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Global Art Forum speaker Rohan Roberts on the future of education

Global Art Forum is Art Dubai’s critically-acclaimed annual transdisciplinary arts conference, which combines original thinking and contemporary themes in an intimate, live environment.

Following on from last year’s theme of automation, Global Art Forum 2019 unites a diverse cast of global minds – from renowned curators and critics to educationalists and entrepreneurs – under the theme of “School is a Factory?” to address some of the urgent challenges and opportunities facing education today.

In the lead up the two-day summit, its co-directors Victoria Camblin and Fawz Kabra asked some of this year’s speakers a few fun questions on their unique educational paths, if school prepared them for real life and just how optimistic they are about the future of education.


Rohan Roberts, innovation leader of GEMS Education shares his thoughts on how technology opens the doors to learning opportunities:


Did school prepare you for “real life”? If not, what did?

If I were being honest, nothing about school prepared me for real life. The focus was on exams, teaching to the curriculum, and an obsession with grades. I know it sounds trite, but real life prepared me for real life.

Would you trust a robot to teach your child?

We used to think only humans could make art, compose music, and drive cars. Today we have A.I. that can all of those things and more – often better than many humans can. Undoubtedly, there will come a day when machines will teach our kids. However, of all the skills, teaching is the most difficult to automate. We now have A.I. that exhibit a variety of different types of intelligences – linguistic intelligence, mathematical, kinesthetic, visuo-spatial intelligence and so on. However, we still have no A.I. that can exhibit pedagogical intelligence – an understanding about how learning happens, and a disposition and capacity to shape one’s own learning. We still have no A.I. that can exhibit metacognition – thinking about thinking.

All these factors combined lead me to believe that teaching and learning will still be a human-led endeavour. Of course, we will continue to make use of many more edtech tools and narrow A.I. engines will help with adaptive learning and an increased personalization of learning. People all the world spend a lot of time having conversations with their smart agents – and these A.I.s are improving at a tremendous pace. So, the question really ought to be when will you trust a robot to teach your child? Because it’s only a matter of time.

What did you have to unlearn after school?

One of many things I had to unlearn after school was that grades are not any indication of a person’s innate worth. Here’s what I learnt in school: blind obedience to authority, compliance, discipline, don’t rock the boat, don’t question the status quo, might is right, hard work always pays off, exams are important… I had to unlearn all these things and much more.

In his subversive and hugely controversial 1971 book, “Deschooling Society” Ivan Illich points out that “School has become the world religion of a modernised proletariat, and makes futile promises of salvation to the poor of the technological age. The public is indoctrinated to believe that skills are valuable and reliable only if they are the result of formal schooling. School is the advertising agency which makes you believe that you need society as it is.”

Are you pessimistic or optimistic about the future of education?

I’m hugely optimistic about the future of education. 3 billion new minds from the poorest parts of the world are now coming online and contributing to the global discourse in ways we could never have imagined before. The access to knowledge and free online learning through MOOCs [Massive Open Online Courses] and other platforms is unprecedented. We have a plethora of new edtech apps, tools, and software that are allowing us to create, collaborate, and communicate in new and exciting ways. In the last 12 months alone we’ve published 2 million new books. Wikipedia is an example of an entirely new type of book – a fully hyperlinked entirely online networked book – all 30 million pages of it. VR and other emerging technologies will revolutionise education and make it far more engaging and immersive than ever before.

Also, I’m optimistic because with the advances in brain mapping and brain scanning, education is now becoming a science. The emerging field of Neuroeducation – or Mind-Brain education – will make the learning process far more effective than we’ve seen in the past.

Describe your ideal school environment.

In his book, “The World Needs a New Curriculum”, renowned educationist, Marc Prensky says, “We educate our kids so they can better their, and our, world. Our children can be, and should be, improving their world—and improving themselves in the process—via a new approach that far better suits them and the needs of our future society. From the very start of their education, we should be fusing ‘thinking skills’ and ‘accomplishing skills’ into an education with a direct, hands-on connection to the world and its problems.”

When we talk about education needing a revolution – this is the kind of bold vision and dramatic change we need to see: the creation of young people who can see the big picture, solve problems in their community, help bring about positive civilisation-level change, and be a force for good in the world.

My ideal school environment is one that focuses on real-world learning and the creation of upstanding citizens who will solve the problems. Such a school would focus not on grades and exams but rather on

  • Developing individuals who are scientifically literate and can think critically.
  • Creating individuals who are self-reliant and can survive independently as adults.
  • Promoting creativity, kindness, innovation, collaboration

Rohan joins Global Art Forum on Thursday March 21, 6:20-7:00pm, for “Artificial Intelligence, Real Education? A Taxonomy ” a discussion hosted by Victoria Camblin and Fawz Kabra, co-directors of Global Art  Forum and with Anna and Chris Batchelder, co-founders of Bon Education and Bon for Work on the issues facing education in the region today and how Artificial Intelligence can impact learning.

Global Art Forum is open to the public (including non-ticket holders) and free to attend. The Forum is supported by the Office of Public and Cultural Diplomacy in the UAE.

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