The School of the Future and the Future of Schooling

[This article was written by me (Eduardo Chaves) in June 2006. It is not specifically about the Lumiar School project, but it helps clarify the issues involved in the project.]


1. Microsoft’s School of the Future Program

II. The Future of Schooling in Large, Diversified Emerging Countries

1. “The Six I’s Model”

2. A Blueprint versus a Compass, Maps and Travel Guides

3. The School we Have versus The School we Want to Have

A. The Need to “Reconceptualize” Education

B. The Need to “Reconceptualize” Learning

C. The Need to “Reconceptualize” Schooling

D. The School of the Future

1. Microsoft’s School of the Future Program

Microsoft invested considerable financial, material and human resources in the project School of the Future (SOF) in Philadelphia. After several years, it looks as if we will, finally, be able to see the results of that investment.

Microsoft seems also quite willing to invest more resources in launching a worldwide School of the Future program (the name may still change before the initiative is officially launched) — to be deployed in at least twenty sites in different regions of the world, several of which in emerging countries.

Ironically, if this program is to succeed, the first requirement is to “de-philadelphia-lize” it…

I will explain what I mean.

If we are going to take seriously Alvin Toffler’s ideas that:

* civilizations should be understood in very “macro” terms,

* the world, up to the mid-fifties in the United States, had lived through only two “macro-civilizations”, the agrarian and the industrial one,

* the world is only now beginning, in a more generalized manner, its inroad into the third, the information- or knowledge-based civilization,

* then it is necessary to recognize that in many parts of the worlds these three civilizations, that Toffler calls “waves”, in fact coexist, side by side, within one single country.

My own country, Brazil, is an example of that. My state, São Paulo, takes prides in being the “locomotive” that pulls the country ahead. Not too long ago, in the beginning of the twentieth century, this locomotive ran on agriculture — mostly coffee. By the time the United States was beginning to enter the third wave, in 1955, São Paulo was beginning to enter its second wave (starting its automotive industry, and so bringing Brazil into age of industry). Now that São Paulo has clearly embarked on the third wave, developing or emerging states in Brazil scramble to get a piece of what is left of the second wave. At the same time, Brazil’s most radical and violent social movement, the Movement of the Landless (Movimento dos Sem Terra), has as its main flag the need (as they see it) to get the Brazilian poor a piece of land, so they can settle in it, cultivate it, and thus enter (! sic) the first wave…

What is the School of the Future supposed to be like in Brazil?

The model of the School of the Future that is adequate for Philadelphia may be — I insist: MAY BE — adequate for the most developed regions of the State of São Paulo (like my own city, Campinas, considered by many to be “The Silicon Valley” of Brazil). But even of that I am not sure (see below, the discussion of Scharffenberger’s and Negroponte’s insights). But of one things I am sure: that model is not be adequate for regions that are struggling to leave the first wave and benefit from what is left from industrial civilization. Much less for regions that are still heavily dependent on traditional agricultural methods, not much affected by automation, and so are clearly in the first wave.

What I am saying about Brazil probably applies to other countries. Toffler’s latest book, released just a few weeks ago, Revolutionary Wealth, makes much of China’s “twin track” strategy of development: enter the second and the third wave simultaneously. But this fact only underlines the fact that a large part of the Chinese territory is still in the first wave. The same with India. The same (probably less so) with Russia.

So much for The School of the Future in the BRIC countries…

In what follows I will try to outline some considerations about how I see the future of schooling — and consequently the School of the Future — in countries like Brazil, in the hope that what I say will also apply to Russia, India, China, and, perhaps, to several other countries struggling to enter the information- or knowledge-based era while still facing some very typical second- and even first-wave challenges.

II. The Future of Schooling in Large, Diversified Emerging Countries

The School of the Future project of Philadelphia has taught us some importance lessons and produced an interesting methodology.

Perhaps the most important lesson to be learned from the Philadelphia project is that no School of the Future project, not even in a developed, third-wave region, can be technology-led. If Microsoft hoped to help create in Philadelphia a model school that would showcase its state-of-the-art technology, these hopes had to be rapidly shelved (at least temporarily) in favor of more down-to-earth goals and solutions. Creating (sic: Philadelphia’s School of the Future is being created from scratch) a school that will serve as a reference for the 21st-century information- and knowledge-based civilization, requires some carefully developed methodological tools.

1. “The Six I’s Model”

One such methodological tool that emerged from the Philadelphia project was “The Six I’s Model”:

* Introspection

* Investigation

* Inclusion

* Innovation

* Implementation

* Introspection (again)

In what follows I will give my own rendition of how this models is supposed to work…


In the beginning of any process of change — and creating a new kind of school is a huge process of change — lies introspection. Where are we with regard to our present schools? Are we satisfied with them? Are they doing the job they were supposed to do? Better than that: are they doing the job we would like them to do in present — and profoundly changed — (social, economic, cultural) conditions? No change process will ever get started if our answer is “yes” to these questions.

This shows us that a change process must begin with introspection — but will only be really put in place if the result of our introspection is dissatisfaction (should we say “insatisfaction” to stick with the “i’s”?) with present conditions. Change is something difficult to achieve — even on a personal level (think of a diet, or of quitting smoking). Our only hope of achieving is if we are profoundly dissatisfied with present conditions.


The second step is investigation. What is out there? What are the alternatives? What could we be doing with our schools that is different from — and better than — what we presently do? If we embark on a large-scale change process, what are our possible destinations? To answer these questions we need to investigate, see what is being done in other places: What has succeeded and what has failed? What are the critical factors of success? What are the main obstacles and constraints? Some of this investigation can be done through reading. But some of it will have to be field work.


Once we investigate as well as possible the alternatives, it is time to reflect on what we found out. But this reflection cannot — ought not — be done only by teachers or educators. Other stakeholders have to be brought in, especially parents, the community, business people, persons involved in not-for-profit organizations, important government leaders… In fact, everybody has a stake in education. Education, of which schooling is the institutional face, is too important an undertaking to be left to teachers and educators. (In this phase we need to be as inclusive as possible. I almost added: but, please, leave unions out – but I don’t want to limit inclusiveness, and so be more controversial than I need).

The broad group of stakeholders will need to look at all the results of the investigation, bring in their own experience, and try to define a common, shared vision. Inclusion is, so to say, the process — a common, shared vision, the product of this phase.


The vision we reach must be innovative — or the whole exercise may not be worth the effort.

It is important to recognize that change, as such, need not be innovative. There is change that has, as its only goal, to allow things to remain the same. There is change that is piecemeal, incremental, consisting of small fixes (often techno-fixes) that try to guarantee that we do not seek more radical change. This sort of small, gradual, incremental change has been described by some as the main goal of reform. When we reform things we maintain their form — only improve it a little bit. But if we are to believe what some people are saying — and trust our basic intuition — what we need in relation to our present schools, especially in emerging countries, is more than reform that preserves present form: it is innovation that leads to transformation, that is, to transcending present form.

Please note that we are not speaking necessarily of technology here — but technology, and the changes it has helped bring to society, looms large in the background.

George Thomas Scharffenberger, who used to head the NGO WordLinks, associated with the World Bank, once said that technology can be brought into schools with three different goals in mind (that he described as the three “s’s”…):

* Sustain what is already being done there

* Supplement what is being done there

* Subvert what is being done there

When technology is brought into the school with the first goal in mind, technology becomes a conservative force.

When technology is brought into the school with the second goal in mind, technology becomes a reformative force.

When technology is brought into the school with the third goal in mind, technology becomes an innovative, transformative force.

The choice, is ours. What is it going to be? I have no doubt about what the answer ought to be for emerging countries.

Nicholas Negroponte uses to say that the degree of radical innovation that we are willing to accept for our schools in different countries is likely to be inversely proportional to the perceived quality of the school system of these countries.

Countries that perceive their school system as very good will not be willing to change it, much less engage in processes of radical, innovative, transformative change: what for? the system works well, we only need, perhaps, to “tweak” it, to “fine tune” it. They are conservative.

Countries that perceive their school system as average, or fairly decent, will be willing to change it — but only piecemeal, bit by bit, gradually, incrementally, in order to improve it while retaining the positive aspects it has already developed. They are reformative.

Countries that perceive their school system as bad, however, will be willing to subject it to radical, innovative, transformative change — change that will go beyond present form and try somehow to reinvent schooling. They are innovative, transformative. Perhaps, revolutionary.

Negroponte makes a daring bet: the most radical uses of technology in school may come, not from developed countries, but from countries where the school system is so bad that people will dare much more in the hope of transforming it — where people will be willing to use technology to “subvert” school’s present form (if I may mix Scharffenberger’s and Negroponte’s insights) and replace it with something else that, perhaps, still has to be invented. That is what is meant by “reinventing the school” – a concept people in developed countries even have difficulty to understand…

Is it evident, now, why innovation is not necessarily a question of bringing technology into schools — even if we acknowledge that, today, no worthwhile process of school change can ignore technology? Before we bring technology into schools, we must decide what the purpose of technology in the school is: to sustain, supplement or subvert what is presently being done there?

But I said we cannot ignore technology even as we are discussing this. This means, however, that we must not simply choose which technology should be brought into the school, but also take VERY seriously the technology that children and adolescents will be using outside the school (videogames, cell phones, mp3 players, digital cameras, instant messengers, e-mail, blogs, discussion groups, etc.). Technology can be a powerful learning tool for children exactly because, for them, technology is a toy, not a tool…


This is the stage where vision (“dreams”) must become reality. This is the phase where we have to worry about resources (financial, material and, of course, human), about managing the process of change, guaranteeing that “first fruits” appear soon enough to forestall discouragement… This is the phase of execution. The previous phases are certainly more charming — but without this one, all the previous work will become just the chronicle of what was once a dream…


Once the process is implemented it is time to rest and enjoy the work well done? NO! It is time to start all over again… to check if the changes produced are bringing about the results that we aimed for… Introspection again.

o O o

This “Six I’s Model” is a very important contribution of the Philadelphia project. I have added a lot of my own views to its description here — because I wanted to show that this very model may be a powerful instrument to justify my contention that, if Microsoft’s worldwide School of the Future program is to succeed, the first requirement is to “de-philadelphia-lize” it… But the tool to de-philadelphia-lize it was produced within the Philadelphia project!

2. A Blueprint versus a Compass, Maps and Travel Guides

I am convinced that nobody at Microsoft — certainly not anyone that has been involved with the School of the Future initiative — believes that the Philadelphia project ought to become a blueprint for other countries. But the danger is real that many countries, upon seeing what has been done there, may be tempted to simply copy it — using it as blueprint for their own projects. And, worse, the countries that may be tempted to do so may be the ones that would need the most to go a long way beyond it (while using the model that was developed in the process).

I have in the past suggested that, in education, especially when we deal with school change, we do not need blueprints — what we need is a compass and a set of maps and, perhaps, travel guides. Nowadays the compass may probably be replaced, with advantages, by a GPS system.

A compass or a GPS system tells us where we are. Everything must begin where we are. It is of no immediate use finding out how to get from Salzburg to Vienna if we must begin our journey in Cortland, Ohio.

A map shows us the many places we can go — as well as the roads that can take us there. If the map is more than a basic roadmap, it will show where rivers, lakes, and mountains (“natural obstacles”) are, it will describe scenic routes, it will indicate where national parks are located, which are the zones of environmental protection and interest, etc. In other words: a “rich map” is almost a travel guide…

The most important information, after where we are, is where we want to go. Yogi Berra is credited with saying that “if you don’t know where you’re going, you may end up somewhere else”. A different version of the saying (perhaps influenced by Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland) states that “if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there”… Very true.

A common map will show us all the places we can go — but it will not suggest places worth going… Nor will it suggest the most interesting routes and itineraries…

A travel guide does just that. It describes a few of these places in some detail and suggests worthy destinations, that is, places most worth visiting — and, perhaps, the best itineraries: if you have plenty of time, you may choose a long, winding, scenic road… If you are in a hurry, you can take the “all-roads-look-alike” freeway — where you, besides not being able to appreciate the beautiful scenery, may have to pay a toll for getting there quickly…

The destination may be, well, Paris. If you are in the United States, you may fly straight to Charles de Gaulle airport. Or you may fly to Lisbon, rent a car, and drive through the back roads of Portugal, Spain and “deep France” until you get to La Place de la Republique… Here you have many different ways of getting to your destination. But the destination may be, let us say, Prague… You could still fly to Charles de Gaulle first — or even to Lisbon, and then get to Prague in part by car, in part by train, stopping over in Paris… Those who know human nature say that an important part of the joy of traveling is not just getting there: it is “in the getting there”, in “how you get there”…

I suggest that the School of the Future program that Microsoft is about to launch be more like a compass (a GPS system) and a set of maps and travel guides than like a blueprint… This is what I mean by saying that the key to its success will be in Microsoft’s ability to “de-philadelphia-lize” the program…

3. The School we Have versus The School we Want to Have…

When we introspect and analyze where we are, and when we define where we want to go, we must have some important indicators in mind. I suggest the following:

* The view of what education ought to be

* The view of what learning is

* The view of the best curriculum for promoting this kind of learning

* The view of the best methods for bringing about this kind of learning

* The view of the role of teachers in the process

* The view of how much say students ought to have in deciding what, when, where and how to learn (don’t we speak of anytime, anywhere learning?)

* The view of how the institution ought to be managed

* The view of how the community ought to be involved in the school

* The view of how technology can best contribute to promoting this kind of learning in this kind of context

This is not the place to go into detail into all of these indicators. I will briefly comment on just three of them.

A. The Need to “Reconceptualize” Education

I know Microsoft Word will balk at the term “reconceptualize”: it may suggest “reconcept” instead. But the right idea is that we have to reconceptualize education: we need to change our concept of education, is schools are to be effective in the 21st century…

Until now we have conceived education more or less in a durkheimian fashion. According to the French sociologist, Émile Durkheim, education is something the older generations do to the younger generations in order to make them absorb and assimilate the ideas, beliefs, values, attitudes that allow society to maintain, preserve and reproduce itself across time and allow children to fit into society… To educate, in this view, is to transmit the culture heritage of a society (or of humanity, depending on how broad- or local-minded we are) from one generation to the other… To educate, in this view, is to “deliver content” from teachers to students…

But this is not the only possible view of education. This view is society-centered. In it children (students) are the object – not the subject of education. It is possible to conceive education in a learner-centered manner, in which students are the subjects of their own education…

We are born totally incompetent, and, because of that, absolutely dependent. The babies of other animal species can walk and communicate and, to some extent, take care of themselves, from their first day of life. Human babies take basically one year to walk on their own and two to three years to communicate reasonably with their peers (something that some never seem to become able to do…). And yet, we are born with an incredible capacity to learn. This capacity to learn is what allows incompetent and dependent human beings to become competent and autonomous adults.

But there is something else that is quite important: humans are not totally “programmed”. They are undeniably born with some basic programming. But this programming is open: it allows them, from a given time on, to decide what they want to be, what they want to make of their lives, how they want to build their future… That is why we ask children what they want to be when they grown up — but don’t dream of asking that to our favorite pet (dog or cat)…

This undeniable set of facts about human nature must be kept in mind as we reconceptualize education… Education must the process by means of which we transform ourselves, from incompetent and dependent human beings, into competent and autonomous adults – but into adults of our own choosing! Education is a process of human development — not of content delivery, from a generation to another…

Of course, we are not able to educate ourselves alone… But, as a Brazilian educator, Paulo Freire, once put it, nor must we imagine that, because of that, others have to educate us! According to Paulo Freire, neither do we educate ourselves, nor do others educate us: we educate one another, through interaction, through communication, through collaboration — through what he calls “communion”. And we do this having the world as our background, as our stage, as our scenery…

Back in the sixties Paulo Freire shocked the world when he said that we must not conceive education according to a “banking analogy”. And older generation has funds in its account. Since it knows it is not going to last forever (it is going to die), it must transfer those funds from their account into the account of the newer generation. Education, in this traditional view, is a process of funds transfer from the older to the newer generations… NO, he said: education is a process of human development, in which we become competent and autonomous as we define and implement a project for our own life (where we learn by “practicing our freedom”…).

Viewed this way, education does not have to do with teachers teaching content to students… but with students trying, with the help of teachers, to develop themselves into the competent, autonomous human beings they want to become!

B. The Need to “Reconceptualize” Learning

If we reconceptualize education along the lines suggested in the previous section, then we must also reconceptualize learning… To learn is not to absorb and assimilate information and knowledge (no matter how important it is)… To learn is not to absorb and assimilate our cultural past in order to allow culture to be preserved and reproduced… To learn is to become capable of doing that which we were not capable of doing before… (Vide Peter Senge, The Fifth Discipline… He is miles away from Paulo Freire in many ways, but so close in others…). To learn is to become able to develop ourselves from the incompetent and dependent human beings we were at birth into the competent and autonomous adults we must be in order not only to survive – but to choose and achieve a life that brings personal realization and fulfillment!

This kind of learning is not a passive by-product of teaching: it is only achieved as we actively gain control of our lives and destinies… “as we practice our liberty”, as Paulo Freire would say. Learning is not something others do to us… Nor is it something we do by ourselves. Learning is something we achieve collaboratively, interactively, as we live our lives in this world.

C. The Need to “Reconceptualize” Schooling

If all of this is true – and I, personally, have no doubt it is – then the school we ought to have must not be a place where we sit, in a disciplined manner, one after the other, well uniformed, perhaps even in numerical sequence according to our enrollment number, and where we have to raise our hands to get permission to talk (or to go to the restroom!), in order to listen to a teacher speak… It must be a place where we are actively (sometimes disruptively) engaged in learning the things that contribute to transforming our life projects (our dreams) into reality…

Schools are supposed to be learning environments – not teaching environments. The most important persons in schools are students, not teachers: if there were not students, there wouldn’t be any schools… Schools must become student-centered, not teacher-centered – that means, they must be learning-centered, not teaching-centered… And they must be focused on the development of competence and autonomy – not on the delivery of content (much less on the “delivery of learning”, a concept I can’t even begin to understand”…)

And since people are so different one from the other, they will want to learn different things… One student will want to be a scientist. The other, an artist. The other, a carpenter. The other, a football player. The other (heavens forbid!), a politician or a lawyer. If schools are to be rich learning environments, they must make room for all these differences…

Schools must not be factories where only Henry Ford’s black cars are produced… They must be open learning environments, where people use all of their creativity and innovation to forge their own future… Where young people decide that their profession will be one that hasn’t been invented yet… Or even that they will not have a profession…

D. The School of the Future

The School of the Future must be open – because the future hasn’t been invented yet… At the MIT’s Media Lab they presumptuously state “here we invent the future”. That is not true. The place where we invent the future is our schools. Our future will be pretty much like the past if our schools are conservative. Our future will be a series of small improvements upon the present if our schools are allowed to reform themselves. But our future may be a brave new beginning if we allow our schools to be radically transformed, to be places where real learning takes place, to be the places where the future is really invented.

Eduardo O C Chaves

Salto, SP, Brazil, on the 17th of May of 2006

Transcribed here from Salto (Brazil), on the 5th of October, 2007

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