Tuesday, 3 October 2017

How Disruptive Innovation may change schools in the future: Lessons from Dubai

Presentation given at the HMC Conference in Belfast on Wednesday 4th October 2017.

Dubai The UAE has the fastest growing private schools’ sector in the world; and Dubai has more international schools than any other city. This rapid expansion has necessitated innovation and has led to the development of new models and structures for schooling. For these reasons, Dubai is a strong candidate to be the birthplace of a “disruptive innovation” that will transform secondary education around the globe. So what lessons can we learn from the private schools’ sector in Dubai? 

Four lessons from Dubai 

  1. The Not-for-Profit (NFP) Sector was not equipped to meet the rapid growth in demand for schooling. The earliest international schools in Dubai were established in the 1960s and 1970s with financial support from the Ruler, Sheikh Rashhid, and the Oil and Gas companies and supporting industries. They were established as Not-for-Profit entities. NFP organisations are by their very nature more conservative and were not equipped to expand and develop sufficiently quickly and so For-Profit companies have filled the space. The NFP schools remain the top schools in Dubai but today they represent only about 3% of the school places in Dubai. 
  2. The For-Profit groups offer education at different price points: The For-Profit sector in Dubai, unsurprisingly is driven by the economic drivers of ‘return-on-investment’, ‘economies of scale’, scalability, differentiated markets and keep costs down – especially of staffing. The For-Profit groups offer Premium, Mid-range and Budget in the same way that airlines offer First Class, Business and Economy seats on their planes. The differentiators between the price points are school and class size, the range of facilities available in the school, the qualifications of teachers, and the amount of teacher-pupil contact time in the week. 
  3. The For-Profit Groups invest in central I.T. systems: Large schools groups have levered technology to achieve economies of scale to achieve a measure of standardisation and to share best practice. For example, Nord Anglia and GEMS have both developed global CPD portals for teachers; and GEMS have developed a shared VLE for their schools. 
  4. Schools in Dubai embrace innovation GEMS Wellington Silicon Oasis is pioneering “Blended Learning” IB program, where students use a combination of online resources and video-conferencing. JESS currently has a group who are experimenting with Virtual Reality technology as a way of making JESS lessons available beyond the physical bounds of the school. 

Research into Alternative Models for Secondary Schooling – Replacing Teachers 

My research was for a Dissertation for MSc Executive Masters in Management with Ashridge-Hult Business School (May 2017). This (small sample) study investigated why alternative models for secondary schooling have not been adopted in the way that they are being adopted in tertiary education, by comparing the attitudes of School Principals (educationalists) to the attitudes of School Owners/CEOS (business people). The study broke down (‘decomposed’ – after Susskind 2015) into seven tasks which specialist teachers (e.g. a Physics teacher) do: 

  1. Lesson Planning 
  2. Teaching – to transmit/impart subject information 
  3. Teaching – to set tasks to groups of students 
  4. Classroom Management and Supervision 
  5. Working with Individual Students 
  6. Assessment, Grading and Monitoring 
  7. Parental Communication and Reporting 

The two study groups were asked if it would be acceptable to practice in their school for that task to be done by an alternative to a specialist teacher:

  1. A Non-Specialist - A qualified teacher who is not a qualified specialist in the relevant subject to be taught; 
  2. A Teaching Assistant who is not a qualified teacher; 
  3. A Specialist Teacher via Video-Conferencing - A qualified subject specialist teacher who is not physically present who contacts the students via video-conferencing. 
  4. An Online Learning Programme which students access via a computer in school. 

This study found that both School Owners/CEOs and School Leaders are resistant to replacing “specialist classroom teachers” with “qualified teachers who are not subject specialists” and with “teaching assistants”; but found an openness to replacing them with “specialists teaching via video-conferencing” or through students using “online learning platforms”. 
This study found that the potential “drivers” towards the adoption of these models are: 

  1. Improved Pedagogy 
  2. Reducing Costs 
  3. Addressing Teacher recruitment issues 

This study found that the potential “blockers” to the adoption of these models are:

  1. Concerns about the Quality of Student Learning; 
  2. Concerns about a Change in Ethos of the School; 
  3. Concerns about Parental Reaction. 

This study found that alternative models for secondary schooling have not been adopted because both the majority of School Owners/CEOs and School Leaders see no reason to change as the status quo still works. However, it is likely a potential shortage of specialist teachers will serve as the catalyst for the adoption of alternative models for schooling.  

Looking into the Crystal Ball – Five Prophecies for the Future of Schooling around the World 

So if we apply the principles of Dubai’s For-Profit sector to the global Learning-School problem, what solutions might we see?

  1. Education For-Profit will become the norm around the world.
    Not-for-Profit education is not equipped to meet the global demand for education, the inevitable consequence is that the For-Profit sector will fill the void. 
  2. Being taught by a specialist teacher in a classroom at Secondary level will be a luxury.
    Technology won’t replace teachers everywhere – but it will in many places. In the future, it will only be Premium Secondary Education that will be delivered by specialist teachers in classrooms drawing on a range of real and virtual resources. This will remain the norm in the UK Independent Sector and in top International Schools around the world. Budget Secondary Education will not have subject teachers, but will be delivered totally through online courses on learning platforms. However, for many young people around the world this will be better than the present situation of receiving no education at all. Mid-Range Secondary Education will be delivered by “super-teachers” via Virtual-Reality Conferencing. The For-Profit will invest in new technologies in order to maximise the impact of teachers and these will become much more common around the world, particular where Governments are funding schooling. For example, the US Public School system is in the vanguard of this (for an overview see Keeping Pace with K-12 Digital Learning, 2015). To date there has been little appetite for adopting this model in the UK as was witnessed earlier this year when counsellors rejected the plans to use Blended Learning at the Ark Pioneer Academy in Barnet (see TES 30/01/2017). 
  3. Blended Learning and Virtual Reality Teaching will be the disruptors of Secondary education.
    Blended Learning has scope both to raise standards by personalising education and to reduce costs. As the platforms and content improve, we will see their wider adoption. We also already have ‘Virtual Teaching’ through video conferencing which enables pupils around the world to be taught live by a remote teacher. Furthermore, ‘Virtual Reality’ already enables pupils to travel through time and space – to experience the ancient Colosseum in Rome, life in the trenches or a World-War One dog-fight with the Red Baron. Once these two technologies are combined so that we have ‘Virtual Reality Teaching’, it will be possible for a pupil can put on a headset and ‘feel’ as if they are in a real classroom with a world-class teacher, or be taken on a virtual school visit to any place in time and space. 
  4. There will be ‘superstar teachers’ commanding very high salaries.
    One of the consequences of the rise of Virtual Reality Teaching is that there will be the rise of superstar teachers. The For-Profit sector has a proven record of investing in talent where it can made wider savings. It will inevitably pay to attract top talent, particularly in shortage subjects and their global educational networks will provide a platform which will enable great Virtual Reality teachers will be able to reach millions of students. These teachers will inevitably be very well paid and, given the nature of the C21, it is likely that they will be famous and become celebrities. 
  5. Primary Teachers will be assisted by Robots.
    Young children at a formative stage of development need human interaction to shape their learning, thus it is highly unlikely that it will ever be possible to replace teachers in primary schools with technological solutions. One consequence of the predictions for secondary education outlined above is that primary schooling will need to teach the skills to enable young people to access non-classroom based forms of education. It is quite possible that robots will replace Teaching Assistants, performing basic instructive tasks such as teaching basic mathematics and listening to children read. 

Final Thoughts on the Future of Schooling 

Prophecy is more about reading the signs of the time and working out a likely a future position from the current direction of travel, rather than predicting the future receiving some dislocated revelation from on high. Prophets are rarely popular because they are usually delivering a message that people don't want to hear. I believe that the signs for a possible future of schooling are there for all to see. In an ideal world every child in the world would receive the quality of education that is available at a HMC school but, for reasons of logistics alone, that isn’t going to happen. However, I do believe that technology has a very important part to play in giving every child the opportunity to have at least some form of basic education. Indeed, there is real scope here for Not-for-Profit schools to open their virtual doors and allow children around the world to experience the world-class teaching that takes place in our schools.  

Three Questions to consider 

  1. What will the future workplace look like?
  2. What will schools look like in the future? 
  3. What should we be teaching young people to prepare them for the future? 

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