Written by Patrick Yegon Toroitich
With the advent and manifestation of the concept of smart cities, we need to pause and ask ourselves if the occupants of these cities have the education needed to enable them develop, manage and live in these cities.
The skills, value system, knowledge, and application of an education system determines how the owner of this education can manage themselves and the environment. Thus, for a socially and technologically responsive city which operates so much on the ability to access data and apply correct knowledge, we shall require an education which can match these needs. This calls for the adaptation of Smart Education, since the study into the conventional education system will reveal plenty of mismatch and lack thus producing lesser of an "educated citizen" than what the smart city requires. This paper thus will delve into the limitations of the conventional education and provide what needs to be fine-tuned such as to provide for Smart Education which supports life-long development, equity and inclusivity, responsiveness to environmental protection and climate change, use of data and data science and blended delivery methods with the aim of increasing access, collaboration and reduction in environmental pollution.
The Current Form of Education: Lacks and Demerits
In its current form, the school system—both the pedagogy and the content—was modeled to address the needs of the industrial era and the challenges of the 19th century. This means we have had two centuries where we have tried to apply what we have as it is or remodel it as the technology advances.
Albeit this, that is, the development of the improved version of the conventional traditional educational version during information era where the beta version of traditional education was introduced through education systems which provided online learning as part of the physical class models; the improved system still does not appeal to the needs of smart cities which advocates for a happier, advanced human being who is free to choose and can access learning when and where he needs at a pace he can control.
Thus, the demerits which the futuristic education seeks to address are matters such as teacher-centered learning where the teacher is the super source of information, the limitation of learning space to the physical class or the school environment, limitation on the choice of content to learn and the restriction on the pace of learning among some other issues.
What Constitutes a Smart City?
A few years ago, smart cities were a futuristic idea of the few elitist and probably technological "hobbyist" in the society but as we stand today, they are a new normal. Across the world there are sprouting smart cities with nations amassing huge budgets to fund the development of these cities and any research work to enable the cities to work well and match or out perform the set standards. While some cities are being built afresh from down up as new projects, some countries are converting their conventional cities into smart cities.
There are more than 250 smart city projects from 178 cities around the world according to a report by Navigant Research, now known as Guidehouse Insights. In Africa, we have in excess of ten smart city projects developing such as Modderfontein in South Africa, Konza Techno City in Kenya, Eko Atlantic of Nigeria and Ghana’s Wakanda city among other upcoming projects.
For conventional cities, nations have the options to upgrade them where possible to match the international smart cities standards as stimulated by International Organization for Standardization, ISO 37120. The first standards were released in 2014 and revised in 2018. This standard enables the city to compare their performance across the various indicators of city services and quality of life.
Smart cities are urban environments that Leverages IoT and networking, sensor technologies, data analytics and computing to make the urban space interconnect and communicate with each other so as to make better use of infrastructure across the transport, energy, environmental monitoring, and spatial orientation as well as the governance structure with an ultimate aim of promoting sustainable development and happy citizenry.
Despite this optimistic rise in tech-based cities, the game plan will not be complete if we forget the smart citizens who will actually run them. This is important as communication can only happen if we have the signal sources who are actually the people living in these cities, the encoding and decoding capacities of the tech in these cities and ability to interpret the data for final use. Most importantly, we need to look into the behavioural aspect of these occupants to establish that they have an internal conscience about environmental protection, collaborative attitude and the need for sustainable development. This thus, take us to the question: What kind of education do we need?
Affinity Areas for Smart Education
The modern/future education should be compatible to the knowledge and technological advances needed in the smart cities. We need to exert a conscious mental shift to make learning more interesting, collaborative and oriented towards development of talents and skills which allows us to solve problems around us. This learning should accommodate the uniqueness of the learners and provide more freedom in terms of pace and access to data and learning resources. This is only possible if we orient the content being taught as well as the pedagogical methodologies to suit the new needs.
Thus, to thrive, the cities through their responsibly local authorities, civil societies and commercial entities will need to streamline their education system and policies, learning tools and resources to address the following trends and skills and learning needs.
The Need for Sustainable Development and Environmental Protection
Resolutions should be made to include environmental protection and sustainable development content in learning materials. Students should be exposed to problems associated with environmental destruction and uncontrolled expansion or development. Samples of cities which have actually implemented green city concepts should be the learning laboratory for these learners. The contact time with the actual environment as a learning center should be expanded as well. This serves to develop the concepts they are learning, expose them to actual problems and raise their imagination about these concepts.
The learners should be trained on the emerging technologies which are addressing the problem of food insecurity, over use of land and water resources and other matters of interest in this matter. They are as well to understand the need for community inclusion and collaboration during project implementation to ensure satisfaction among users.
Students should be given opportunity to work on multi-sector projects in groups and if possible, working with learning partners from different geographical regions such as to expose each of them to the problems being faced by the world as a whole. Job shadowing in the projects being run by the various commercial entities around the school will serve well to cement their grasp of these concepts.
Education should be decentralized such that schools should not serve as exclusive avenues for learning. While they play a major role in streamlining the learning processes, they should provide space for the involvement of other players in commercial, parenting, governmental and civil society sectors. Student themselves should act as source of learning to their peers. The learning programs should also encourage school-school interdisciplinary exchange programs.
With such an education strategy, learners increase their chances to interact with creatives who can actually translate knowledge and skills to solve problems and create innovations. Learners need to get a practical feel of the conversion process and how ideas are molded into solutions which are then implemented in the various work spaces.
The opportunities for the learners to participate in actual problem solving in teams should be upscaled especially through reverse engineering problems. These problems should encourage the learners to develop skillsets which enable them to design, build and trouble shoot systems and solutions. Through active participation, they are able to be exposed to development of other entrepreneurial skills such as business acumen, resilience, critical thinking and ideation.
In a nutshell, the push should be to disprove the myth that learning stops when you leave the school premises.
Through smart education, we should see an education system which facilitates and encourages the learners to be in control of their learning. The learners should be self-driven and in possession of the skillset and values which enables them to control their learning journey.
In this regard, teachers will be the mentors in the journey giving directions and availing resources which will inspire the learner to appreciate the learning process and feel that their needs are being addressed. When responsibility of learning is learning comes naturally to students, it will be easy for them to pursue other avenues to knowledge, and thus be citizens embracing lifelong learning.
The learning tools, data, resources and space should give access to the specific needs of the learners and be able to encourage the unique talents and giftings of the different learners to blossom. A learner should have an access to array of resources of interest anytime and anywhere they need this. This learner should get the benefit of interacting with other peers of the same talent groups when need arises.
The pools of the schools and commercial vendors of educational content or other tech related firms who are interested in education will be tasked in the daily work of collecting the needs of the learners and providing content and learning pedagogy which facilitate their utilization in the best way to serve the different needs.
Two factors come into play here. One is that the educational system should be able to produce a learner who values education and learning and thus self-motivated and self-driven sufficiently to pursue education beyond the class room set up.
Secondly, smart cities are tech-centric cities which grow in multiple dimensions and in a daily basis. Thus, to keep abreast with what is needed to effectively live in these cities, the citizen should be able to push self into learning new ideas continuously through the non-conventional learning avenues.
Varied Learning Methods
Learners have different affinity to the different learning methodologies. In a class set-up, we serve visual, auditory, kinesthetic and tactile learners. To appeal to them uniformly using one delivery method is definitely next to impossible.
We need to make learning enjoyment and effective to as many students as possible. To do this, smart education should provide an array of paths capable of providing alternative parallel paths where learners can take their lessons effectively and more efficiently. These learning environments should be placed at the comfort and accessibility of the learner such as to provide him the ability to choose at will.
With blended learning systems, technology should be able to play a role which allows for online interaction, tests and simulation to serve the learners with different formats of the content thus making them more interesting and enjoyable.
With such a kind of open environment, the stakeholders can easily identify talents and cluster them into groups and be able to provide more refined support to match skills and most probably the career needs of the learners. This ensures better transition of the learners to where they feel more productive and thus reduce on waste through the academic journey.
The ultimate goal of the smart education is producing a smart citizen who can be able to apply, manipulate and propagate whatever the circuitry, data and skills required to live in, run and sustain the smart cities.
For sustainability purposes, the citizen living in a smart city should be one who appreciates the complexities involved in this kind of urban setups and be willing as well to actively contribute in encoding, decoding and loading signals to the systems so at to enable the various data analytics professionals and computing devices to study the algorithms and thus make a consistent decision in the urbanization journey of a smart city and thus improving on the services of the city and quality of life in general.
With the above in mind, we can conclude that smart cities and smart education are intertwined. We need smart cities to improve the life quality of human beings but we need smart education to produce smart citizens who can continue the procreation process of the smart cities. Thus, to establish a multidimensional growth, the advocates, designers, funders and governments working on developing smart cities should up their game to ensure they prepare their citizenry to appreciate the value of these cities and as well prepare the cities to accept the input of its occupants to live in them in harmony within and without since the cities will be talking to one another as one global village.
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This article was edited by Sara Paiva