By Aswad Walker

“The children are the future” is one of society’s most overused sayings. Yet, very few organizations host conferences dedicated to envisioning the future today’s K-12 students will have to deal with. Children at Risk, however, recently took the bold step to host the 2023 Future of Children Summit searching for actions we can take today to make that future more supportive.

“What might the lives of children look like decades from now” was the summit’s main driver with presenters discussing things like emerging technologies, hybrid work models and evolving social structures and their implications for children’s education, health and well-being.

“Innovation, creativity and hope are critical components to shaping a brighter future for the kids of tomorrow,” read a C@R statement on the summit.

Summit sessions focused on the future of schools, play, equity, youth activism, nature-based learning, immigration and child care.

Nicola Springer, Kirksey Architecture’s executive vice president and director of PK-12 Projects, focused on design during her session, “Future of School.” She focused on “design and how it can really impact the possibilities of schools and the future.”

“We are currently in Generation Alpha (all children born in or after 2010—the same year the iPad was born), and these kids are living in a world that’s so different from [what most adults know and knew],” said Springer. “They’ve been on screen since they were babies. They’re truly digital natives. They don’t know what to do if an iPad is not in their hands.”

There’s already research that shows why video game learning works with Gen Z and Gen Alpha.

Alex Whittington, a futurist with Tata Consultancy Services

Springer added Gen Alpha members are also much more globally aware than children of previous generations, and that school design can meet these kids at their points of interest and concern.

“Schools have gotten so big… and you can only recognize so many people at a time,” said Springer, whose company’s response has been to design schools with pods of classrooms and collaboration zones, smaller communities of kids with desks made for various sizes and shapes, windows to let in brain and spirit-enhancing sunlight and outdoor covered class spaces to capitalize on the excitement and energy children feel when outside.

Alex Whittington, a futurist with Tata Consultancy Services, took on a unique and thought-provoking topic.

“It’s clear to me that the future of work gets a lot of coverage, but the perspectives on the future of play are pretty few and far between,” she said.

Along with pondering the very real possibility of some current sci-fi movie topics like “brain-hacking,” merging mind and machine, with smart devices (phones and tablets) supplementing our brain power, Whittington talked about Mindful Play, Working Play and Learning Play.

“Teaching through guided play has been found to be more effective than traditional teaching. So, in the future, teachers might lead students to learn through play via open-ended questions and more. There’s already research that shows why video game learning works with Gen Z and Gen Alpha. The metaverse could revolutionize teaching and learning,” said Whittington.

What this means regarding families and equity, Black and Brown families are suffering the most, and through this digital divide, they have a lack of access to telemedicine and digital learning tools.

Sharon Watkins Jones, children at risk’s chief equity officer

But what good is all this future tech if the “Digital Divide” keeps Black and Brown children from accessing it? That’s where presenters Sharon Watkins Jones and Tracie Jae came in.

Watkins Jones, C@R’s chief equity officer, and Jae, the lead rebel of the entity The Quiet Rebel, spoke on the “Future of Equity.”

“In Texas, over two million households don’t have access to high-speed internet, and that’s urban and rural areas; especially the rural areas,” said Watkins Jones. “What this means regarding families and equity, Black and Brown families are suffering the most, and through this digital divide, they have a lack of access to telemedicine, digital learning tools, and minority-owned small businesses are stifled when in areas of limited access to high-speed internet. And we’re finding that it’s a necessity, not a luxury.”

“Years ago, we would never think to bring a TV into a restaurant, but now we have technology at every turn,” shared Jae. “But if you don’t have that access, that creates a chasm that’s hard for people to cross.”

Jae and Watkins Jones agreed that individuals who are Gen Z and younger “feel entitled to those things they desire” creating in them the belief that they have every right to the things white young people want, creating in these present and future Black and Brown children a desire to fight for equity with even more commitment and ferocity than members of generations past.

Watch the entire summit:

YouTube video