and their future can be very delicately and intelligently handeled by our teachers , therefore yes our schools must be equipped with all that can be offered to minds there, at all stages of intelligences.
    It is thus our responsibility as educators to equip our teachers to be able to design the picture of tomorrow( future) by connecting the dots.

  6. Yes schools need to evolve as swiftly as the technology and information access to the young mind.Mere curriculums are not sufficient to arm the youth .So what is the role of educationists,administrators and teachers? It has to be multi-tasking for the teacher,catering to a competative curriculum and any query regarding moral,social,economic and even religous issues .Therefore credible teachers are a pre-requisite to the class room.Administrators face the challenge of a youth immunized to all available information on net.Giving the benefit of doubt yet cautiously guageing all activities within premisis,apart from routine admistrative tasks.Private investors,not necessarily educationists,have the greatest challenge to face to survive in the market.Counsellors and Scholarships are the key words.

  7. Truly an excellent and eloquent disposition. In the end, it will all end up as a paradigm shift to embracing every aspect of technology and not trying to curtail it or put it in a box of our perceptions.We are the technological dinosaurs who fear our ability to cope with the need to change our strategies to match what our children already consider normal.
    We too in time will learn.

  8. I love technology in education only when the students take a virtual tours of a historic place round the corner instead of just a walk through it or when my grandsons teacher complains that he has a concentration span left to minus zero for a white board
    as at home he is exposed to something as delightful as his ipad screen day in and day out..Technology with all its glamor needs to be used mindfully.its a great weapon of learning but I fear it will leave some of our body parts redundant,when most games like cricket football etc are played online.

  9. Dear Kasim,I enjoy reading your pieces not only for their dry humor but also because they raise relevant points that activate the mind. I too have a love/hate relationship with Tech, I recognize the powers it beholds but also the many pitfalls.I was recently on a school visit to an international school in Bangkok and was mildly disturbed by the fact that every single child in every single lesson was behind an Apple machine (school issued no less) Is it really necessary? Will the world collapse if students hold a pencil and write? I am a stickler for handwriting and it holds a special place in my heart, in a country where we barely have electricity, should we like zombies be following this path? But if we don’t is it a disservice to a forever changing future for our children?

    • Wonderful thoughts shared in this article. If I apply change formula [C = [D x V x FS] > R] i see leader’s dissatisfaction with status-quo (D) {“After all, nobody preys on children in Pakistan, right?” },a vision of School of tomorrow(V).But we need necessary adjustment(FS;first step) in order to bring change in our children .As now-days resistance (R) is greater.In my opinion If we want to take benefit from positive side of technology,the first step should be taken at school, in shape of student counselling sessions and seminars .Good luck for change (School of tomorrow).

    • Exactly Ayesha ,Technology is our need but excessive use of anything is not good.As scientifically proved that on internet games and sitting on our I pads for long hours mad our children Idle physically.As you talked about necessity of pen and paper Allah Almighty ask his Prophet
      Allah given you the knowledge through pen

      So we should also promote pen,paper and sports for our healthy generation

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