10 Future Forwards: Exploring Frontiers in Education
So, what does this have to do with schools? Recently, while being interviewed at an INK conference7, I
said, “If the American School of Bombay had our students from when they were three years old until
they graduated from our school, we would probably stop doing 20% of what we currently do.” In other
words, I was admitting that 20% of what we do, at our school, is not in the best interest of students.
Implicit in my comment was the excuse that: We do it because we are part of a complex ecosystem—
and our need to survive, as an organism within that ecosystem, defeats our desire to provide a more
relevant education to our students.
Schools don’t exist in a vacuum. We are connected to each other and we are all connected to
universities—and then to the work place. Schools cannot create what we believe is the most relevant
environment for our students, if it (our educational program in all it entails) does not fit or align with
what colleges expect from us. Nor can we customize our program too much away from what our
transitory students will be expected to have when they transfer to other schools. And of course there
are the expectations of the ‘work force’ and the corporate world hanging over our desire to innovate
and pursue relevance. This, in a nutshell, is part of the ecosystem I refer to.
But what if colleges and the work force are not aligned in their expectations of a K- 12 education? Do
schools then align themselves with colleges at the expense of disadvantaging our students against what
the work force will expect from them four years later? The logical and survivalist’s answer is YES. In a
way we seem to have no choice. Why? Because currently (and I mean it when I say “currently” because
it may not be so very soon) colleges bridge a student’s journey from High School to a career (and then to
life). But the college-bridge often has expectations, from a High School education, that are incongruent
with what is truly relevant. Honestly, it’s hubris. Yes, the collective body of higher education is guilty of
extreme pride and arrogance. Colleges believe they are eternally safe in their castles of status quo (or at
best, gradual and incremental change). Well, the Gods will, as they always do, punish those sinful of
hubris. And, in this case, the Gods are (as they always should be), the students of this century.
This is the Catch- 22 for schools (especially future thinking, relevancy driven, Independent schools):
We could become so relevant (in respect to our time and space, given our student population,
and our information environment), that we would become irrelevant in the scope of the larger,
slower, broader world (the one that needs the simplicity of a one-size-fits-all definition of how
to interpret a high school experience).
Or we could do the opposite: We could commit to aligning with the global status quo and
thereby become, in essence (and when judged against our real time and space and our specific
information environment), irrelevant. A state of being that will force our students to “bust out”
and find meaning elsewhere.