The important mission of education is to prepare individuals to adapt to the uncertain and complex world in the future. In 2019, UNESCO launched the "Futures of Education" initiative, trying to imagine how education and knowledge will contribute to a better world in 2050 and beyond. Over the past few months, the COVID-19 outbreak has filled the world with more uncertainty. School education in various countries has been forced to switch to online platforms, and teachers and students are facing various challenges. This crisis has shown that it has become an inevitable trend to use artificial intelligence and other emerging technologies to support education, which has also prompted us to think about how to design and provide education, as well as what approaches and forms can be utilized to realize the future education
At 17:00 Beijing Time on May 16, the 1st “Futures of Education” Webinar was held online, which was planned and organized by more than a dozen college students, The theme of the webinar is "Inspiration and Lessons-learned from Campus Closure". What is the learning status of students from various countries during the pandemic? What are the challenges in learning? What flexible learning resources and solutions are provided locally? What about the education in 2050? What would be the way of learning at that time? What conveniences and challenges will the new learning method bring to students? etc. More than 400 college students from over10 countries around the world conducted a dialogue across national borders as well as time and space.
The webinar was hosted by Beijing Normal University (BNU), and organized by UNESCO International Research and Training Centre for Rural Education (UNESCO INRULED), UNESCO Institution for Information Technologies in Education (UNESCO IITE) and the Smart Learning Institute of Beijing Normal University (SLIBNU). Experts and college students from all over the world talked about future education, aiming to see the future through pandemic situations, to see the world through students, and to see education through design.
First, Professor Zuoyu Zhou, Vice President of Beijing Normal University, and Professor Tao Zhan, Director of the UNESCO IITE, delivered speeches respectively. Mr. Zuoyu Zhou did not forget to express his gratitude to the students in his speech for providing such a good platform. He said that life was learned from education and also experienced education in life. The world is a Community of Shared Future for Mankind. Facing the global pandemic, we should listen to the voices from all over the world, and actively think about making changes, act quickly, and eternally innovate to achieve great progress. Mr. Tao Zhan believes that with the shared experience of schools and students worldwide, shortly we will see the vigorous development of electronic technologies and online education. This webinar will allow college students to discuss and look at the future form of education, then prepare for the new era of education.
Experts from various countries shared their views on future education. Professor Chee-Kit Looi from Nanyang Technological University in Singapore pointed out that the pandemic had brought multiple obstacles to teaching activities, but the journey of learning is not only the four years in the university, and the learning location is not limited to the campus. In one’s whole life, most of the learning takes place outside the stage of formal education. Jonathan Shaw, Executive Director of the Asian Institute of Technology Development pointed out that although online teaching has become the trend, online teaching is difficult to achieve the same quality of face-to-face interaction as offline teaching, and cannot be a substitute for offline teaching. Mr. Dejian Liu, co-dean of Smart Learning Institute of Beijing Normal University, shared the application of AI technology in education and proposed the concept of a virtual laboratory, hoping to encourage more students to think, design, and apply it in practice. Steven Duggan, Director of the UNESCO Institute of Information Technologies in Education, believes that the high penetration rate of electronic devices is an opportunity to solve the problem of educational inequity. Electronicization provides teachers with opportunities to master new skills and apply new technologies, as well as the ability to integrate.
Future education from the perspective of college students
Student representatives analyzed advantages and disadvantages of traditional and online education, and imagined the future education, based on their experience during the epidemic. They believe future education should feature more technologies, customized teaching content, comfortable learning environment and being student-centered. Meanwhile, there may be problems including insufficient access to electronic products, lack of self-discipline and impacts from global issues.
Owing to achievements of IT application in education over the past decade and efforts during the epidemic, China has developed rich experience in online education, providing references for many countries around the world. Two students from Beijing Normal University shared their opinions. Xiao Keke hoped that educational institutions could build more knowledge-sharing platforms and that a variety of existing technologies and software could be used to improve the quality of online education. She held the view that future education would be more personalized and learning environment would be more comfortable to improve efficiency, which on the other hand, it requires students to develop better learning habits and time management skills. Ma Ziqi shared platforms used by Chinese universities and his experience in remote learning.. He also proposed reasons for the lack of efficiency in distance teaching and expected that in the future, online and offline education could be highly integrated and complementary.
Europe also leads the world in the level of information technology in education. Qin xinyi, a student from Munich university, demonstrated the courses and feedback offered by teachers on multiple platforms, as well as the support of various local organizations for education in different forms. She believed that in the future, advantages of online education should not be ignored and interpersonal interaction should also be taken into consideration.
Arlene Gonzales, an AIT student from the Philippines, argued that traditional education could spark innovation when blocked, and compared the differences between traditional and online education. In her view, in the future, education would combine more technologies and be delivered in a way where remote learning plays a larger role. Moaz Altaf, a student from Pakistan, shared the challenges faced by students overseas during the COVID-19 outbreak and showed how he adjusted himself through indoor exercise and resources from online educational platforms. He believed there might be more global issues in the future such as economic depression, climate change and population explosion, and called on young people to face the challenges together.
Hilda Garcia, a Dominican student at the IE business school in Spain, talked about the low penetration rate of computers and other electronic products in poor and underdeveloped areas and considered this a huge challenge for the widespread use of new technologies in future education. She believed that education in the future would be more student-centered, and data and virtual reality based, and put forward potential challenges along the way.
Other insights that college students have about the futures of education
During the free discussion session, student representatives put forward some further thoughts. For instance, not only is online learning prone to insufficiencies, lack of self-discipline and unstable network connections, but some activities in traditional teaching also cannot be achieved online. Experts purposed that inefficiency, lack of self-control and other problems did make home-based online learning unprecedentedly challenging. However, they also suggested that students can help supervise each other, therefore jointly solving difficulties with positivity. As Vice President Prof. Zuoyu Zhou pointed out, universities cannot be defined simply as a place as in geographical concepts, but rather as the intersection of great minds, consciousness and common spirit.
The comment session of this webinar was also heated. The online audience raised many valuable and thought-provoking questions, which led to our further thinking about the future education. To exemplify, will the application of technology in education promote or hinder international equity in education? What can international organizations and NGOs do to stimulate educational equity? Will online education become mainstream in the future, or will it never replace face-to-face, traditional education? How can online education do better by avoiding its current shortcomings?
The experts agreed on it that the speakers and students were all holding an optimistic view in terms of solving the problems in future education, and that now it is the perfect time for everyone to explore the possibilities of future education.
As one of the organizers, Smart Learning Institute of Beijing Normal University has been an active role in exploring the forms of "future education". Professor Ronghuai Huang put forward that this “Futures of Education ”online forum was planned and organized by 14 volunteers, with the aim of promoting educational and technological advances and providing a platform for communication and exchange of ideas for global experts and college students.In this case, more and more outstanding young people's insights could be made known to the world. This forum provided an opportunity for experts, college students and audience to genuinely think about how to solve the complications emerging in distance education, how to design online classrooms to solve the actual teaching problems, and what kind of educational design can maximize the benefits of online education. Although we could not find the perfect answer to all the questions at the webinar, what is the most important is that this forum will take us one step closer to a better educational design for the future.
As the forum continues to take place, on the one hand, it responds to UNESCO's “Futures of Education” initiative in 2019; on the other hand, in the face of the impact of the epidemic and the rapid development of artificial intelligence, the forum also aims to explore various ways of integrating education and artificial intelligence in order to encourage the continuous emergence of more quality platforms and content.