Why such a rapid pace of change?

Change fatigue is the response individuals exhibit when the pace of change and the consistency of change becomes too much. Its symptoms are diverse including resistance to change, anxiety, withdrawal and anger. It is not surprising that change fatigue is common in schools, after all change seems to have become a permanent companion and the pace of change only seems to accelerate. For those driving change, there is a constant balancing act that we play between implementing change at the pace we feel is required, while avoiding overload. For those confronting change, there is the easy recourse of blaming those who are driving the change for the anxiety and stress that they feel. Questions are asked and fingers are pointed. Allegations of change for the sake of change are made and purposes are questioned. 
In this climate change becomes difficult and complex. The urgency to change is not distributed evenly and some cling defiantly to the past. There is a belief that what worked in the decades before will continue to serve our needs. There is a questioning of the need for change at such a rapid pace. Change after all is nothing new, so why must we change so rapidly now?
I am currently reading “Thank you for being late: An optimist’s guide to thriving in the age of accelerations” and have found in this the answer to these questions. In essence we are confronting two types of change, one that we have always faced and one that is unique to our current times. 
People and the human systems that unite us into societies change at a slow pace. The pace of change at which people and society change, has altered but a little overtime. We slowly learn and adopt new ways of responding to our world. We develop social systems in response to change and when that change is forced to accelerate the results are often troublesome and chaotic. World Wars, civil unrest, political turmoil, violence and upheaval seem to accompany such times. Our responses to the change do not keep pace and we find ourselves struggling for new ways of functioning. The birth and spread of western democracy or the adjustments to work and the economy that came with the industrial revolution are examples of us adjusting our social systems to cope with change.
The other change is that resulting from the exponential growth of technology, population, globalised markets and changes to the very nature of our planet. The difficulty is that all of these changes are occurring at a pace that we are not able to cope with. Take technology alone and consider the implications of Moore’s Law. Named after the cofounder of Intel, Gordon Moore it predicts that processing power will double every two years with little change in cost. Since 1965 this law has held true and for at least the next few cycles is predicted to continue. It is this constant doubling that we humans are not very good at coping with. Thomas Friedman, author of “Thank you for being late” use the story of the inventor of chess to demonstrate the power of this type of growth. The story goes like this, the king liked the newly invented game of chess so very much that he offered its inventor the opportunity to name his reward. A clever man, the inventor asked for enough rice to feed his family. He stipulated that in the first square of a chess board the king should place but a single grain of rice. In the second square twice as many grains as in the first and in the third twice as many as in the second. This pattern repeated still every square was covered with constant doubling from one square to the next. The result is in the order of eighteen quintillion grains of rice. 
The initial change that this sort of growth makes seems small. One grain of rice is not significantly less than two or so it seems. In the early days of computers a doubling of speed seemed like barely enough to meet our need for faster processing. But now as Friedman describes we are entering the second half of the chess board. The changes being felt now are significant and we are struggling to keep up. Schools in particular find it hard to keep up with such a rapid pace of change. With most change projects set to occur over seldom less than an academic year and any new idea needing to be accommodated in the following years budget we quickly find that we are embracing outdated changes. 
More so than before the affordances of the new processing power are set to change how we interact with technology. Our computer systems backed by access to massive data sets, huge processing power and social networks are altering the way we interact with the world. This is resulting in new ways of doing business, think Uber and Amazon, new demands on information, think of the power of the mobile phone, and new pressures on society, think lifelong learning so that you are able to maximise the opportunities just emerging.
Technology is just one area where the pace of global change is outstripping our ability to keep up. While population growth in some parts of the world has slowed in others it is increasing and it is doing so in areas where access to services and quality of life is least. Our social systems have not kept pace with improvements to health care and where mortality rates decline and fertility rates remain high population growth becomes exponential. Our environment faces similar challenges and despite the rhetoric of politics climate change continues to accelerate. 
What does this mean for schools? Firstly, we need to accept that we are living in a time of rapid an unprecedented change. That the pace of change is now such that the children we teach today will enter a world of work that is very much divergent from the one we know. They will require a different set of skills to compete in a world that is dominated by an unstable climate, accelerating technology, a larger much more connected population and a market driven by forces of globalisation and acceleration. Change is going to happen whether we like it or not. Moore’s Law will win. 
But this does not mean we should despair. While we may not be able to describe the exact opportunities that will emerge from this change, we do have an understanding of the skills which will allow our students to thrive. The capacity to think and behave intelligently with what we know, creativity and a disposition for problem finding, skillful communication and empathy will serve us well. By providing our children with opportunities to collaborate with their peers, to access global networks, to solve problems that matter and to do so through models which are responsive to changing circumstance such as design thinking we can prepare our students to thrive in a world of accelerations.

Highly recommended reading:

Thomas L Friedman (2016) Thank you for being late: An optimists guide to thriving in the age of accelerations.


By Nigel Coutts