Many pupils who are starting school now will be taking their school-leaving exams in 2035. What technologies will be used in this not-too-distant future? What will teachers have to face? Here’s some food for thought.
It is a sunny day in May 2035 when Djamila gets off the electric bus and walks towards the school building. In Germany, school education policy in 2035 is now a federal matter and the Federal Ministry of School Education, founded in 2029, had followed the suggestions of sleep researchers and set the start of classes at nine o'clock to accommodate the biorhythms of children and young people. Djamila has now got used to the change of time. She switches her data glasses from watching a video about photosynthesis on the bus into augmented reality (AR) mode. A digital grid is superimposed over the school building and a small room on the second floor is highlighted in color. "Filming for bio-lecture video starts at 9:00 am" is written next to it.
"I think there’ll be more different rooms in school buildings in the future instead of many identical classrooms," predicted education Youtuber Mirko Drotschmann (aka Mr Wissen2Go) back in 2022. "Why not have a room with video equipment or one where children can conduct physics experiments on their own?"
After the video shoot, Djamila meets with a study group to prepare for a history exam the following week. She is sitting with three classmates in a cozy corner of the sofa on the ground floor. Another classmate is connected to them via video conference. He has a doctor's appointment on the other side of town later in the day and that way, he won't have to miss the whole day at school.
"School has a lot to do with relationships. That’s why the school building will still be important as a place of learning and presence in 2035," said Heinz-Peter Meidinger, President of the German Teachers' Association. "I don’t see 100% remote teaching in schools, unlike what we’re experiencing with working from home in some companies. Nevertheless, good digital equipment and intensive networking will be necessary so remote teaching can also take place at certain times or students can interact from home with their class and teachers at school."
An intelligent audio and microphone system enables Djamila’s group to easily communicate with each other, even though they are not in the same place. For their learning session yesterday, Djamila and her classmates had all put on their VR goggles to talk to each other as digital avatars from the Roman Empire. This time, however, they’re chatting face to face to summarize what they have learned and quiz each other one last time.
"Those who leave school in 2035 will experience a more open labor market than almost any other generation before them. Demographic change will mean employers have to search for people, and not the other way round. And graduates who are suitably qualified will more or less be able to choose their employers."
Mr Gierlinger, who has set the history exam as an interactive online exam, is currently clearing out the old staff room together with the school psychologist Ms Matthew. Instead of one large staff room, there are now several small rooms where teachers can either work together in groups, prepare presentations as a team or silently correct tests, while being more approachable for the students.
Quiet rooms have also been created to provide opportunities for retreat, while maintaining transparency and accessibility. "I'm going to miss our cozy, old-fashioned staff room here," Mr Gierlinger says as he unplugs the old coffee machine. "But I'm still glad we have the new rooms. We have to sit down with the social worker from the youth center and the class teacher to decide what to do with Benni from class 8a," he says. "It just works better in the small meeting room."
"A school system changes very slowly. Any car mechanic trained in the 1970s will reach their limits relatively quickly in a modern car workshop. Teachers who were trained in the same period can still find their way around the classroom today. I very much wish that the principles of teaching and knowledge transfer will get an update by 2035."
At the beginning of the 21st century, the staff room was exclusively occupied by teachers – often as lone warriors. That was quite a while ago. In 2035, ready-made and proven multimedia units will be available to all teachers on the school's own cloud – and also uploaded to the TeachR platform throughout Germany. Why start from scratch when others have already given 120 per cent?
"We will see multi-discipline teams and cooperation with extracurricular partners much more often," predicted Dr. Dagmar Wolf, Head of Education at the Robert Bosch Stiftung, in 2022. "Many problems are not recognized at home. Cooperation with the youth welfare office or therapeutic partners can be extremely helpful if we don't want to lose any pupils with problems." The child has to be the focal point and all the educators who have to deal with him or her have to share their know-how and experience. "In the school of the future, cooperation should not be expected from the children and young people alone; it should be exemplified to them.”
"By 2035, everyone will finally have understood that the school-leaving certificate is not a final, but an interim report. Because what one has learned at school is always only an interim status – knowledge has to be intensively updated after ten years. Not with two or three further training days a year, but for example by leaving your job for a while, doing a reboot year, and completely refreshing your knowledge."
Despite the video room and study corners, Djamila's learning group still has a large room as well. "This is important, as especially younger children need a home like this," Björn Lengwenus, headmaster and play educator from Hamburg, already noted in 2022. In math lessons, Djamila's class now practices what is called personalized or adaptive learning.
On their laptops and tablets, the pupils work through tasks independently. The algorithm of an AI system individually selects which task comes next. For example, if Djamila answers everything correctly, the tasks become more challenging. If she makes mistakes, a comparable task follows, perhaps at a slightly easier level of difficulty or using a different learning object. If the system notices that Djamila repeatedly has difficulties with tasks involving percentage calculations, for example, the math teacher will be notified and can specifically go through this content again with her and any other pupils who have got stuck on the same topic.
"I very much hope that in 2035 we will still have a school-leaving certificate that is a university entrance qualification. If everything goes well, we will then also have an abitur that is finally comparable nationwide. However, if things don't go so well, we will see, for example, university entrance exams such as exist today in other countries."
"Digital personalized learning will become increasingly important because it has numerous advantages," predicted futurologist Sven Gabor Janszky as early as 2022. "Such an AI system will be able to individually recognize when a child is no longer focused and attentive. And it will notice which content has been understood and which content the teacher needs to clarify again in a very targeted and individual way. They will have time for this because the AI system will do all the tedious correction work."
For too long, teachers have only found out after a long delay – for example, through class tests – how much of the material was really understood by whom in the class and where there is a need for individuals to catch up. Headmaster Lengwenus also believes in the concept of adaptive learning, but was already of the opinion in 2022 that it only works in so-called "drill & practice" areas, i.e. in vocabulary tests or arithmetic exercises. "Unfortunately, computers are not that good at teaching content. There always has to be a point where everyone comes together and where there are phases of sharing, group work, presentation, and discussion. School cannot mean that everyone sits on their own."
Djamila clears the dinner table at home. Over dinner, she told her parents about her video shoot and that she’s about to present the rough cut on the smart wall in the living room. But first they listen to the school’s letter to the parents together. That same year, the school began having it translated into every conceivable language as an audio message at the push of a button. Since then, the opening and feedback rates have increased significantly, according to the first evaluation findings.
"It’s often said that you won't need to know anything in 2035. After all, you’ll be able to look up everything in seconds. But you will have to have a few facts in your head – if only to be able to assess things and understand the much-vaunted connections. If you know that Columbus landed in America in 1492 and that the French Revolution took place in 1789, you already have a much better feeling for the historical changes in those times."
"When I graduated in 2003, I thought the school was basically still the same as it was in my grandmother's time," says Djamila's mother as the message comes to an end. Among other things, the letter dealt with the climate balance of the schoolyard wetland and a new student project on cyber security being carried out with the partner school from Nicaragua. "But some things really have changed over time.”
Please note that not all the scenarios described in the text are desirable in the opinion of the Robert Bosch Stiftung or the experts interviewed. Besides, opinions naturally differ on the probability of their occurring by 2035.