Image courtesy of NASA – Crescent Moon
James walked downstairs to breakfast. The sun was coming up. He could see it being reflected off the glass of the building opposite. The big double doors were open to the balcony outside. The air smelt fresh and crisp in spring, the snap of it jarring him awake. A smell wafted from the kitchen, warm and rich. Someone was baking bread.
“Hey mum,” he called to the kitchen.
“Hey sweetie. Sleep well?”
“Sure,” he called back, non-committally. He walked over to one wall of the room, made a rectangle with his thumbs and forefingers, and pulled them apart. From somewhere above him, a beam of light projected out, hitting the wall and turning it in to a display.
“Morning James,” came a voice from all around. “How can I help you today?”
“Where’s Dad? Has he left for work yet?”
“Your father is currently in the car. Would you like me to connect you? He’s currently available for communication.”
“Thanks,” he nodded. His father’s image pinged up on the display for a moment, with the word “calling” written underneath. After a moment, he answered. His father was relaxing in the car’s rear compartment, talking with a colleague, as the car whisked him across the country at speeds far higher than a human could safely drive.
“Hey son, how you doing? Just got up?”
“Yup,” he replied. “Mum’s baking bread. You coming home for lunch?”
“I’m afraid not. I’ve got a big meeting. I may be back a little late tonight. Shouldn’t be much later than seven though. What are you studying today?”
“16th century history. Josh, Steve, Mike and I are studying the Protestant reformation, the founding of the heliocentric theory of the universe, and Galileo and Kepler and their contributions to mathematics.”
“Sounds like a busy day. Work hard, and if you do well, we’ll all fly out to the Lunar base this weekend. Deal?”
“Awesome!”, replied James, making his father smile.
“Alright, be good for your mother and I’ll see you tonight. Can you pass me over to her?”
James nodded. He flicked his hand toward the kitchen, and the display shot off. A moment later, he heard his mother’s voice.
“Show me the next part of the lecture series on the Protestant reformation please Michael,” he called to the air. After a moment, a new display appeared on the wall. Then it seemed to pull away, creating a three-dimensional person, about two feet tall, floating in the room.
“The reformation began in…” the holographic man started. Below him, a map of Europe, circa 1500AD covered a small portion of the floor, complete with markers for cities, populations, religious affiliations, country borders and current monarchs. James sat down in a nearby chair for his lesson.
Shortly after the invention of the quantum computer chip, and the laying of fibre optic broadband to almost every house in the UK, it had been clear that the days of teaching as a profession were numbered.
Teaching had been relegated to a minority profession in a matter of years. It had been simply a question of scale. A teacher, working for 45 years, could teach maybe 1,500 children. Some lessons would be better than others, some children would get more attention and do better than others, they’d occasionally need time off and so on. Simply put, human teachers were inconsistent, and not always great.
So when the new educational bodies started recording the best lectures for every subject from around in the world, annotating them in 3D, and enhancing them with CG, what could the schools do to fight back?
Now, lessons on history were taught by the participants, geopolitics played out in fast motion on giant holographic boards, sciences were shown in interactive form; you could literally watch the big bang play out in front of you. The teaching profession couldn’t withstand the onslaught of technology, and didn’t. There was now no enforced education and no set curriculum; instead, there was suggested progression from one subject to the next. A student could take as much or as little time to master any subject as they required, and be tested on a subject only when they felt they were truly ready, rather than due to the passage of arbitrary lengths of time.
Instead, it pivoted. Now, live debates were curated by teachers – experts in the subject matter, who oversaw the messages and interaction of thousands of students across the world. After studying a subject, students of all ages were able to interact with others studying the same lectures, analysing and critiquing each others viewpoints. The schools themselves had become safe areas for children, where they could meet and be supervised, as a place to spend spare time and mingle with their peers. School, for those of all ages, had become more like university.
Not all people benefited from this shift. Society had shifted to become a more pure meritocracy, where a persons chances in life were defined by how much they were willing to put in. Those who didn’t care to learn, didn’t, whilst those who applied themselves and studied, with every moment spent learning, increased their chances in life. And there were those who decided to forego the merits of education, being happy with a life in, what were generally considered to be “lesser” trades, in return for the freedom to spend their childhoods and free time indulging in other things. The democratisation of knowledge hadn’t been a boon to all – it had simply allowed everyone the chance to be whatever they wanted, whatever that might have been. And simply put, not everyone had wanted to be great.
The debate lasted for 45 minutes. Over three thousand students from all over the English speaking world, talking over the finer points of the reformation. Ideas were framed, and as the various sides put forth their views, they were encouraged, corrected and encouraged to elaborate by three teachers. As different theories became fleshed out, the alterations and memes suggested were played out on a giant map of Europe. History was poked, prodded and altered. The modifications gave context to the themes being discussed. By the end of it, the students likely all had a better grasp of what had been going on in the world than those who’d been alive at the time.
The end result of this was a bifurcated society. Of course, the world had been stratified before, but due to many different factors; parental wealth, access to good education (which was often linked to wealth), a child’s aptitude and engagement, the quality of a teacher on any individual day, how well the child did on any particular exam… Now though, it had been split in a different way. It became pretty much irrelevant who your parents were; when education became separate from money, student’s prospects became based on two things: their natural ability and their natural curiosity.
As a result, the curious, the brilliant and the passionate had flourished. Of course, where a person was born would still have huge influence over their educational development, as those who had parents who pushed them to do well, of whom society expected the most, still tended to do better. It was a simple fact that as their natural curiousity was nurtured further, and their effort more rewarded than those of whom very little was expected, they would do better. But social mobility had increased to the point where, should someone desire to be brilliant in some area, they could be, and they could to an extent counteract any foolishness in their childhood in later life, should they wish to. All it took was time, patience and the desire to thrive.
The geeks had inherited the Earth.
To be continued…
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- British pupils’ social mobility divide is among world’s worst