It’s Not School, It’s Life

Coming back to what’s important in education

There is a misalignment between the present educational experience and the requirements of the outside world. The World Economic Forum has shown that creativity will be the most important skill by 2020 and repetitive jobs may be outsourced to robots. Play and its attributes – exploration, discovery, and imagination – are the foundations of innovation. Innovation, in turn, is the root of competitive advantage and key to healing today’s most challenging problems. Play’s importance is not novel in educational history. Learning by discovery, pioneered by Dr. Maria Montessori in 1907 after opening her first school, may live in pre-school, but gets lost as students mature when the focus shifts to valuable – but not solely important – exams. Education is not about examination but about development and, ultimately, quality of life for individuals and for society as a whole. For us to achieve this, we need to invite all aspects of an individual to exist, not just what is rewarded through examination or pay. One way to do this, is to invite more play — an attribute that is at the heart of the Future School concept.

Future School is a project to rewrite the educational narrative and reimagine what the school environment would look like if we focused on allowing students to enjoy learning while also becoming equipped to make their unique contribution to society. The project intends to guide pupils in taking pleasure through meaningful, authentic contributions to the world. We want to create a space in which young people connect to their excitement for learning, experiencing school as a safe environment to make mistakes, explore, and grow. At the heart of this idea is play, we encourage students to do it and we allow educators to be flexible in how they form their curricula.

Social trends indicate change within education. Digital platforms like Coursera and non-education focused, social sharing platforms like YouTube provide individuals with more options for learning, suitable for the autodidact. Old educational institutions are looking for ways to progress while still honoring their heritage. A few examples include Eton College, which established Eton Innovations, putting them at the forefront of science and research around adolescent development, and Green School, Bali which created a learning environment where students can contribute to the earth as a learning tool. Further, millennial adults, as the parents of the present and near-future, tend toward the pursuit of purpose and passion in their work, making it likely that they will expect more from the education provided to their children. Even private companies are jumping into this space by engaging with young people. Google’s Science Fair, the Wired‘s Next Generation conference, and Apple Education programs are evidence of an opportunity to expand the meaning of “learning.”

The Future School concept treats the creation of school like the creation of a retail experience. We integrate digital with physical and spiritual with material, producing an immersive, emotionally resonant experience. Teachers are social reformers tasked with the job of keeping the curriculum relevant and connected to the world at large. Each room in the learning environment is a safe space for trialing ideas – experiments that seem dangerous or time consuming can be simulated, making it easier to ask “what if?” The school restaurant, for example, focuses on allowing eaters to really taste their meals, understand its origin, and explore the science and art of food.

This focus on experimentation and building an agile curriculum results in courses that are grounded, but not dogmatic, and open to evolution. Educators allow for different forms of intellectual expression to emerge,  honoring specialists, polymaths, and those who blend subject matters. By learning from alternative schools, modifying of existing systems, and generating entirely new ways of learning, these collective initiatives are forms of play in and of themselves. Beyond that, they are evidence of how we can create and evolve as a society.

the author

Natasha Hussein

Natasha Hussein is the founder of Laboratory of London which designs across fashion, furniture, and social innovation.