What Will Schools Teach in 2040?

I gave a talk last week at Suomi-Areena, the annual event collecting Finnish decision makers to discuss work, learning and the future among other topics. Our session consisted of seven talks on the future of work and learning that were commented by the members of the Finnish parliament, as well as our former President Tarja Halonen.

We had been tasked to sketch visions of what Finland will look like in 2040. The futurists and researchers such as Risto Linturi and the creator of “pulled oats”, Maija Itkonen, argued that in the future, work will be more entrepreneurial, and that robots will make many present day jobs obsolete.

My thesis was about the future of Finnish schools. I argued that in 2040 it is possible schools will no longer teach siloed subjects or even many skills like languages. At the present pace of technological acceleration, it is likely that information will be instantaneously available through augmented reality hardware, and that many skills will be supported or even replaced by machine learning solutions and artificial intelligence.

Already, Waverly Labs is developing a real time audio language translator in the spirit of Star Trek. Google Translate’s camera translator flips written language like sign posts and menus in augmented reality. (We just played with the Chinese camera translator at the office; it’s like living in a science fiction movie.) In 2040 our everyday lives will be overlaid by a seamless digital augmented reality, not unlike what many are currently experiencing with the popular new game Pokémon Go.

As President Halonen argued in her closing remarks, availability of raw information does not preclude the school’s role in helping students understand, for example, historical events. Information alone does not lead to understanding, if people don’t know the context behind the information. However, in 2040 instead of rote learning about historical events, students will make virtual reality journeys to experience them themselves. Google already offers virtual travel for schools, and this technology will no doubt become part of our everyday experience in the next 25 years.

In a paradoxical way, I think the role of the teacher will in fact be emphasized in the future. As access to information grows faster and more ubiquitous, the more important a role will human connection and human understanding play.

In order to get ready for this world of the future of learning, we must move from siloed subjects to phenomenon based learning, from teaching to coaching and supporting learning, and make sure our students will have access to the relevant new learning technologies, such as augmented reality and virtual reality. In Finland, all of this is already being implemented in the new curriculum rolled out this fall, which makes me all the more proud about our amazing educational system.

We are facing a whole new world of learning and understanding, where, if we take the right steps, these developments will release a massive amount of cognitive capacity to direct towards, for example, literature and art, as was pointed out by MP Merja Mäkisalo-Ropponen. This is where the role of the school and teachers are crucial.

When technology replaces processes that are difficult for humans – as it has done for centuries – new resources are freed up. Thus the most important thing to teach in 2040 is how to evaluate thinking itself.

This is why I believe in 2040 schools will teach children primaly how to wonder.