Imagine that the time between the first UK government schools being set up (1833) and the present day is represented by a 24-hour clock. At what time do you think the internet and ed tech appeared? My back-of-fag-packet calculation puts the internet at 11.47pm and the iPad at 11.56pm. Is there any wonder why we’re miles off working out how to adapt our education system to make best use of these new digital tools?
With that in mind, here are three things I think will eventually have to change in our schools through an inevitable increase in technology use, and three things that we should try not to lose.
The 30 pupil class size will cease to be a criterion for effective learning
Back in 2008, John Hattie’s important book Visible Learning pointed to class size having little effect on learning outcomes. So why do we still privilege 30 as the magic number? It might be because of parental expectations: in a recent DfE study, 96% said that class size was important to them.
However, now that teachers can record content that can reach millions of pupils, do we need to worry about keeping classes to 30? How about tripling this, having one truly expert teacher delivering some face to face content, creating online materials to deliver other elements, and being supported by intelligent, keen graduate trainees who can both work with smaller groups and learn from the expert? It’s worth considering.
The boundaries between the school and the outside (aka ‘real’) world will dissolve
It’s no surprise that kids of all ages respond best to people they respect. Now they have exposure to a world way beyond the school gates, their circle of influencers has grown exponentially. Before the internet and the growth in social media, kids could probably count on the fingers of one hand those people who genuinely influenced them (for me it was Morrissey and Jack Kerouac – you can probably work out what sort of teenager I was).
Now, kids might follow a thousand different ‘stars’: and not only in the media. More and more teens are following the leading names in business and politics: the UK’s Labour party capitalised on this during the recent election, garnering huge support through targeting the 18-23 demographic using social media.
It’s therefore unsurprising that teachers are finding it increasingly hard to engage those they teach. What we therefore need is to consider where the school ends and the local community begins. By having schools truly integrated into communities (perhaps as part of a central tech hub), with properly vetted and trained experts delivering much of the learning, and with pupils creating digital products that have relevance outside the classroom, we will have an opportunity to reinvent our schools and blend them into the ‘real world’ in a more meaningful way.
The idea of the 9am-3pm day and the 39-week academic year will cease to be relevant
We all know why we have a 6 week summer holiday: so that school children can help with the harvest… Now that probably 0.0001% of kids actually do this, isn’t it about time we used time more effectively? Why not have a school open 365 days a year, from 7am-9pm, and look at ways in which we can enable kids to start the school year at several jump-on points, rather than privileging September in the northern hemisphere and January in the southern? If we can create tailored, digitally-underpinned academic pathways which can be taken from one school to the next, is there any reason why we have to stick to the current model?
Human scale will remain important: great learning comes through coalitions of trust
If we can create effective, digitally-supported pathways for our pupils, we might have more time to engage with them on a one to one level. Building trust between the school and its pupils is critical: this goes back to my point above over who is doing the teaching.
Let’s look at how we draw our schools into their communities, engaging with pupils and offering them opportunities to learn and grow from both subject experts and entrepreneurs. If we ensure that these coalitions of trust can be seen at the community, family, leadership, teacher, and pupil levels, then we will go a long way to give pupils what they need to become resilient, respectful and employable adults.
Welfare will become even more important than it is now
We know how we feel about the rise in sexting, cyber-bullying, eating disorders and the tragic waste of life when kids take their own lives due to the increasing pressure they are under. We are equally aware of the mass exodus of teachers from the profession as they find they can no longer cope with workload and challenging behaviour.
This tells us that the education system is becoming increasingly broken, due in large part to an ever-growing emphasis on outcomes seen through high-stakes testing. Schools need to do all they can to prioritise the welfare of both pupils and staff, offering wellbeing classes such as meditation and yoga to all, ensuring there are well-qualified counsellors available, and teaching tolerance and respect at all levels. It’s easy to become locked in a solipsistic, narcissistic place through our growing addiction to the online world. It’s a school’s growing responsibility to counter this in any way they can.
Solo work should be as important as collaboration
We hear a lot about the importance of collaboration as a key 21st-century skill. And with good reason: with the increasing flattening of the world comes a need to work with teams internationally. However, what we should not throw out is quiet, reflective time, as it’s often when we are at our most creative. I think that it’s when we have these seeds of ideas, then share them with others to generate newer and better ideas, that genuine creativity happens.
The above are just a few ways in which the world of education needs to adapt to the rapid changes in society. But what do you think? I’m keen to hear your thoughts on this thorny topic!