Taking 2050 as the snapshot in time, as we decided to do in this project, lets all of us take the long view forward to a period where, independent or in the UK, much of the strategic thinking and the hard decision taking has long been done and Scotland has got to a point where the successes are evident.
Education is the key to self discipline, developed capability, economic sustainability, fulfilled people, immigration, the culture of working, youth employment, development, positive change, respect, careers, social responsibility…
Our current education system is failing our children and is unhelpfully sheltered by the long gone reputation for superiority of Scottish education.
Youth unemployment is high. The culture of work is feeble. Our universities have to run remedial classes for first year students because their primary and secondary education has been inadequate.
The spirit of ambition and enterprise barely registers a pulse. There is a culture of entitlement not one of self-determination.
So what might things be like in 2050 if we developed certain strategies and took certain decisions soon? How could we focus our provision of education to support and develop our young people and the country’s economic sustainability much better than we do at present?
Below are starter propositions from each of the three of us. What would you like to see?
Charles Dixon-Spain on small is better
The movement to centralise education in huge education facilities faltered in the mid-twenties when it was realised that communities were being destroyed as they lost their schools.
While this was particularly evident early on in rural areas, urban centres began to experience critical levels of alienation and crime because children were being taken from their communities and anonymised in establishments with thousands of pupils.
The movement of education back into the heart of a community meant a reinvigoration of the small school and finally a society-wide recognition that small class sizes and highly motivated staff were two of the essentials in a successful nation.
Rural areas began to see an influx of families as the final barrier to a viable life in the country was lifted (we already had 1GB/s broadband and upgraded transport infrastructure).
The cumulative effect was that by 2050 rural populations had remained at the same level since 2020, but were now twice as economically active as they had been. This progress had been enabled somewhat by a movement away from second home ownership nationally and also, and consequently, a fall in folk retiring to the country.
The government set limits on class sizes (16) and on schools (300 for Primary and 600 for Secondary). They also raised the mandatory age to 7 and provided creche and active play facilities for children from the age of 1. Parents could then choose whether they wanted to remain economically active. The benefits to the economy outweighed the cost of the early years care, and children became more independent earlier and therefore happier as a result.
Technology has been critical in two spheres: first, in creating specialised learning programmes for each child throughout their scholastic career. These programmes ensure any weaknesses or absences are catered for, as well as ensuring talents and interests are fully developed.
Technology also ensures that every child in the nation is similarly and transparently assessed during their entire school career. Therefore the potential of individuals is not missed. Whereas before a child’s needs might be overlooked in big classes where a teacher doesn’t have the specialisms, now each child is proactively monitored in the course of their education.
This obviates the need for examinations, unless of course the child particularly thrives on time-limited assessments.
By the time learners reach tertiary education they are self-motivated, highly-capable and, above all else, focused on what they want to do for the rest of their lives. And while there are still all the attractions of student life, studying for a degree is seen as part of an ongoing, lifelong endeavour in learning.
John Patrick on connected classrooms and adaptive learning
Thirty years ago education lay at a peculiar crossroads in society.
On one hand it had the responsibility of anticipating real-life skills by preparing students for an increasingly complex world – but education methodologies could only be formalised after practices had been defined. 65% of primary school children ended up in jobs that hadn’t been invented.
This dichotomy took a decade to overcome thanks to serious investment by consecutive Scottish Governments, technology and focused socio-economic policies.
Thirty years ago school’s had adopted a factory system of education, which said pretty much one speed, one complexity. As a result, there was one person being taught at the right speed and the rest of the students were bored or lost.
The move to massive open online courses (MOOC) by Scotland’s educators allowed the eduction system to adapt to each student’s particular skills and speed. All of children ended up totally mastering the subject. It’s was the game changer of the day.
What it really did was level the understanding gap in the factory model with really impressive outcomes. It also put a halt overnight to crippling higher education fees and drop out rates with the advent of affordable accredited online degree programs becoming common place.
The classroom of today is a connected one, with the teacher able to zero in and command the flow of information and learning.
Big data and analytics tools are utilized in our classrooms wherever they may be, with significant impact.
Data mining and adaptive learning platforms are common place with hard insights such as ‘you solve math problems better in the morning’ or ‘divide your studying into 30 minute intervals’ based on a student’s click (attention) rate.
Self monitoring tools keep the student apprised in real time of their academic progress and feeds back into the adaptive learning platform to keep them on course.
We did discover during the process that some problems didn’t disappear as easily as others. Some problems were not just about delivery systems, cognition or assimilation and they took a lot more than education policies to sort.
Inevitably, as we experimented with the power of personalisation, problem (challenge) based learning, and incredible connectedness, we were often confronted by socio-economic factors.
Students who weren’t connected or students who did not have a device or they didn’t have the speed to make the device work or students who couldn’t afford to eat breakfast in the morning.
There was a litany of issues. From poverty to mental issues and abuse, our educators became counsellors and providers.
It was not just a case of stitching together technology, neuroscience, and learning design, but also in stitching together opportunity, safety, support, and care.
Thirty years on and Scotland is reaping the rewards of its investment. This is a good time to be living in Scotland.
Lynda Henderson on radical reshaping of education provision
About 30 years ago Scotland began to put into action a plan that had been discussed across the nation for over five years and planned for, so that the transition to a different strategy for education was agreed and society had begin to reposition itself accordingly.
We shrank our university sector back then. We made it specialist, elite and very high powered, resourced to be the best and to produce the best in subjects important to creating a body of significant national expertise to support our own economic sustainability and to grow our knowledge economy itself as a serious earner.
We identified at the outset the sciences, medicine, engineering, IT, energy, architecture and design, economics and financial management as the subjects for which the state would pay all fees and subsistence for the best Scottish students to study at undergraduate and postgraduate levels. [Universities can offer whatever other courses they like, unsubsidised, where they can find a market for them.]
Our national ability in foreign languages is significantly greater. We do not offer language courses at University level. We encourage students interested in specific languages to study – in any subject – in the countries whose languages they wish to embed.
We applied every penny of the cost saved in shrinking and specialising the university sector to primary and secondary education, with far greater numbers of teachers and far smaller group sizes.
We binned the content-free zones that our curricula had become and centred our primary and secondary education on knowledge and skills, practical and intellectual and including handling the various forms of evidence.
Our school day now matches the working day to facilitate working parents – but children go home free for the evening with all work done under supervision.
Our school and university years now match, with a three week summer holiday period, one week at Christmas and one week at Easter.
Teaching is now a high powered profession, with all teachers taking part in subject teams drawn from across Scotland’s schools and doing a career development term every four years, sent as a team to specific schools wishing to up their game in particular subjects.
Our children now leave secondary education ready and able to work, with focus, skills, ideas, confidence, capability and self discipline.
Our universities are now able to function at the highest level of performance without running the remedial classes for first year students that used to be necessary. The best of our students who win places at our universities in the subjects we support, now have much more to bring to those subjects from day one and are thriving in the competitive environment of aiming to be the best.
Our education at all levels is the envy of the world. We are admired for our strategic analysis and courage in rebalancing the system in this way. Our school leavers and our graduate and postgraduates are sought after by a wide spectrum of employers. Our universities are world leaders in key forward research.
We have developed strong expertise in pharmaceuticals, much from research in the marine sciences; and we have a powerful base in engineering, civil and electronic. The infrastructural development in our own country-which we prioritised as the key driver of economic growth, benefits from the expertise we can deliver and continues to challenge ti to greater achievements.
The encouragement we gave our children in our schools to take on challenge and to innovate have changed Scotland’s attitudes to creativity, ambition and entrepreneurship.
From having been intrinsically defeatist, passive, heavily dependent on the public sector and seeing a steady emigration of the young and most able, we now see our young folk confident to create opportunities as well as benefit from them – and to do so in what has become the liveliest possible environment for positive change and development, driven by the private sector.
This has been driven by the belated realisation that proven first class education is an inducement to high achievers and the ambitious to relocate to Scotland for the benefit of their children.
And we have the huge natural resources of Scotland on our doorsteps to balance the concentration of our working lives. Our activity tourism has grown to service internal demands and has become a magnet for the successful strivers in the south east of England – who now find their corporate peers here to be a match for them.
We are fitter and faster.
You can warm your hands at the buzz and crackle of the positive energy we generate – but that is another topic for later.