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Classroom of the future with mindset of the past

Are innovations for classrooms genuinely aimed at improving the standards of education or just gimmicks to make a quick buck?

Ehtesham Shahid

Published: Updated:

An academic startled me with the following quote not so long ago.

“Some expatriate educationists come to this part of the world solely to build and sustain a career and not to develop a cadre that can replace them,” he said on the sidelines of an education conference. I knew this to be the case in most industries but wasn’t sure the field of education could be one of them.

This is why the more I hear about fancy subjects such as “dismantling the myth of creativity” or “innovation in the classroom”, the more skeptical I get about what really lies beneath, especially in the private sector.

Do these studies genuinely improve the standards of education or just gimmicks to make a quick buck? Do they really benefit the recipients of these services? Are they really as tailor-made for local needs as they are projected to be?

Every other day studies come out claiming to be wonder-drugs in improving the quality of education. There are reports on professional development of teachers and even on the future of public education.

Yet they don’t seem to add up or, at the least, they don’t seem to be making a material difference to the way education is being imparted. This is the case here and in other parts of the world.

Unfortunately, commercialization of education has led to the development of a consumer-like culture where one gets services based on the amount of money spent. That simply goes against the spirit of universal education goals that most governments and organizations vouch for.

Unfortunately, commercialization of education has led to a consumer-like culture where one gets services based on the amount of money spent. That simply goes against the spirit of universal education goals

Ehtesham Shahid

Classroom of the future

One can’t help but admit though that some voices make more sense than the others. One of them – classroom of the future – relates as much to pedagogy as to behavioral aspects related to education. It seems to have a definitive view of where things ought to be rather than what they are.

But what really is the classroom of the future? According to Sandrine Cardinale, Business Director at Steelcase Education EMEA, it refers to new age classrooms which are much more empathetic to the evolving needs and learning styles of modern students.

According to Cardinale, the biggest shift is from the traditional setting of rows of fixed table, chairs and lecterns. “Instead, the classroom of the future presents a flexible ecosystem with a variety of working spaces which fully capitalize on the benefits of active learning and better utilize space”.

It is obvious that the idea is to make every seat adaptable and mobile and integrate new technology to meet the expectations of 21st century students. However, the obvious question is how far are we from making this the norm?

This is where it gets tricky. According to Cardinale, in the Arab world, classrooms and learning styles remain predominantly traditional, with ROTE learning used widely across the region. “The classroom of the future encourages a combination of digital and analog learning, and is instrumental in encouraging a higher level of collaboration and interactive sessions, movement and creativity,” says Cardinale.

Much as one agrees with the premise that integration of technologies help in supporting pedagogical strategies, and that problem-based learning, team work, and debate can engage students better, I still maintain that one cannot re-orient the system by just knocking off a few rows of seats. It would be like putting the cart before the horse and/or repeating our past mistakes.

At the end of the day, the environment we create is more critical to imparting education than the classroom we build. _________________________
Ehtesham Shahid is Managing Editor at Al Arabiya English. For close to two decades he has worked as editor, correspondent, and business writer for leading publications, news wires and research organizations in India and the Gulf region. He loves to occasionally dabble with teaching and is collecting material for a book on unique tales of rural conflict and transformation from around the world. His twitter handle is @e2sham.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.