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Askwith Education Forum

What the Future of Education Looks Like from Here

Demographic and technology changes, firmer mandates for access and equity, and whole-child, human-centered commitments — amid growing global connections.

After a year that involved a global pandemic, school closures, nationwide remote instruction, protests for racial justice, and an election, the role of education has never been more critical or more uncertain. When the dust settles from this year, what will education look like — and what should it aspire to?

To mark the end of its centennial year, HGSE convened a faculty-led discussion to explore those questions. The Future of Education panel, moderated by Dean Bridget Long and hosted by HGSE’s Askwith Forums, focused on hopes for education going forward, as well as HGSE’s role. “The story of HGSE is the story of pivotal decisions, meeting challenges, and tremendous growth,” Long said. “We have a long history of empowering our students and partners to be innovators in a constantly changing world. And that is needed now more than ever.”

Joining Long were Associate Professor Karen Brennan, Senior Lecturer Jennifer Cheatham, Assistant Professor Anthony Jack, and Professors Adriana Umaña-Taylor and Martin West, as they looked forward to what the future could hold for schools, educators, and communities:

… After the pandemic subsides

The pandemic heightened existing gaps and disparities and exposed a need to rethink how systems leaders design schools, instruction, and who they put at the center of that design. “As a leader, in the years before the pandemic hit, I realized the balance of our work as practitioners was off,” Cheatham said. “If we had been spending time knowing our children and our staff and designing schools for them, we might not be feeling the pain in the way we are. I think we’re learning something about what the real work of school is about.” In the coming years, the panelists hope that a widespread push to recognize the identity and health of the whole-child in K–12 and higher education will help educators design support systems that can reduce inequity on multiple levels.

… For the global community

As much as the pandemic isolated individuals, on the global scale, people have looked to connect with each other to find solutions and share ideas as they faced a common challenge. This year may have brought everyone together and allowed for exchange of ideas, policies, practices, and assessments across boundaries.

… For technological advancements

As educators and leaders create, design, and imagine the future, technology should be used in service of that vision rather than dictating it. As technology becomes a major part of how we communicate and share ideas, educators need to think critically about how to deploy technology strategically. “My stance on technology is that it should always be used in the service of our human purpose and interest,” said Brennan. “We’ve talked about racial equity, building relationships. Our values and purposes and goals need to lead the way, not the tech.”

… For teachers

Human connections and interactions are at the heart of education. At this time, it’s become abundantly clear that the role of the teacher in the school community is irreplaceable. “I think the next few years hinge on how much we’re willing to invest in educators and all of these additional supports in the school which essentially make learning possible,” Umaña-Taylor said, “these are the individuals who are making the future minds of the nation possible.”

… For HGSE

Cutting-edge research and new knowledge must become part of the public discussion in order to meaningfully shape the policies and practices that influence the future of education. “I fundamentally believe that we as academics and scholars must be part of the conversation and not limit ourselves to just articles behind paywalls or policy paragraphs at the end of a paper,” Jack said. “We have to engage the larger public.”

… In 25 years

“We shouldn’t underestimate the possibility that the future might look a lot like the present,” West said. “As I think about the potential sources of change in education, and in American education in particular, I tend to think about longer-term trends as the key driver.” Changing student demographics, access to higher education, structural inequality, and the focus of school leaders are all longer-term trends that, according to panelists, will influence the future of education. 

Askwith Education Forum

Bringing innovators and influential leaders to the Harvard Graduate School of Education

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