How we saw education of the future

I thought it would be a good idea to look at how the future of education was seen in the past. My starting had to be the Paleofuture blog, which features articles, photos  and videos from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries predicting how the world would be in the future. Here is what they said about classrooms and schools:

The Public School of Tomorrow (1912)

Our future transportation for the school of tomorrow will be the automobile, interurban railway, mono railway, gyroscope car, overhead cable car, pneumaticair pressure tubes, flying machines and other means of travel, which future geniuses may develop. Distance will be annihilated and many miles will be as one mile today. Population will be denser in our rural districts and there will be a family on every forty acres or less.

Movies Will Replace Textbooks (1922)

Schools have had a longstanding immunity against the introduction of new technologies. In 1922 Thomas Edison predicted that movies would replace textbooks. In 1945 one forecaster imagined radios as common as blackboards in classrooms. In the 1960s, B.F. Skinner predicted that teaching machines and programmed instruction would double the amount of information students could learn in a given time. Filmstrips and other audiovisual aids were fads thirty years ago, and the television, now seen as a supplier of brain candy, once had a sterling reputation as an education machine.

The Push-Button School of Tomorrow (1958)

Tomorrow’s schools will be more crowded; teachers will be correspondingly fewer. Plans for a push-button school have already been proposed by Dr. Simon Ramo, science faculty member at California Institute of Technology. Teaching would be by means of sound movies and mechanical tabulating machines. Pupils would record attendance and answer questions by pushing buttons. Special machines would be “geared” for each individual student so he could advance as rapidly as his abilities warranted. Progress records, also kept by machine, would be periodically reviewed by skilled teachers, and personal help would be available when necessary.

The student desk of the future includes a small camera, presumably so that the teacher being projected on a large screen in the front of the class can keep tabs on the little rascals. One thing that fascinates me about computer consoles of the retrofuture is that the QWERTY keyboard is not yet an assumed input device. Each computing device seems tailored to meet the needs of the intended user, as with this learning machine of the futuristic year 1999 and this auto-tutor from the 1964 New York World’s Fair.

1968′s Computerized School of the Future

Picture yourself in front of a television screen that has an electronic typewriter built in below it. You put on a set of headphones, and school begins.

“Good morning, John,” a voice says. “Today you’re going to study the verbs ‘sit’ and ‘set.’ Fill in the blank in each sentence with the proper word — ‘sit,’ sat’ or ‘set.’ Are you ready to go?”

 “YES,” you peck out on the typewriter, and class gets under way.

The machine clicks away in front of you. “WHO HAS ____ THE BABY IN THE MUD?” it writes.

You type “SAT.” The machine comes right back: “SET.” You know you’re wrong, and the score confirms it: “SCORE: 00.”

A generation or so from now a truly modern school will have a room, or maybe several rooms, filled with equipment of the type shown on the cover of this issue. Even kindergarten children may be able to work some of the machines—machines such as automatically loading film and slide projectors, stereo tape recorders and record players, and electric typewriters or TV devices tied into a computer.

Customizable instruction seems to be the largest benefit touted by the article when it comes to every child having their own computer terminal:

The major advantage of the computer is that it helps solve the teacher’s biggest problem—individual instruction for every student. In a large class the teacher has to aim at the average level of knowledge and skill, but a computer can work with each child on the concepts and problems with which he needs the most help. A teacher can do this, too, but she often lacks the time required.

Computers combined with other teaching aids will provide schools with new flexibility in teaching. Students will be able to work at their own speeds in several subjects over a period of time. A boy might work all day on a science project, for instance, and complete his unit in that subject before some other children in his class had even begun. But they would be working on other subjects at their own speeds.

Computers are expensive for teaching, and they will not become a major force in education for some time. But apparently they are here to stay. One educational publication predicted that “another generation may well bring many parents who cannot recall classwork without them.” And a computer specialist went even farther. He said, “… I predict that computers will soon play as significant and universal a role in schools as books do today.”

 CNN education in 2025

Looking through my own stuff I also found this piece from a CNN documentary from the year 2000. the piece featured predictions for 2025 from Howard Gardner, a professor at Harvard graduate school of education.

There are also no freshman, sophomore, junior or senior classes. Students advance to three levels of learning: not by taking tests or getting grades, but by completing projects.

They can work at their own pace. They can pursue their own interests. They can have contact with people who could be mentors. And I think equally important, they can give. They can help other people.

If we’re lucky is that some will go for 14 and some will go for 10, because you take your formal education as long as it takes to demonstrate that you have the intellectual power that the state, that your community, that your family expects.

People will be able to work more at their home will be able to have contact with other kids elsewhere who have the same kinds of talents and skills they do. They won’t be sort of stuck with the same 30 kids in a classroom for eight or 12 years.

Unless schools prepare us for an information-rich society, then our youngsters simply won’t be prepared for dealing with a world that’s here any day now.

 I thought I’d finish with a couple of contrasting videos:

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One Response to How we saw education of the future

  1. Alberto says:

    Those predictions were made by people who had never actually entered a class of, let ‘s say, 8 to 16 year-old kids…

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