Rearranging The Deckchairs

A thought for today.

What if the “world class” education systems that have been painstakingly under construction in countries like the UK and the USA turn out to be very similar to the Titantic?

* Made from the finest materials
* Designed by talented architects
* Constructed by the best craftsmen and builders
* Crewed by the most able professionals
* Fundamentally flawed in their basic concept
* Completely doomed through unfitness for purpose and disastrous leadership.

On board the Titanic there were different classes of passengers, none of whom had any idea of the fate they and the ship were heading toward. Neither did the crew, which was led by a captain who clearly had no concept of the ship’s unfitness for purpose, and no understanding that the course he was steering would prove to be fatal – to himself as well as most of those on board. Indeed he was self-regarding and complacent, and saw the whole enterprise of the Titantic and enormous ocean liners as unstoppable and futuristic.

The captain and his family lived in a house called “Woodhead”.

There’s some dispute as to whether the captain’s last words were “Be British!” or “You know the rule of the sea. It’s every man for himself now, and God bless you!”

Like the National Curriculum and the Common Core, the Titanic’s construction consisted of a series of supposedly watertight compartments, which were meant to guarantee safety, reliability, stability and security. Owing to its great size, however, the ship was lacking in manoeverability and agility. Apparently no-one had foreseen the possibility of it encountering a field of icebergs. As far as the First Class passengers were concerned, it was a very fine way to travel.

titanic 1
Apart from the iceberg, the other thing that people had failed to foresee in 1912 was the likelihood that mass transit by sea would soon be superseded by mass air travel. Here are some interesting events in aviation history that took place in 1912:

* The United Kingdom’s first takeoff by an airplane from a ship.
* The first flight of a flying boat, at Hammondsport, New York
* Anthony Fokker establishes Fokker Aeroplanbau in Germany, predecessor to Fokker Aircraft Company.
* Robert G. Fowler completes the first west-to-east flight across the continental United States, arriving in Pablo Beach, Florida, also becoming the second person to complete a U.S. transcontinental flight. He had made 65 forced landings during his four month journey.
* Jules Vedrines becomes the first pilot to exceed 100 miles per hour (161 km/h). He makes his flight in a Deperdussin monoplane near Pau, France.
* The French aviator Henri Seimet makes the first non-stop flight from London to Paris.
*  Trehawke Davies becomes the first woman to cross the English Channel in an airplane, flying as the passenger of Gustav Hamel.
* American aviator Harriet Quimby becomes the first woman to fly the English Channel,
* Englishman Denys Corbett Wilson completes the first completely successful aeroplane crossing of the Irish Sea.
* A recommendation is made that the French Navy investigate the design and procurement of an aircraft carrier with a flight deck.
* Lieutenant Commander Charles Samson becomes the first person to fly an aircraft off the deck of a moving ship.
* King George V of the United Kingdom approves the formation of the Royal Flying Corps.
* An attempt at the first transatlantic flight fails when Melvin Vaniman’s dirigible Akron explodes shortly after takeoff.
* The first successful all-metal aircraft flies, the Tubavion monoplane built by Ponche and Maurice Primard in France.

With hindsight, we can spot enough clues in the above to imagine that air travel would become The Next Big Thing – with some pretty obvious consequences for sea travel.

So it is with education.

You didn’t have to be an absolute genius back then to imagine that aircraft would become bigger, faster, more comfortable, more reliable, cheaper, more affordable and far preferable as a means of travel for people who were in a hurry to get from A to B, or from the UK to the USA, France, Germany and everywhere else.

You don’t have to be a genius to recognise that the 19th Century paradigm of education is no longer fit for purpose, and to forsee that all phases of education serving all sections of the population will undergo enormous changes – thanks to technology, innovation and greater insights into learning processes and appropriate pedagogy – throughout the 21st Century. The question is – what to do about it?

Whilst some countries continue to tinker with the old paradigm – which is like installing radar and sonar and better stabilisers on the next set of superliners – others have already turned their attention to the need to redesign, rather than reform or upgrade, the entire system. In fact there are several countries where this has already happened – where 16+ examinations have been scrapped, where formative assessment is seen as far more valuable than summative assessment, where learning makes full use of all the available technology, where students co-create their learning pathways and where learning is truly personalised, allowing learners to move at an appropriate pace in the company of other supportive learners.

As a result, these countries not only produce school leavers who have enjoyed their school careers more than elsewhere, they also leave school with higher levels of all six intelligences and higher levels of self-confidence and self esteem. They are also better at directing their own learning and are more likely to see themselves as lifelong learners. They also turn out to be better at problem-solving and creative endeavors. What’s more, they do better at the OECD/PISA formal tests which compare outcomes throughout the world.

“Aha!” say the naysayers. “You’re talking about cute little countries like Finland and Singapore. You can’t possibly compare them with much bigger countries such as the USA and the UK.” Really? It so happens that the USA has a long tradition of respecting the rights of individual states to determine how education is run in their part of the union, and many are determined that these rights should continue to exist. Only 20 of America’s states have populations greater than those of Finland and Singapore, and only 12 states have populations larger than Hong Kong, which is another state that has redesigned its approaches in line with the principles of the New Learning Revolution.  In fact only 2 States – California and Texas – have populations greater than Shanghai province. China is becoming the latest educational superpower and is adopting the Finnish model, or what we’re calling the New Learning Revolution. (For the record, Scotland has a population of 5.25 million – roughly the same as Finland and Singapore, and Wales has 3.6 million.) What Shanghai achieved in the first decade of the 21st Century the rest of China will achieve in the second decade, as the successful ‘field trial’ (which involved the re-training of the entire teaching force) is spread to the rest of the country. (The USA has a total population of 314 million. China’s is 1,344,000,000.)

Education needs to be relevant, meaningful, exciting, creative, purposeful, satisfying and motivating. Learning can be all of these things, but the 19th Century model tends to produce none of them, especially in an age when students are doing it for themselves – individually and collectively – thanks to Google, and to inexpensive tablet computers and smartphones using high speed broadband, and all the rest of it. Why pay £25 for an average guitar lesson when you can get a better lesson for free on YouTube, and replay it as many times as you like, whenever you like? Now apply that same logic to courses run by massive institutions for ever-increasing fees, in an age when Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are becoming available for free, or for fees that simply set out to cover the costs of providing them on your local, friendly, neighbourhood server.

What’s more, employers are crying out for people who are self-starters and lifelong learners, and they will become increasingly sophisticated at spotting these young people and rejecting those who simply excel at sitting timed tests and examinations. (The Confederation of British Industry has already told us that it wants to end 16+ exams and that employers want to recruit young people who are creative, articulate, problem-solving team players.)

Our Secretaries of State for education have proved themselves  to be quite tireless as they beaver away at re-arranging the deckchairs on the Titantic. Will future Education Secretaries continue to do the same thing?

So is this really a time to keep a steady course, let the band play on, keep calm and carry on, whilst we continue to hope for the best? Or is it time to fly?

titanic 3


The annual BETT show is taking place in London this week. The majority of the ‘players’ seem content to sell their technological wares to those that simply want more of the same, but who want it faster, smarter and brighter. Look out, though, for those that are preparing for redesign, not reform.

We confidently predict that there will continue to be a market in ocean-going liners for those who can afford luxury and leisurely cruises through the world’s watery playgrounds. We also predict that there will continue to be a market for ‘elite’ schools which provide an ‘elite’ education aimed at gaining access for privileged pupils to ‘elite’ universities.

The question will then be – will those universities that consider themselves to be ‘the elite’ continue to offer places to those who have shown they can perform at exceptional levels in timed examinations, or will they want students who are the best and the fastest learners – self-motivated, creative individuals who are adept at producing knowledge as well as being voracious consumers of a wide range of knowledge and an understanding which goes beyond the syllabus and the formal curriculum?

This is not to say that the world won’t still need its unimaginative plodders who are content to follow orders and do unexciting work. Of course it will. It will also need its ‘professionals’ who will need to show their grasp of large bodies of knowledge and a range of skills. What we’re questioning is whether our education system is set to deliver any of the skills, attitudes and expertise the world will need in the future, and whether students will be willing to pay the cost of the traditional means of acquiring those qualifications if there are other routes available, especially into entrepreneurial businesses and commercial organisations that value skills and operational abilities above paper qualifications.

And if they can become able and qualified in other ways that are cheaper, faster and more interesting – why would they be willing to pay the cost of going the traditional, slow and outmoded routes – both literally and metaphorically?

titanic 2

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About 3D Eye

Gary Foskett and Clare Blackhall are educationalists, writers and consultants. We work with schools and other organisations who share our vision of how schools, businesses, etc should work in the 21st Century. We also run courses and contribute to conferences - speaking about our three dimensional model of intelligences and how schools, colleges and universities can develop the full potential of all their staff and students. We also offer consultancy for businesses and public sector organisations to support staff training and organisational change and development. For more detailed information read our blog at or see our website at
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3 Responses to Rearranging The Deckchairs

  1. Zuzu says:

    I agree whole-heartedly with the assessment of schools and their limitations and the Titanic analogy seems apt.

    What I find so curious is: why, in all the articles about the failing educational system, is there never a mention of the dedicated parents who have understood the failings and take on the task of educating their children themselves. We are a growing group (saving our society a fortune!) and I believe that many of these children are going to be the self-motivated, creative professionals and leaders of the future. Many of us use alternative methods (such as MOOCs) and personalised structures to educate our children.

    Sadly, as we have chosen the unconventional route and rarely receive positive press, we are under constant pressure from politicians, social services and an ignorant public. It might be interesting if some of the creative educational thinkers would include this group in their assessment of modern education. Or, perhaps it’s easier to keep pushing the chairs around on their own personal Titanic. After all, a one-size-fits-all education system will always be flawed and, therefore, always easy to criticise.


  2. Mike Ziemski says:

    An article similar to this was published in Fast Company magazine a couple of years ago, as businesses were lamenting the fact that they were having difficulties finding the talented people necessary to fill positions for the new challenges they faced, and offered new educational paradigms that were emerging to help meet those needs. I responded, and the letter was published, observing that as long as companies required Bachelor, Masters or, in some cases, Doctoral degrees from recognized institutions from their candidates as a pre-requisite for employment, the traditional educational model will continue. As for public school districts, as long as they’re funded by a shrinking tax base and led by education professionals that have experience in the traditional educational paradigm, be prepared to hear that other nautical phrase, “Don’t give up the ship.”


  3. behrfacts says:

    I’m a fan of the Titanic if only because it started off the first series of Downton Abbey, plus I launched my business on the 100th Anniversary of its sinking ( It’s a good analogy for many things and I like the fact that its demise coincided with the rise of aviation as you illustrate well in your post. As for the future of education, that’s anyone’s guess nowadays …


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