Cambridge Assessment International Education

Abandon rote learning to prepare children for ‘Post-memory’ age

EducationWorld February 2020 | Spotlight Feature

Our educational system needs a radical reboot if it is to equip the next generation to seize the future — Sumeet Mehta, Co-founder & CEO, LEAD School

The world around us is changing at an unprecedented rate; while our laptops and smartphones continue to update in real time, our human operating systems – our beliefs, our assumptions and our routines – risk becoming obsolete.

The speed with which certain elements of our daily lives have adapted – or, rather, been adapted – to technology is unprecedented. This is part of a broader trend of society failing to renew itself; our purpose and delivery of education being principle among them.

In fact, the very paradigm of our education system – the assumptions and beliefs on which it is based – is failing to equip the next generation to prosper in our new surroundings for two principle reasons.

Firstly, the essence of our daily lives – from social and economic, to cultural, and professional – has virtually
nothing in common with that of a generation ago. As an indicator of the future, and how best to prepare for
it, past experience offers virtually no insight: in 1951, for instance, average life expectancy for Indian citizens was around 37 years, by 2011 it had surpassed 65. During the same period, literacy rates jumped from 12% to over
74%, while infant mortality rates have fallen from 146 per 1,000 births to the current rate of 68.

These demographic shifts have been accompanied by socio-economic changes which render life a decade ago unrecognizable; by 2017, over 70 million more women had joined the workforce in India as compared to just a decade ago! Technology has transformed almost every element of our daily lives from where and how we work, to our entertainment and news sources; OTT platforms are replacing traditional media delivery and consumption habits, and social media has liberated the opinions, thoughts and idiosyncrasies of half a billion citizens. Technology is also creating jobs that didn’t exist even a decade ago: specialists consult with patients over video conferencing, employment candidates are sourced through social media, and marriages are committed online.

It is evident, as a guide to future events and situations, the past has never been a less effective indicator. The economic and societal changes sweeping society and redefining roles and relationships bear little, if any, reference to the past.

Secondly, human memory – as a means of Abandon rote learning to prepare children for ‘Post-memory’ age Our educational system needs a radical reboot if it is to equip the next generation to seize the future differentiation and competitive advantage – is heading towards obsolescence. The stark reality is that any memory related task a human takes on, a computer or an algorithm can do faster and at a lower cost. The average number of Google searches per day has grown from 9,800 in 1998 to over 4.7 trillion today. In effect, the Internet has become the external hard drive for our memories; our ability to recall and retrieve information has become irrelevant.

These two realities have rendered our traditional education system, based on memory and information recall, similarly obsolete. A McKinsey report shows that less than 25% of current Indian graduate engineers are employable, while last year a study by employability assessment company, The Aspiring Minds claimed that only 5% engineering candidates could write the correct logic for a programme —a minimum requirement for any programming job.

Such indicators should prompt us to question the relevance and capacity of our current educational system to prepare the next generation to the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.

We are living in a ‘Post-Memory’ age; one where the ability to analyze, synthesize and make judgements on data will always be valued more than the capacity to simply ‘retrieve’ it. The latter is already fully commoditized and ‘outsourced’ to technology with which humans have no hope of competing. And why should they; the wonder and essence of humanity is the unique capacity to reflect, to assess and, even, to dream – qualities that will always set an individual apart whether at home, in the workplace or as part of society as a whole.

This is the essence and opportunity of India’s ‘PostMemory’ future! And towards this, our schools must prepare our students.

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