I was so relieved that the launch of issue four of Matters Journal was able to take place before lockdown.

Here’s an excerpt of my essay ‘What I learned about the future from my students’. It’s about sci-fi, dystopian and apocalyptic stories, climate change, robots and what the future might look like.

A week into the unit on science fiction, we started discussing a short story in which teachers are replaced by robots.

“Miss, I read an article that said that in a decade or two, teachers will be replaced with robots.”

“I read that they won’t be,” another student replied.

Their comments led to a fascinating and emotional discussion around our fears and uncertainties about the future, including climate change and the changing nature of the workforce.

At a certain point, I realised that my contribution to the discussion wasn’t needed. While I could reframe the conversation when it shifted off-topic, ensure that everyone had the opportunity to speak, and connect the conversation to the texts we were studying, they had everything they needed to have the discussion and, eventually, debate.

I hadn’t expected the students to understand the themes from the start and grapple with them so extensively. Issues that had come up as mere hypothetical considerations in my own schooling two decades earlier had become part of their regular conversations, regardless of how politically active they were.

It was clear that my students were worried about the future. They felt a strong impetus to gain the skills and knowledge they believed were needed in order to keep up with the rapidly changing areas of science and technology. Many had high-level coding abilities. Unlike the divide I had encountered between STEM and the humanities at university, they didn’t see a reason to separate the disciplines. They wanted to engage with the issues and themes in speculative fiction, just as much as they engaged in scientific and geographical exploration with their other teachers.

I read from the essay at the launch, which was a wonderful experience. The launch was the last public event I attended before the lockdown. It’s quite nice to watch the video and remember the feeling of sharing words and wine with others!

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