Aug 14, 2017

A School for Every Person on the Planet

by Dick Thomas, SHP Architecture

It’s time to radically rethink education and the places learning occurs. That’s the mission behind the 9 Billion Schools movement, which seeks to deliver truly personalized learning to every person on Earth. Is this vision achievable? Put down your No. 2 pencil, step away from the whiteboard and join me, the movement’s Wonderer in Chief, as I give Essentials readers a closer look at the future of education — a school for every person on the planet.

There’s never been a more exciting time to be an architect, designer or consultant to the education industry. The rapidity of change — including significant cultural, economic, pedagogical and technological shifts — over the next decade will place new strains on and demand new requirements of educational systems. At the same time, these changes present untold opportunities; even the very way we imagine when, where and with whom learning occurs will evolve and adapt. 

All signs clearly point to an increasingly greater degree of personalization, to learning that is radically more individualized than it is today. And there will be a far greater emphasis on and facilitation of learning in every facet of life — in the classroom, at work and even at play. “School” will cease to be a Kindergarten-to-college prescription and evolve into a life-long, life-wide and life-deep endeavor. 

This is an exciting prospect for SHP Leading Design — which has designed and engineered schools, colleges and other places of learning for more than a century — and I’m sure it’s exciting for many EDspaces Insights readers, as well. But it raises the question: How can architects, designers and consultants to the education industry prepare for this exciting future?

Enter 9 Billion Schools, a movement that launched in March at SXSWedu. Approximately two years ago, SHP Leading Design challenged itself to reimagine education so that everyone may stand a better chance of realizing his or her best and fullest self. Our entire staff asked questions, like, “What is school? What does it mean to be a student? What does the future of educational spaces look like?”

During this discovery process, something curious happened. We realized: We don’t know. But this intense, year-long exploration — which included experimental design exploration and a "futurecasting" exercise by former Intel (and current Arizona State University) futurist and author Brian David Johnson — led to 9 Billion Schools. 

The movement is so named because, by 2050, there will be 9 billion people on Earth. We believe each and every one of those people should be a school unto him- or herself. A "place," so to speak, of learning and teaching. And that opportunities to learn and teach should be just about everywhere, one’s whole life long. 

The 9 Billion Schools movement is rooted in three principles:

1. Learning is nothing short of a “womb to tomb” journey and, ideally, an adventure too. In recent years, others have advanced the notion that learning needs to be “Life-long, Life-wide and Life-deep.” (What we call "L3 learning.")

2. Learning is a highly personalized experience and, in fact, no two people best learn in exactly the same way — or with the same purposes and motivations. In fact, learning is as unique as one’s fingerprints with every arch, loop and whorl representing an exciting, individual journey. 

3. Mind, brain and education (MBE) sciences have revealed new insights into how we learn throughout life. We should apply these findings to how we teach kids at school, adults at work and ourselves through our hobbies, interests and leisure activities. 

These three principles can be summarized like this: Learning should be tailored to each individual and supported as long, wide and deep as life itself. 

This is not to suggest it will be easy. It will be anything but. However, human dignity and a flourishing society depends upon the effort (and expense) required to realize this vision. SHP Leading Design launched the 9 Billion Schools movement on March 8 at SXSWedu in Austin, where it was enthusiastically received. Now, we want to take it a step further. We want to challenge others in our industry to join the movement as well. 

Picture that famous World War I-era poster of Uncle Sam in his star-spangled top hat: We want you. We are actively recruiting thought leaders to join the movement, write guest posts for our blog or submit essays for possible publication in the first edition of our forthcoming book, 9 Billion Schools: Why the World Needs Personalized, Lifelong Learning for All. You can read current blog posts, preview the pre-release book and submit your own essay for consideration at 

The rallying cry behind this movement, the 9 Billion Schools manifesto, is included below. If you find yourself nodding along as you read it, we hope you will join us in realizing its vision. We believe it will lead to a markedly better world. We hope you agree.
9 Billion Schools Manifesto

It’s time to radically rethink education and the places where learning occurs. 

It’s time to recognize that each and every learner is radically different in ability and interests, in hopes and dreams — and act upon that. Standardized anything should give us pause. 

It’s time to stop talking about learning as a lifelong, cradle-to- grave endeavor — and act upon that too. 

It’s time to recognize that our world is never going to become any less complex and fluid, any less specialized and nuanced. In this still emerging new world of ours, school never ends. It can’t. Learning must be life-long, life-wide and life-deep. 

It’s time to think of school not as a singular place or experience, but as many places and many experiences. 

It’s time to think of each person as needing a school unto him or herself, each with the exact right teachers and curriculum, guidance and opportunities. 

In short, it’s time to conceive of — and deliver — education that recognizes the dignity and singularity of each learner and, to the fullest extent possible, caters to their specific needs and hopes, talents and dreams: Be it a 7-year-old with a learning disability and an interest in digital games or a 77-year-old Nobel laureate with an interest in Chinese art. 

We’ll soon have nine billion people on the planet, which means we should have nine billion schools. Please join us and the 9 Billion Schools movement as we seek to take education to the next level, providing greater dignity and brighter futures to each and every learner. This will be a giant step forward for all of humanity—all nine billion of us. 


Dick Thomas, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP, is Wonderer in Chief for the 9 Billion Schools movement. He is also the co-author of the forthcoming book, 9 Billion Schools: Why the World Needs Personalized, Lifelong Learning for All (Wordsworth Press, summer 2017). He has a keen interest in how technology can facilitate the rapidly changing paradigms of learning in all its manifestations. In addition to championing the 9 Billion Schools movement, Dick serves as vice president of architecture for SHP Leading Design, where his education portfolio reflects a wide spectrum of facility planning and design solutions. Dick can be reached at 

No comments:

Post a Comment