Imagine the scene – a group of young people walking quietly through a carpeted corridor into a glass-fronted room. On entering the room, they walk to a “hot” desk and log onto the computer in front of them. There, on the screen, is their learning programme for the day – a reading for morning worship, a series of algorithms to guide them through some complicated mathematics problem, an extract from a famous 18th century novel that they have to reword into 21st century English, a video demonstrating an experiment that has been recorded for them to observe and then explain its findings, and finally, for a bit of light relief, a program of a journey along the River Nile with a couple of interactive points along the way where they can stop off if they choose to.
In addition to this programme for the day, there’s a mass of emails from their teachers that they need to respond to. There’s also a very useful excel spread sheet that lights up with a new colour once they have completed the exercises for the day, and demonstrated, through a series of short assessment questions, that they have achieved their learning outcomes.
Each one of these rooms has an allocated teacher. They tend to spend most of the time sitting at a computer themselves, responding to questions from their students as they work through the programme for the day. They also use this time to prepare new lessons, as well as review the interactive spreadsheet to see how successfully the young people are working.
Obviously, in progressive and thoughtful schools, the programmes for the day are differentiated, allowing pupils to learn at their own pace, on condition that they have worked through enough recorded data to pass the summative exams at the end of the year or the course. The more academically inclined are also provided with additional study on any given subject so the individual needs of the young person are accommodated for.
Of course this sort of teaching isn’t all bad. The use of the technology enables teachers to be creative in the fodder that they provide for their students. There’s potential for more 1:1 instruction and guidance, and the young people that are being fed copious facts have the opportunity to assimilate them into something that is meaningful to them.
At certain points in the school week, there’s also time for class or group discussions about the work that they’ve been doing, and there’s also some practical lessons such as PE and art where the young people can be active and creative. There’s also lunch time, though there isn’t any longer a dedicated lunch hour as this was proving too unmanageable. Now, these young people can wander away from their hot desks as and when they like to the open canteen and sit for a twenty minute period eating their lunch. The computer records their time at the keyboard so it’s perfectly easy to see who has been taking a little more of a break than necessary or allowed.
It all sounds so far-fetched but it’s not beyond the realms of possibility, and it would certainly be preparation for the life of work. Isn’t this world of glass-fronted rooms, hot-desking, email-ridden days and silent working offices familiar to far too many of us?
In such a scenario as outlined, the young people are still learning, the teachers are still teaching albeit in a slightly more removed situation – more the “queen on the screen” rather than the “sage on the stage”, and the attainment outcomes are potentially quite positive. There would be more time available for individual instruction, so that those that are falling behind can be easily identified and supported, and those that are flying can be offered extension work that befits their ability.
But is this really what learning is about? Are schools there purely to provide facts and give students the skills required to digest, regurgitate and assimilate information?
Any teacher or manager in a school will tell you that this is not the case (we hope). Whilst many will say that “examinations” are their currency by which they feel that they are judged as a success or failure, we doubt that there’s a school in the country who wouldn’t say that the social and personal development of the child is an integral part of teaching and the role of a school. In which case, why is this sometimes not considered as important when planning programmes of work and developing the school ethos? Indeed, why isn’t it planned for?
One answer to avoid the scenario above is to use the “flipped classroom” system, whereby the “daily programme” described above is viewed at home or in school outside the classroom. This would then free up the teaching and learning time within the school day to concentrate on group discussions, clarification of meaning, hypothesising and concluding. It would allow for generous and effective communication between student and teacher, and would create a warm and lively space for learning with plenty of collaborative learning. It would also allow students to bring additional and relevant information and thoughts to the classroom so that they could set their own learning and also influence the learning of others. Importantly, it also enables the personal and social development of the child. It gives space for thinking about the needs of others whilst engaging the passion of the individual.
Yet all of these wonderful possibilities are still relating to the acquisition and use of knowledge. The result of positive personal and social development is not a goal within itself but an outcome of developing the intellect – and not everyone is intellectually capable or driven.
We need to return to the use of the word “intelligent” and our wish to promote a “multiple-intelligences” school and learning.
Whilst the flipped classroom ideology rightly focuses back on the child, and is something that appears to be extremely positive, it is still coming from a basis that learning is linked directly to intellectual outcomes – there is far more to education and schooling than this. What we are advocating is a flipping of purpose, whereby activities are led by the need to develop all of the intelligences rather than just one. What we’re suggesting is that the interaction, collaboration, freedom for thinking, opportunities for creative and original thinking is planned for rather than a fortunate and unplanned outcome.
As we have reported before, industries are looking to employ young people with skills that far outweigh their capacity to pass GCSEs with reasonable grades. They want young people to be innovative, creative, and able to work as well independently as they do in group situations. Parents want their children to be happy, to enjoy what they are doing in life, and to be able to form good and harmonious relationships with people in their lives. Ask an eighteen year old about their memories of school and what was most significant to them, and they will largely recall the formation of what they see as life-long friendships or they will mention the school trips or the musical activities or the times when the school united in a celebration in one form or another.
If we are going to give credence to the area of personal and social development, we have to plan for it rather than expect it to happen in some ad hoc manner. Every lesson in every school should be focused on how it is developing the young person wholly rather than merely a finite factual outcome of how to count to 100 or the names of the unfortunate women who were married to Henry VIII.
We have to plan in order to maintain a balance. We need there to be opportunities in all stages of schooling for a child to act instinctively and learn from the errors or the wonderment of doing so. We need to ensure that they are developing their physical intelligences – knowing the needs and the capabilities of their own bodies. We need to give them opportunities once they’ve had a eureka moment to explain how that felt and to understand that these moments are quite spiritual (in a completely secular way) and are an essential part of life, if we are all to maintain a level of sanity.
Child-centred education is not a free for all. Carefully constructed and planned child-centred education focuses on the holistic needs of the child that go well beyond the development of the intellect. If all teaching and learning in the future could potentially be done via a computer, then what role does a school have? The answer has to be in gathering learners together to instruct, guide and support as they do so now. The role of the teacher isn’t deleted by the advancement of technology. Rather it is enhanced by technology. But it is also about identifying the whole purpose of education, whereby we as educationalists have a significant role to play in advancing learning that goes beyond factual information.
Young people constantly say that they need more time to discuss and reflect on the important aspects of life such as dealing with relationships, understanding their feelings, coping with disappointment. They need to find their element, their passion and their drive – and time in the school day needs to be set aside for this personal development that is as important to them and society as learning to read and write.
Our schools, in the future, could be the most exciting, innovative, creative and academically successful places where young people are gifted the joy of learning and the skills, attitudes and values that enable them to live effectively and harmoniously now and in the future. If we are going to succeed in this way, then we have to really consider precisely what it is that we are aiming to achieve, and what the word “intelligence” really means.