[Korea and the fourth industrial revolution <9-1 Education>] Building the classroom of the 21st century

June 21,2017
Economists who preach the gospel of the fourth industrial revolution tout the massive potential for technology to improve quality of life for humans, but the added convenience will undoubtedly come with disruptive changes in the labor market. It won’t be long before clerical and retail work are performed by robots and artificial intelligence platforms offer many of the services in prestige fields like law, finance, education and medicine.

There is already discussion about what jobs and skills will survive, and the world faces the great task of educating and training the next generation of workers to adapt to new technologies. Marco Annunziata, chief economist and executive director of global market insight at GE, has noted that the workforce will need to go through a significant transformation because jobs of the future will demand “well-developed problem-solving abilities and creativity.”

“Education and training need to catch up and fast,” he said in a Globe and Mail column in December.

On top of traditional academic disciplines like science, technology, engineering and mathematics, collectively known as STEM, education experts also emphasize the 6Cs: creativity, critical thinking, communication, collaboration, computational thinking and curiosity - abstract qualities that are more difficult to teach but vital to childhood development.

The online classroom

In December last year, Korea’s Ministry of Education proposed a set of measures that will maximize students’ aptitude in the classroom and foster their ability to think and solve problems on their own. “For education reform to bear fruit, innovation in classrooms and teachers’ roles are essential,” the ministry noted in a report containing the proposal.

Massive open online courses, or MOOCs, have been regarded as a dominant force in the transformation of pedagogy. MOOCs are online courses in which anyone with a computer, regardless of age, location or education background, can join. They are usually offered by well-financed providers associated with top universities, are readily accessible on the web and have no limits on participation. The typical course consists of several units that include video lectures with closed captioning, assignments to help students understand concepts and quizzes to reinforce ideas.

In October 2015, the Korean government launched its own version of a MOOC, called K-MOOC, which makes university lectures available online to the general public. According to the Education Ministry, a total 260,000 people have registered for the state-funded K-MOOC lectures as of April. The government plans to add over 160 lectures on engineering, the humanities and Korean literature, fields that have seen a large demand, this year. In total, there will be 300 lectures available from 10 universities nationwide.

“The new online education system is expected to make possible interactive communication beyond space, unlike previous cyber-based learning that was based on videos,” said Choi Yoon-hong, head of school policy at the Education Ministry. It has the potential to ease the education gap between rural and urban areas and make up for a shortage of teachers in remote areas.

MOOCs are also being used in lifelong education beyond K-12 and college. Udacity, a MOOC provider that grew out of free computer science classes offered at Stanford University, is one example. The company initially issued certificates of completion for individual courses in computing, math and physics but began allowing students to pay an $89 fee for a final exam that could grant them a credential. Udacity now works with employers like Amazon and Facebook to offer “nanodegrees” that are tightly vocational. More than 30 companies including Samsung Electronics and Intel have signed up to work with Udacity as “hiring partners” that can gain access to graduating students before they enter the wider job market.

Sebastian Thrun, founder of Udacity, said in an interview with MIT Technology Review in December last year that there was a growing mismatch between people’s pedagogical needs and the idea of once-in-a-lifetime education in college, which “made sense when people had one job for life. Now technology moves fast and people are forced into new jobs quickly.” That means individuals have no choice but to be agile in learning and adapting.

Lee Min-wha, one of Korea’s first start-up entrepreneurs and a guest professor at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, echoes this view. “We are entering the age of active aging, where there is no notion of retirement,” he wrote in a recent column in the Seoul Economic Daily. “Even after you spend 25 years at work to reach 52 years old, you still have another 25 years to work, which inevitably requires constant job change. That creates unlimited demand for occupational education.”

Lee foresees a future where lifelong education will surpass K-12 schooling in importance.

The creative classroom

For all the technological convenience of MOOCs, they can never replace the experience of hands-on learning. In the past few years, makerspaces have also emerged as a buzzword in education.

Makerspaces are workshops, either in schools or private institutes, that offer the tools and learning experiences which students can use to help carry out their ideas. They can create anything from electronic devices to robots using open-source learning materials and rapid prototyping tools like 3-D printers and raw materials. The idea originates from the generations-old tradition of building products in workshops, and the concept has been spotlighted for its benefits in engaging learners in creative higher-order problem-solving through hands-on design and construction.

Choi Jae-kyu, CEO and founder of Magic Eco, a Korean start-up specializing in coding education under the brand name 10make, believes the role of makerspaces in education is growing.

“When artificial intelligence becomes commonplace, the ability to simply solve math problems will no longer be valid as a core competitiveness,” Choi said. “What humans will need to do is work together with other humans and persuade them in the problem-solving process.”

Some public middle schools, universities and district offices are running makerspaces themed on invention and design, but most parents have to pay extra to let their children experience these alternative education experiences after school lets out. The students, mostly in teams, can build drones out of Lego bricks, develop mobile apps and create mechanical toys.

As the makerspace concept gains traction, some colleges in Korea are beginning to give extra marks to students who engage in makerspace activities, modeled after overseas universities like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that are already doing so. Korean public education, though, has yet to formally adopt makerspaces, and many pedagogical experts are urging the government to expand investment in such facilities.

“The question of how to renovate or repurpose classrooms to address the needs of the future is being answered through the concept of makerspaces,” the U.S.-based New Media Consortium wrote in a preview of its 2017 K-12 NMC/CoSN Horizon Report, an annual report on technology trends in global education. The full report is set for release in August.

The preview forecasts makerspaces will be commonly adopted in the classrooms of advanced countries within a year as 3-D printers and 3-D modeling apps become increasingly accessible to more people. Robots are also expected to be widely adopted by schools in one year’s time or less, and the time to adoption for analytical technologies and virtual reality is estimated to be two to three years. Artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things are expected to become mainstream in schools in four to five years, according to the report.

Computer coding, the report noted, represents a core part of makerspace activities in a broader context because many educators perceive coding as a way to stimulate computational thinking. “The rise of coding signals a shift from instructing students how to use computers, applications, and programs toward how they are built,” the report said.

To better prepare learners from a young age, more school leaders and technologists are making the case for coding in the K-12 curriculum. Britain in 2014 made computer coding a compulsory part of the curriculum for every child over five; China and India did the same in 2010. And in a meeting with President Donald Trump on Monday, Apple CEO Tim Cook called for making coding a mandatory part of the U.S. education system.

Korea is belatedly preparing to incorporate software education and coding into the curriculum at middle and high schools starting next year and elementary schools by 2019.

The holistic classroom

As schools increasingly incorporate activities that foster active learning and promote problem-solving skills, the roles and duties of teachers are undergoing changes, too.

“The rise of blended and online learning is contributing to this shift,” the New Media Consortium wrote in its 2016 report. “With a wealth of content available online, teachers are no longer expected to serve as the sole authoritative source of information in the classroom.”

But it doesn’t mean teachers will be entirely removed from classrooms or replaced by robots.

“Teachers are now tasked with changing their leadership style from directive to consultative and involving students in planning, implementation, and assessment,” the report noted.

The so-called flipped classroom underscores these changes. Here, the idea is flipping the focus from teachers to students. Class time is spent exploring topics in greater depth through activities like lab experiments and debate, and teachers’ interaction with students are more personalized and less didactic.

Korea’s Education Ministry is deliberating on a series of measures to address changes in the role of teachers. Some of the measures include revising curricula at teachers’ colleges and amending the content of state exams for becoming teachers. To narrow the gap between the process of fostering teachers and developments in education, the ministry is also considering providing mandatory training for a designated period before those who pass the exam are dispatched to respective schools.

In a related move, 15 professors at Seoul National University launched at the beginning of this year a group devoted to discussing “creative pedagogy” based on the idea that any student can become more creative if taught properly.

“Many say Korea already lags behind when it comes to education for the fourth industrial revolution era,” said Lim Cheol-il, an education professor at Seoul National University and chairman of the Korean Society for Educational Technology. “But we believe resetting the teaching methods at university level could make up for the gap.”

More interdisciplinary teaching is required as well, experts say, given the convergence of man and machine in the near future. The subject distance between science and the humanities is expected to be greatly reduced, which is why the liberal arts have been highlighted as key to sustaining innovation. The Brookings Institution, a think tank in the United States, noted in a recent report that students in liberal arts programs have the extensive skills necessary to ride out the fourth industrial revolution, “when effectively paired with disruptive technologies.”

Kim Jin-soo, a long-time entrepreneur and education expert who in March launched the Edutech Start-up Alliance in Korea, says education’s value orientation should still lie in basics.

“An everlasting point of education is about nurturing well-rounded humans with a healthy mindset and body and a nice personality to harmonize well with others after all,” he said. “Technologies are a means of propping up such efforts.”

BY SEO JI-EUN [seo.jieun@joongang.co.kr]

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