Every day brings news of technological breakthroughs, of wireless providers increasing the speed at which people can access information, of new ways of communicating, and of the success of our tech companies and entrepreneurs. At the same time we also hear of climate change, the plight of the poor, the inequities between people and countries, the lack of consistent and available medical care and of the disruption technology is making on the world. We see, hear, and experience the differences between areas with ubiquitous broadband service and those with limited or no broadband access. Some of our students leave school where broadband access is available and go home to communities without adequate access to the internet. We acknowledge the differences in education spending between wealthy suburban schools and those in urban or rural areas. We see the difference in resident services between cities and small towns.
Despite the efforts of many, and the growing disparity in wealth between the top 1% of the population and the remaining 99%, we don’t see much progress on the state or national level to address these issues. If we look beyond our nation and compare nation to nation, this disparity in wealth, access to resources and ability to live up to one’s potential is even more glaring.
The answer to this problem was once, and remains, education. Unfortunately the old idea of a high school diploma being the ticket to success seems outdated and, as we’ve seen in the recent college admissions scandal, access to the best and most expensive colleges and universities doesn’t seem to rest primarily on ability, skill, or talent. The idea that a good college education is reserved for a specific type of person, when some education beyond high schools is almost required to succeed in the world, seems both cruel and not a particularly good way to build a society that needs its best and brightness to succeed despite their origins.
We see both sides of the technology communications coin. We have the ability to communicate around the world in an instant, to reach out to millions at a time, and the ability to share viewpoints and their supporting facts. But we also see the degradation of person-to-person interactions, of the ability to listen to differences of opinion with an open mind, the ability to debate those issues in a civilized manner, and of the negative impact of sharing theories with those that are of the same mind, despite a lack of hard evidence.
As many have said, technology is neither good nor evil but rather a tool that can be used for either. As we have little to gain from opposing technology other than being left even further behind the changes that are sweeping the world, how do we deal with this in the schools? We know that technology has in some cases dramatically changed the way we work, the skills we need to be successful, and in many cases even eliminated entire industries. We understand that the technological revolution is just beginning and, like knowledge, seems to be exponential in growth and we’re now facing the rapid growth of artificial intelligence (AI) without a guarantee of how this will further impact society.
While I hope we can continue to harness technology and change to benefit the human race, I’m fairly sure that schools are on the right path when they address social and emotional issues, when they concentrate on what some label ‘21st Century Skills’, and when they work with students to develop resilience. Perhaps economist Klaus Schwab put this into perspective when he wrote, “As technology increasingly takes over knowledge-based work, the cognitive skills that are central to today’s education systems will remain important; but behavioral and non-cognitive skills necessary for collaboration, innovation, and problem solving will become essential as well.” To that end, my hat is off to our own school committee for continuing to emphasize the education of the whole child and for requiring the skills needed to communicate, collaborate, innovate, problem solve and be good citizens remain part of our mission and goals.