Schools of the future might not look like The Jetsons, but they will be different, said two local education leaders on Wednesday. Ideally, those institutions will be more flexible and personalized to the children’s needs, and they will work more closely with businesses and the community.
State Superintendent Paolo DeMaria and Annalies Corbin, president of the Columbus-based nonprofit PAST Foundation, talked about where education is headed at a lunch hosted by the Columbus Metropolitan Club.
They discussed the looming threat of automation to parts of the economy, and said this upcoming generation is full of “digital natives” who have never lived in a world without smart phones or immediate information.
“It doesn’t scare these kids because they have lived their entire lives with the expectation of that rapid change of technology,” Corbin said. “It gives them a sense of fearlessness.”
“They have a certain creativity that has been enabled by Facebook and by social media,” DeMaria said. “They’re posting videos. They’re reacting to things. They’re laughing, they’re crying. You have this socialization that happens in a very different way than when I was back in school.”
He said that’s something that educators can harness.
But technology isn’t the answer to everything, DeMaria said. Adults, whether they are teachers or mentors, are important for passing on to youths the skills that underpin success, including critical thinking, empathy, persistence, self-regulation and resilience.
“It’s one of the things we don’t give our current system credit enough for: It’s that human element,” he said. “The research is clear: A student needs to have a caring adult.”
Another future trend: adopting methods to get students of all backgrounds and life experiences into the zone for learning, DeMaria said. Trauma-informed practices, for example, use emerging research on the brain to teach students self-regulation behaviors such as fidgeting to help soothe them and help them concentrate.
Both DeMaria and Corbin touted hands-on learning and projects that incorporate multiple disciplines.
“As soon as you can immerse kids in solving real-world problems, the light bulb goes on,” Corbin said.
The PAST Foundation works with central Ohio schools to immerse students in science, technology and engineering. Young people at its Innovation Lab on Kinnear Road often are connected with local businesses and are asked to work on industry projects.
“One of the things that we have learned over and over again … is business and industry want to be involved (in schools) in a meaningful way,” Corbin said. “They oftentimes don’t know how.”
After the talk, audience members asked DeMaria about testing, the state report cards and school funding.
Parents are paying less and less attention to the grades the Ohio Department of Education assigns to districts, one commenter said. DeMaria replied: “Part of me says good. Part of me says be informed by the report card, but don’t let it be the only thing.”
Both of his children went to Columbus City Schools for K-8 and then onto the Graham School, a charter, and got a good education, he said.
“I made my choice because I went to the school. I was impressed by the climate created by the staff …. I was talking to other parents. I was talking to students.”
There’s a place for standardized tests, the state superintendent said, but he is frustrated by the overreliance on them. DeMaria said other methods of evaluating learning — portfolios, presentations, capstone projects — can be superior, and he expects that Ohio will improve in that area within the next three to five years.
As for school funding, more money alone doesn’t turn a school around, he said.
Charter schools are at a disadvantage because of the way Ohio schools are funded, he said, but “they do amazing things because they are relentlessly focused on the practice of educating students.”
Wednesday’s discussion was part of a collaboration between the Columbus Metropolitan Club and The Columbus Dispatch in conjunction with the paper’s CbusNEXT series on the future of Columbus. Read the series online at CbusNEXT.com.