A Century of Traditional Schooling. With More to Come

Mal Lee

Around 1920 the model of schooling we’ve known all our lives was standardised across the developed world.

A century later the structure of the model remains the same, with no hint it is about to change.

If anything, the permanence of what Tyack and Cuban (1995) aptly called ‘the grammar of schooling’ has solidified

Most schools in the future, on present trends, will be structurally the same as todays.

The model is so strongly woven into the fabric of most nations and economies it is likely the structure can never be fundamentally changed.

A 100 plus years of vast investment of thought and effort globally in school change has brought only the most minor of sustained variations. The major dents made, particularly in the 1960’s and 1970’s, have been largely been rectified, with the traditional model used worldwide.

Even a global pandemic, that obliged schooling for the first time in human history to abandon its traditional physical site-based operations, and to work digitally has been unable to change those structures.

Indeed, it has re-affirmed their global importance, and nation’s dependence on its young being physically within schools most days of the year.

What however Covid-19, and the experience online did reveal was how easy it was to use the 1920 structures to provide an apt contemporary education for all, in a rapidly evolving digital and socially networked world. 

While the structures will remain constant the digital enables the teaching therein to readily change. That is if schools recognise the benefits of the asynchronous learning and don’t revert to only in-class teaching.

Standardising the model

By around 1920 the standard form of today’s schooling was in place.

While the model had been existent for years it took until the 20’s to standardise the approach.

The political skirmishes of the previous 50 odd years, the recognition of the need to better educate the young, the growing influence of a burgeoning middle class, the lessons of the Great War and the concerted efforts by a body of ‘educational experts’ combined to see developed nations like the USA, England, Scotland, Australia and Canada adopt a remarkably similar model of schooling (Campbell and Proctor, 2014) (Curtis and Boultwood, 1962), (McClure, 1971) (Tyack and Cuban, 1995). 

The ‘education experts’ within the new education bureaucracies, aided by the new university education faculties took charge of the schooling, deciding the mission, the structure of the schools, their location, organisation, curriculum, testing regime, staffing and operations.

They also took charge of teacher training.

The community, parents and invariably the church, were eased out of the decision making.

The schools they created are those you know well.

The students attended a physical place called school, at set times, within state determined term dates, with the students organised into age cohorts and taught in class groups, by a solitary teacher.

They moved in a lock step manner through their years at school, all taught using a common curriculum prepared by the experts, all assessed by paper-based exams, with all the major exams externally set.

The focus was strongly academic. Success equated with academic performance.

They were schools where the socially economically advantaged families of the society were further advantaged, and the marginalised, the labourers, indigenous, coloureds and migrants further disadvantaged. 

Core to the model was the sorting and sifting of the students, the schools charged with identifying the perceived future leaders while winnowing out the lower quality and non-compliant. 

The nature of the school buildings, with their corridors of teaching rooms, was much the same as today. Indeed, likely most schools of the 1920s remain in use today. Think of the schools in the older parts of the cities and country towns, and how many were built around the 1920s or earlier.

Structurally the schools were linear, strongly hierarchical organisations, that drew heavily upon Industrial Age manufacturing thinking and processes. The high/secondary schools particularly were segmented, loosely coupled (Weick, 1976), with a strong division of labour, where the subject teachers taught their speciality to students moving along the ‘production line’.

The principal was all powerful, using ‘his’ position and the hierarchy to unilaterally control every facet of the school’s operation. 

Throughout the 20’s and 30s the burgeoning university education faculties and bodies like the National Education Association (NEA) used their expertise internationally to assist the emerging education bureaucracies refine the model.

Simultaneously local, provincial and national governments and education authorities codified and entrenched the model. Legislation was passed, regulations put in place, operational manuals prepared, working conditions determined, pay rates struck, the curriculum mandated, teachers’ colleges opened, and school inspection and accountability arrangements implemented.

It bears remembering that until the 1950’s only the socio-economically advantaged young, most of whom were boys, completed high school and went to university. Most left school to work before 15.  

Permanence

The post Second World War years placed immense pressure on the model, but by the 70’s, fifty plus years on from the standardisation, it was apparent it had become so embedded that it would remain the norm for many more years.

The rise in births and social aspirations after the War, saw a surge globally in school building, teacher numbers and the imperative of schools educating an ever wider cross section of society.

Russia’s launch of Sputnik in 1957 sent shock waves through Western education, seriously challenging its ability to provide a schooling superior to the USSR. 

When combined with the imperative of better catering for a wider socio-economic profile schooling globally was obliged to examine closely the effectiveness of the standard model, and to test alternative structures.

Most were eventually found wanting, with the standard model being accepted as part of modern life, even with its recognised shortcomings.

Joyce writing in the then highly prestigious 1971 National Society for the Study of Education (NSSE) Handbook observed:

…It is not entirely outlandish to compare the giant education bureaucracy with the postal system except that instead of taking mail from one place to another, it receives people when they are children and delivers when they are young adults into the adult economic family, and the social and political systems. As in the case of the postal system things are delivered much as they are mailed (Joyce, 1971, p308).

In education, it is the characteristics of the children and parents that account for most of the character of the delivered product (Joyce, 1971, p308).

The children will be more, when they leave school, of what they were when they came to it (Joyce, 1971, p344).

A quarter of a century later, 75 years on from the standardising of the school model Tyack and Cuban (1995) noted the continued use of the core structures:

The basic grammar of schooling, like the shape of classrooms, has remained remarkably stable over the decades. Little has changed in the ways schools divide time and space, classify students and allocate them to classrooms, splinter knowledge into ‘subjects’ and award grades and ‘credits’ as evidence of learning (Tyack and Cuban, 1995, p85).

Indeed, the grammar of schooling had been accepted by societies globally to be what schools are (Tyack and Cuban, 1995, p85).

……Established institutional forms come to be understood by educators, student and the public as necessary features of ‘real’ school. They become fixed in place by everyday custom in schools and by outside forces, by legal mandates and cultural beliefs, until they are barely noticed. They become just the way schools are (Tyack and Cuban, 1995, p86).

In 2020 the century old core school structures remain the norm.

In 2019 its graduating group was still assessed, 100 years on by external hand-written exams.

Despite being stress tested in manner like never before by the Covid 19 pandemic the grammar of schooling remains as strong as ever, with societies worldwide better understanding the strength of the standard model’s structures, but also more aware of the opportunities within those structures to better educate all children 24/7/365 in and for a digital and socially connected world.

The Strengths

The great and enduring strengths of the traditional model relate in the main to its facility to simultaneously develop and care for most of the nation’s young in a secure, safe physical site, for much of the year. 

It frees young parents to work, to make a significant contribution to the national productively, while also providing families the monies to live the desired life.

The national importance of the latter was highlighted during the 2020 pandemic, with economies worldwide obliged to operate largely in a holding pattern until the physical places called schools could re-open.

Importantly the model performs that role relatively efficiently, combining as it does educational development, care, social growth and increasingly personal well-being.

The related strength is that the model gives society what it expects of schools. It is a politically and socially acceptable model.

Importantly, as evidenced by the changes over time, and during the pandemic, while the structures might not change what occurs within them can, in often significant ways.

Opportunities

The digital allows teaching to readily transcend the physical site called school, and to be networked, without having to vary the school structures or plant.

The digital enables schools to significantly change their shaping vision, learning environment, culture, staffing, modus operandi, relationship with their community, resourcing and to abandon their insularity without changing the standard model, building new schools or needing to tackle the mass of legislative, legal, cultural and historical constraints inhibiting structural change.

When obliged in early 2020 to go digital most schools in retrospect handled the crisis remarkably well.

Revealingly few watching the world’s young readily use their home digital ecosystem made any comment. It had become the new normal.

A new normal that couldn’t have occurred a decade ago, when in early 2010 there were no iPads, Chromebooks, Zoom, Android apps store, little national broadband connectivity and very few primary age students having normalised the use of the digital. 

Conclusion.

In 2020, as the Covid 19 pandemic affirmed schooling is well placed to move to a digital operational mode, but it will have to do within the existing century old school structures.

  • Campbell, C and Proctor, H (2014) A History of Australian Schooling.Sydney. Allen and Unwin
  • Curtis, S.J and Boultwood, M.E.A (1962)An Introductory History of English Education Since 1800.London. University Tutorial Press
  • Joyce, B.R (1971) ‘The Curriculum Worker of the Future’. In McClure, R.M (1971) The Curriculum: Retrospect and Prospect.The Seventieth Yearbook of the National Society for the Study of Education. Chicago. University of Chicago Press 1971.
  • McClure, R.M (1971) The Curriculum: Retrospect and Prospect.The Seventieth Yearbook of the National Society for the Study of Education. Chicago. University of Chicago Press 1971.
  • Tyack, D and Cuban, L (1995). Tinkering Toward Utopia. Cambridge. Massachusetts. Harvard University Press.
  • Weick, K (1976) ‘Educational organisations as loosely coupled systems’. Administrative Science Quarterly21 1976

Corona Virus, Schools and Smartphone Bans

Mal Lee

Should education authorties persist with their school smartphone bans at a time when nations are rolling out their corona virus contact tracing apps?

Why shouldn’t medical authorities be able to trace potential corona virus contacts among the young in schools, by using the smarts of the technology?

As governments globally promote the benefits of students learning from home, come to better understand the many benefits of using the student’s digital devices and debate how best to minimise the risks associated with reopening schools is it not time to revisit the bans many governments placed on smartphones in schools?

Virtually overnight the pandemic has obliged educational decision to markedly rethink the contribution the digital can make to the education and well-being of the nation’s young.

Part of that rethink should be the critical part the young’s personal devices play in their 24/7/365 development, learning and well-being in a digital and socially networked society.

A related aspect is the imperative of school decision makers recognising in 2020 schools are part of an increasingly interconnected and networked world, where smartphones are the device no one, and most assuredly the young can do without.

It is surely time for all to understand that the highly sophisticated smartphones in the student’s hands are devices of enormous power and potential – that require smart minds to realise that potential.

The corona virus tracing app is but one example of how the devices can be used for the good.

There are endless other possibilities.

But none will be realised while ever the Luddite stance is maintained and teachers’ ability to explore those possibilities is denied.

Corona Virus, Schools and the Window of Opportunity

Mal Lee

Overnight the corona virus has obliged society and the educational decision makers to rethink the nature of schooling in a connected world – in a way few other events have. 

There is a societal focus on the role of schooling, and online education the world has rarely seen.

It has opened the window for the serious consideration of how schools might better genuinely collaborate with their families in the education of the young in a networked society.

The irony is that where only months ago governments were banning digital devices, and supporting schools unilateral control of teaching today that are reliant on those personal devices, the family digital ecosystem and are seemingly wanting to collaborate with the families in the ‘schooling’ of the nation’s young. 

Presently the young experience two types of learning with the digital. The structured tightly controlled linear teaching of the school, that distrusts and disempowers the young. And the highly laissez approach used 24/7/365 outside the school walls, where near on 3 billion digitally connected young (UNICEF, 2017) have largely taken control of their use of and learning with the digital (Lee, Broadie and Twining, 2018).

They are diametrically opposite, with the young outside naturally adopting the approach used by 4 billion plus of the worlds digitally connected (ITU, 2018).

Schools and systems globally have seemingly dismissed, or have not noted that global phenomenon, in the main making no effort to recognise, build upon or complement the global connectivity or universal nature of the approach learning employed.

The virus provides the chance for more schools to enhance the nexus between the two, now parallel approaches, and to collaborate with and provide astute support and leadership for the world’s digitally connected families.

But it is only a momentary chance. Already parents, the wider society and teachers are desperately wanting to return to the schooling they know.

Globally there is a small cadre of schools, that after years of astute preparation are demonstrating what is possible.

There are another group doing their utmost with the online despite that lack of preparation.

And likely globally there are schools where the teachers are going out of the way to continue their teaching with a mix of paper and digital resources.

However, most governments and education authorities in announcing the arrangements for their schools during the virus proclaimed they were taking schooling online. 

They were taking a 1920 model of schooling, which is strongly site based online, from Kindergarten to Year 12, in every area of learning.

The claim sounded highly assuring in a time of crisis.

The trouble was that in most instances it was a myth, convenient spin. 

Literally overnight, with no planning, consultation, staff or community preparation, or infrastructure testing total education systems were through some magic wand waving to move from a wholly site based operation to working online.

Some exceptional schools, that have done the years of preparation have handled the challenge well.

Most however have struggled, with both the concept of teaching in a digital mode, and the logistics of teaching wholly online. One example sighted sought to unilaterally impose a 1920 model of teaching on the lives of all its families, specifying to the minute when students were to switch subjects, and the sanctions that would be applied if they did not. 

Glitch after technical glitch has been experienced by near all.

Little is the wonder most are wanting to return to the established ways.

That said maybe this is the cock-up schooling and particularly governments had to have.

What is now patently obvious from the pandemic experience is that physical attendance at a physical place school must be core to schooling forever.

The virus has daily underscored the critical role schools play in allowing young parents to work.

A related reality is that a century of unsuccessful school change has affirmed that the core structure of schooling will rarely, if ever be changed.

It is possible to make and sustain change within those 1920 structures, but – and it is a vital ‘but’ – it is virtually impossible to achieve sustained structural change in schools. History over the century has continually affirmed the attitudinal, political, structural, educational, legislative, legal, cultural, logistical and societal constraints to be overcome.

While it is pleasing to note is the number of commentators urging schooling take advantage of the virus to introduce fundamental change all fail to grasp how tightly the standard model of schooling is woven into the fabric of modern society.

Change can, and has been made within the existing structures. 

That is where to take advantage of the jolt provided by the corona virus. The culture can be changed, a digitally based school ecosystem grown, control of the teaching and learning can be distributed, genuine collaboration can occur between the schools and families and a greater nexus established between the in and out of school use of the digital.

Work on the reality that society will expect the kids to go school, and return home at a set time each day, five days a week, for X days of the year, and break for holidays in the same weeks each year. 

And just maybe some of the opportunities opened by the pandemic will be realised.

Just maybe governments will better understand how central personal devices, family digital ecosystems and digitally connected families are to the 24/7/365 learning of the young, and just maybe when schools return to the standard model governments will still want to genuinely collaborate with the families of the young.

  • Lee, M. Broadie, R and Twining, P (2018) Your Kids Being Digital. A Guide for Digitally Connected Families.Armidale Australia Douglas and Brown
  • UNICEF (2017) Children in a Digital World. UNICEF December 2017 – https://www.unicef.org/publications/files/SOWC_2017_ENG_WEB.pdf

Home schooling or home education?

Roger Broadie

Whatever other impacts the covid-19 virus may have on education systems, there will be a big impact on parents which is likely to change attitudes.

Children going to school has allowed parents to take a more or less peripheral interest in their childrens’ education. While most parents are interested and helpful, they largely just go along with what the school decides their children should learn and with how this learning should happen.

With many children now not going to school parents are discovering how willing their children are to do work set by the school and how engaging and possible they find this. And without peer incentives or the structure of classes children will dictate the pace of days. There will only be a few parents who manage to impose anything like a ‘school day’ at home. That kind of expectation needs to be built from birth, it cannot suddenly be imposed on a ‘normal’ family relationship.

Many parents will question the purpose of schools attempting to get their pupils to follow some kind of school curriculum at home. And many will question the value of aspects of that school curriculum, reflecting on whether they still remember learning such things and whether they have any current importance in their life.

Once through the first week of attempts to do as school asks, with very mixed success, I strongly suspect parents’ concern will move to the matter of how to keep their children gainfully employed for at least part of the day. This will be reinforced by their children regularly proclaiming “I’m bored!”, and perhaps by their own boredom as well. Watching TV palls after a while.

As this process works through, what should parents be advised to do?

I suggest we should first of all make it clear to parents that schools will inevitably have to re-teach things required by tests and exams as these get re-instated, which will reveal just how important many of the things schools teach actually are. And which just get ignored.

And to suggest to parents that what is most important is to help their children maintain desire to learn and confidence in their learning and creative abilities. A sensible plan for parents could be:

  • Establish a definite getting up time. And a standard of dress, not pyjamas.
  • Require something to be produced during the morning; writing, a drawing, a lego or cardboard model, a search history of something being researched, a video that explains something (even if it’s an analysis of where the cat likes to sleep). And shown to parents just before lunch.
  • Require some household job to be done during the day – there is bound to be something that needs cleaning.
  • Lunch, as a fixed point in the day, at a set time, with some real food eaten. And possibly some creative help in making lunch an interesting moment in the day, with their help in producing it. Artistic arrangement of food on a plate works well.
  • In the afternoon, establish a time to talk about “something I have learnt today”. And to make a plan for tomorrow. It’s good to wake up knowing there is something you intend to do that day.
  • In the evening some multimedia reading, on screen or paper; you can find out about anything on YouTube. With a standard question in the morning, what did you read/watch/listen to last night? And with the parent listening with interest, even if what was read was my little pony or something about violent films – this is part of seeing them up and dressed in the morning, enjoying a bit of breakfast.

Perhaps when parents have done this for some weeks they will become more aware of, and more questioning of the curriculum the school provides, and whether it provides a good education, or just schooling to fill the school day.

Schools as Perpetual Organisations. The Educational and Societal Implications

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

With many schools, already more than a century old, it is time to recognise schools are in the main perpetual organisations – that have been critical to local communities, and society at large for generations, and will likely remain so for aeons more.

While ever there are students in a community state schools will exist.

That perpetuity, and implications that flow need to be better understood. 

Moreover, it needs to be better understood by local communities, politicians, teachers, principals, administrators and vitally the media and governments.

For a century plus most state schools have been viewed as transitory organisations, institutions ‘owned’ by the ‘education experts’, that focus on the now, the immediate future and largely disregard their history and role within society. There has been little regard for their heritage, uniqueness, the way history has shaped that uniqueness and the education provided, their role within wider society or the extent to which for hundred years or more local communities have invariably been shut out from playing a genuine role in the evolution and growth of ‘their’ school/s. 

For too long the ‘experts’ – the school principals, bureaucrats and even governments – have ‘owned’ these critical community organisations, used them as their playthings, to advance careers and win votes, feeling free to do with as they wish, limiting the local community to largely tokenistic roles. Few principals today will question the ‘ownership’ of ‘their’ school. 

Historically as the ‘education experts’ took control of schooling from local communities at the beginning of the twentieth century and standardised the model of schooling (Tyack and Cuban, 1995) they by extension came to believe the schools were theirs to do as they wish, with the parents and wider community – the amateurs – having no role to play, other than that decided by the ‘experts’.

Typical of aged organisations the strong shaping vision, guiding principles and philosophies of the founding fathers, the Dewey’s, Froebel’s, and the ‘departmental’ visionaries gradually disappear, and public servants and political leaders with scant or no corporate memory take control, and make changes as they seek to make their mark without any regard to the organisation’s heritage.

The history of every school in the last century has been one of constant change, but no real change, except a growing focus on what the ‘education experts’ value at the expense of what the local community and parents value.

A hundred years on the core organisational and cultural features of schools in the 1920s remain in place, even though virtually every principal and government in taking office has made changes.

With the school head, the ‘expert’, like in 1920 still unilaterally deciding what will happen. It matters not if she throws out ten years work by the staff and school community, disregards the community’s views or wastes thousands on different technology. She knows best. It is ‘her’ school to do as she desires.  As a senior permanent public servant, she’ll never wear the damage or loss.

The irony is that a century on from the ‘educational experts’ insisting only they have the expertise to orchestrate continual school organisational change (McClure, 1971), (Tyack and Cuban, 1995) most schools and systems remain the same insular, site based linear hierarchical organisations, using Industrial Age structures and processes – albeit increasingly controlled by bureaucrats with no education background.

The history of school innovation globally 1920 – 2020 reveals relatively few schools or systems that have been able to make, or vitally sustain core organisational change over the decades (McClure, ed,1971), (Fullan, 1991), (Tyack and Cuban, 1995).

Schools continue, as Tyack and Cuban aptly described, ‘Tinkering Towards Utopia’(1995).

A related irony is that in the 25 years since the publication of that work the digitally connected families of the world, the amateurs, have outside the school, of their own volition and expense successfully digitally connected more than 70% of the world’s young (UNICEF, 2017), (Lee and Broadie, 2018) and readied their children being digital, while the educational experts have failed in that quest within the school walls. As the amount of information exploded, made accessible by first libraries and then the internet, schools have failed to ready young people for the connected world.

It is imperative all associated with the education of the nation’s young, but particularly governments understand state schools are perpetual organisations, that have and will continue to play a central role in the life, learning, economics and growth of local communities, and society in general.

Governments have long understood the perpetual nature of museums, art galleries and national parks. 

They, and their ‘educational experts’ need to appreciate the perpetuity of state schools, and the many implications that flow. The professionals working with and within those schools, like curators and rangers are but momentary custodians of an invariably long, important, unique and continually evolving heritage.  The experience of school and what is important about this connects the generations.

It is important they better understand and respect the custodial role they play, that their contribution will be relatively short, along with many others and that the growth and enhancement made should be aptly built upon by future generations of custodians. And that they are custodians of the total school experience young people will carry forward and impress upon their children.

One suspects that as soon as school staff, principals, administrators and governments accept their custodial role their mindset, and relationship with the community would begin to change. It won’t happen overnight. Power is rarely given up easily.

As custodians of a perpetual organisation it is important they appreciate the many critical roles schools play in modern society, but particularly within local communities.

The focus here is state schools, recognising in nations like Canada, New Zealand and England that also includes the parochial schools.

It is appreciated much of what is being said is applicable to all schools, but that invariably elite independent schools operate as insular, ‘stand-alone’ entities, catering solely for their slice of society, often having little to do with the local community.

It is also understood the concept of ‘local community’ is a tricky one, particularly so in an increasingly socially connected world; that the sense of community can be plotted on vast continuum from nought to immense, and is an issue of growing concern for town planners and governments globally (Putnam, 2000). It is moreover likely more apparent in geographically discrete rural and regional villages and towns than in vast rapidly expanding, often inhumane cities.

That said there are likely few anywhere who wouldn’t advocate for a greater sense of local community.

Ask most any ‘educational expert’ their views on the role of schools today and you’ll find most will focus solely on the in-school educational agenda, rarely seeing any other role for the school.

That has not always been so, with the writings of John Dewey, and the NEA (National Education Association) in the early 1900’s emphasising what they saw as the vital roles the school and community had to play in the apt, holistic education of the young, with schools always needing to ensure its formal curriculum was informed by the ever-evolving informal curriculum (Dewey, 1916). In the last seventy plus years that bond has been increasingly forgotten as successive generations of ‘experts’ took unilateral control of ‘education’, dismissed the importance of the informal education and focussed on the learning within the physical place called school.

While school’s in-house educational remit should and will continue to be core and vital, a custodial mindset obliges educators to revisit the provision of a holistic education, the contribution of parents and acknowledge the other vital roles schools do, and should play.

Schools allow both parents to work, to contribute to the growth and productivity of the national and local economies, and to shed the vast expense of pre-primary child care.  Over the century as the school leaving age crept up from 14, to 15, to 18, and the Year 12 retention rates rose from below 10% to near all the cohort so the facility for all parents to work accelerated.

Schools now play an important part in enabling young parents to contribute to the growth of the national economy and its productivity, while at the same time assisting them live the life style they desire.

All modern economies are profoundly, often unwittingly impacted by school operational times and vitally school term dates, with the northern and southern hemisphere summer holidays being an integral, unchanging facet of life, learning and economic activity.

Society expects the young to be safe at school.

Rightly or wrongly schools are the facility society’s use to create conforming citizens, to sort, sift and credential its young (Labaree,1997), and to reduce unemployment figures.

Over the decades, local schools have become increasingly critical to the life, esprit de corps, learning, heritage, economics and continued viability of local communities. Close the sole school and the community suffers, in rural and regional areas often terminally. 

In likely most communities the school/s will involve around a quarter of its people (Tyack and Cuban, 1995).

In more recent years with the decline of organised religion the local state school/s have increasingly taken on many of the community roles once played by the church. Astutely led state schools have become strong bonding agents, adding to the sense of community. Look to the conduct grandparent days, fetes, mothers’ and fathers’ day breakfasts and carol singing they already run and one will appreciate how governments and local communities could readily, at little expense use these core perpetual organisations more effectively.

In recent years, most state schools globally have come to play an increasingly greater role in the mental well- being and social welfare of communities, they invariably being one of the lead agencies. It doesn’t require a great deal of imagination to envision how local state schools, with local community and government support could, with other bodies simultaneously care for all families, while enhancing well-being and the sense of community.

One could continue, and discuss the role of schools in drawing migrants into society, but the point is made, schools as perpetual organisations are, should be and will always be, far more than the playthings of the educational ‘experts’ susceptible to the latest whims of transient principals, administrators and ministers.

They are an integral part of modern societies, that should in their continuing growth and evolution genuinely involve the local community, and not simply the educators.

How that ‘local community’ is best involved is a study that has yet to be done.

What is critical is the viewing of state schools, be they are hundred, or but a few years old, as perpetual organisations, where the custodians must assist grow not only the young but also the total local community.

Conclusion

Understanding schools are perpetual organisation shaped by their history, with an operational brief that far exceeds a narrow, test driven educational agenda, should go a long way towards creating schools that can better serve their communities, continually build on their rich heritage and provide an apt contemporary education while markedly lessening whimsical, ineffectual and wasteful short term change.

  • Dewey, J (1916), Democracy and education, New York Macmillan
  • Fullan, M and Stiegelbuaer, S (1991) The New Meaning of Educational Change. London Cassell
  • Labaree, D. F. (1997). How to succeed in school without really learning. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
  • Lee, M and Broadie, R (2018) Digitally Connected Families. And the Digital Education of the World’s Young, 1993 – 2016, Armidale, Australia, Douglas and Brown – http://douglasandbrown.com/publications/–  
  • McClure, R.M (1971) The Curriculum: Retrospect and Prospect.The Seventieth Yearbook of the National Society for the Study of Education. Chicago. University of Chicago Press 1971.
  • Putnam, R.D (2000).Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. NY. Simon and Schuster.
  • Tyack, D and Cuban, L (1995). Tinkering Toward Utopia. Cambridge. Massachusetts. Harvard University Press.
  • UNICEF (2017)Children in a Digital World. The State of the World’s Children 2017. UNICEF December 2017 – https://www.unicef.org/publications/files/SOWC_2017_ENG_WEB.pdf

The Uniqueness of Sustained School Organisational Change

Greg McKay

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

The art of sustaining, and in time revitalising core organisational change in schools, and school systems is unique; markedly different to that in other organisations.

It is an emerging reality all interested in school development should consider. 

While there are many similarities to all other organisations in the sustaining of the change it is critical to understand what sets schools apart, and not perpetuate the mistake many have made trying to apply in toto the tenets or models of organisational change in business, and indeed the public service, to schools.

Schools, and school systems are unique organisational forms, requiring apt sustaining and revitalisation strategies.

The school organisational change literature not only doesn’t recognise the marked difference between making the initial organisational change and its sustaining (Lee and Broadie, 2019) but also doesn’t acknowledge schools organisationally differ in at least six fundamental aspects to all other organisations, private and public sector.

Their remit, the societal dependence on them, the time spent developing the nation’s young, school’s perpetual existence, government’s political control, and invariably ownership, and their need to balance ‘normalisation’ with evolution combine to set them apart.

No school can be independent of the education system they are part of, be it local, parochial, provincial, national or international. All must work within the established parameters, address the set targets and meet an array of obligations.

The same combination of factors, plus the many others that impact organisational change make core school, and system change, and the sustaining of that change very challenging, with history revealing the odds strongly favour the retention of, and invariably the return to, the traditional organisational form.

  • Remit

Businesses exist to make money, schools to educate, and to care for the nation’s young, within a physical place called school.

The young, their parents, the wider community, and vitally the electorate expect those schools to play those roles day after day, year after year.

While accepting schools will be efficiently and effectively managed, and make good use of the funding provided schools are not perceived to be profit making enterprises.  

  • Societal dependence

Rather they exist to serve their society, they been given the prime responsibility for educating the nation’s young, and caring for and nurturing them while the parents work.

They are moreover expected to play that role in the contemporary world in a consistent manner, on a specified number of days each year, within given hours, and break for holidays on approximately the same dates year after year – advertising the school term dates several years in advance.

Globally modern societies, and indeed economies build their lives and workings around those school operating times and term dates, with there been virtually no likelihood of ever varying the term dates. Life in the northern hemisphere is for example still profoundly impacted hundreds of years on by a pattern of school holidays that emerged out of the agrarian year.

Societies’ dependence is invariably strengthened by governments’ mandating that all the nation’s young attend school for X years of their lives.

150 plus years on society has also come to expect – rightly or wrongly – schools to ready compliant citizens, ensure the ‘right’ material is taught, sort and sift the students, and certificate the student’s ability. 

  • Time spent developing the young

Schools must factor into any strategy that seeks to sustain change, and particularly to revitalise that change the responsibility they have for educating each age cohort of students over a long, invariably twelve plus year period, and doing so in a lockstep, linear manner.

While most organisations, private and public sector have only a brief interaction with the clients, schools work with them every day, for years, each year taking in a new cohort of students, while exiting another. To create a significant change in the learning behaviour of say nine year olds, it may be necessary to start that change with the children when they are only five.

Approximately 20% of the nation’s young’s learning time annually will be spent at school.

Core organisational change invariably has thus to be phased in, and the change continued with until the last student cohort departs the school.

Schools can’t like most other organisations make, and even markedly refine a core change the moment it thinks apt. They have work with the givens. 

  • Perpetual organisations

Schools as organisations will continue their operations while ever there is a community for which to cater; an electorate to satisfy. While non-government schools might come, and go governments must ensure communities have a school

Schools have literally existed for hundreds of years, and are on track do so for many more.

In marked contrast to business that must operate at the cutting-edge to remain viable, the viability of most schools is seldom under threat.

While it is highly desirable schools provide a quality apt contemporary education in many respects it matters not how poorly run or how dated and irrelevant is the teaching. The government schools will continue while ever there are students wanting to attend.

The demand on their ‘child care’ role, particularly at a point in history where both parents work, will see most average, and even poor schools continue to operate.

It is difficult to imagine any democratic government, wanting to stay in office opting to take up Perelman’s (1992) suggestion of closing the schools, and teaching solely online.

The perpetuity of the organisation, its longevity means staff appointed to schools will, likely unwittingly, play a custodial role in preserving and growing the history of the school, for what invariably will only be a relatively short time in the organisation’s operations. They will play their role and leave it to others to continue and hopefully grow their work. It is not unusual for there to be a 20% plus turnover of staff annually, and only rarely will the teachers stay in a K-12 school the same length as the students.

The same holds at the system level, probably even more so, particularly in those organisations that staff the central office with limited term contracts. 

Interestingly, aside from staff in schools with a long history, the authors’ strong impression is that most teachers, administrators and even politicians don’t see schools operating in perpetuity, or the staff being custodians of but a period in the organisation’s history. While greater research is needed, the authors combined 80 year plus association with schools and systems points to a focus on the now, and the immediate future, that combined with a lack of corporate memory and documented history likely sees few staff regarding themselves as custodians of a heritage. The contrast with role played by staff in a museum, or even the police or fire services is likely marked, with the shortcoming needing to be factored into any change sustaining or revitalisation strategy. 

Schools linked to religious organisations are also invariably limited in the degree of change they can implement by the usually conservative tenets of their governing bodies.

  • Government control, ownership and politics

Another great difference between sustaining, and particularly revitalising organisational change in business and in schools is that schooling is controlled by government, in most instances the schools are owned by the government, and any core change will always depend on its electoral, political and government acceptance.

Globally governments, be they local, provincial or national control the operations of the nation’s schools – even if not directly owning them. While the nature and degree of sway varies the control of such variables as the overarching legislation, working conditions, pay rates, the funding, the curriculum authority, the examination’s board/s, teacher registration, school accreditation and teacher training ensures the government of the day will always have a powerful voice.

The power is amplified many fold when they own the schools.

With government control/ownership there will always be the continuing, often very quick turnover of the senior decision makers. Governments only have limited tenure, the ministers of education even shorter and system chief executive will on experience rarely stay more than six years.

The limited tenure, the electoral imperative to impress in the short time and the constant jockeying for power strongly inclines governments, ministers of education and their bureaucrats to favour shorter term initiatives, and to shy away from change likely to alienate the electorate.

School systems in contrast to business, invariably have senior decision makers who aren’t versed in the business at hand. Contemporary educational administration is highly likely to have a minister, political advisers and heads of the administration with no training in or experience in high level educational change. Most moreover will have little or no corporate memory.

Their expertise is politics and providing the electorate what it finds acceptable.

Sustained change must be electorally acceptable, preferably owned by the community to the extent that successive governments will be wary of intervening other than to enrich the change.

Any major revitalisation of the original core organisational change, such as shifting from a paper to digitally based operational construct will need to be electorally attractive, be embraced by the teachers and school leadership and vitally provide wins for most of the senior decision makers, the political advisers, the minister, the system executive, and in many situations also the union/s. 

While accepting small ‘p’ politics is important in all sustained organisational change with schools the facility to play the small and capital ‘P’ political game is paramount.

  • Accommodating ‘normalisation’ and evolution

Schooling has the immense, and growing challenge of ‘normalising’ the everyday school experience while simultaneously evolving its form to ensure the schools continue to provide an apt contemporary education, and meet their society’s rising expectations.

Much of the business literature regards normalisation as an anathema to sustained organisational change, Lewin as far back as 1947 commented on the necessity of ‘unfreezing’ the organisation. Normalisation is considered by the many of the change theorists to be a sign of failure, an indicator that the organisation had ossified and moved to a state of evolutionary equilibrium.

Those theorists reveal they don’t understand the unique nature of sustaining organisational change in schools.

Swift acceptance and ‘normalisation’ of the change by the students, staff, parents and the wider community is imperative in schooling if the core change is to succeed and be sustained over the decades. In keeping with the above mentioned factors the change needs to be perceived to be successful, and accepted by the electorate for it to have any hope of being sustained as governments and senior executive come and go.

That normalisation needs to be astutely engineered, with the electorate, as well as the staff, students and particularly the parents being educated on the merits of the core change. 

But in so doing the community needs also to understand that in a time of accelerating digital evolution and organisational transformation ‘normalisation’ should be viewed as a continually evolving – not static – concept, a phenomenon where the ‘old normal’ is regularly replaced by the ‘new normal’. This is particularly apparent in the daily use of rapidly evolving digital technologies where the old ways are continually being superseded by the new, without a moment’s thought. It is however apparent in near every facet of life, work and learning where what was normal ten years ago has been supplanted.

This iterative normalisation is particularly important to the evolution of schooling, where a host of often seemingly small enhancements can combine to ensure apt adjustments are made for the evolving context; refinements readily accepted by the students, staff, electorate and government.

We’ve identified six attributes that set schooling apart for other sustained organisational change. There might well be others.

Conclusion

The point remains schools are unique organisations.

That uniqueness needs to be better recognised in shaping the strategies to sustain core school and system wide organisational change, and when appropriate to build upon and revitalise the core change.

While schooling should draw upon the general thinking and research on general organisational change it is imperative the decision makers contextualise their thinking and appreciate schooling is unique.

Sustaining School Organisational Change

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

The art of sustaining, and building upon core organisational change is very different to that of making the initial change.

That is something that is slowly being realised in the general organisational change literature.

It doesn’t appear to have been widely grasped in school organisational change.

Rather the focus there continues to be on the initial change, the innovation, with seemingly little thought given to the practicalities of sustaining and growing the change for decades thereafter.

The history of core school change worldwide, of school innovation is characterised by the failure to sustain and grow the change. Only a small portion of the changes of the last fifty years have been sustained, let alone built upon. 

Organisationally schools, aside from some notable exceptions, haven’t as indicated in an earlier post (Lee and Broadie, 2019), fundamentally changed in the last century. Most schools remain site based, linear, hierarchical, paper based constructs, still characterised by Industrial Age thinking, structures and processes.

Part of that shortcoming likely lies in schooling’s failure to successfully sustain, and grow well-conceived, well implemented change. While very aware of the many constraints on, and daily threats to core organisational change and the paucity of the implementation with much change the failure to sustain apt change lies with the decision makers, and often the inability of generations of decision makers, to nurture, sustain and evolve the initial change.

Despite the hype, and vast outlays of monies and effort most change hasn’t lasted more than a decade or two, with much not lasting beyond the change of head, or government. In Australia for example, as likely elsewhere, virtually all the structural innovation of the 1960s and 1970s has disappeared, with most schools regressing to their traditional form.

The marked propensity in the general organisational change literature has like schooling been to focus on the initial change, and to assume the change will naturally be sustained. As Buchanan and his colleagues (2005) note it is only in the last couple of decades has greater attention been accorded the sustaining and growing of the change, and the distinctiveness of that facet of the change process.

One will struggle to find in the school change literature any reference to the art of sustaining organisational or cultural change. The challenge of sustaining the change twenty, thirty years will seldom be mentioned. Likely part of that shortcoming lies in the lack of successful, long term case studies to study.

That shortcoming is seemingly perpetuated on the ground, with generation after generation of change architects concentrating on the introduction, its initial implementation and its promotion. The funding of the change has been invariably short-term, only rarely with monies allocated for the long-term. 

There is an all – pervasive sense that once the change has been made the organisation can move on to the next project.

History underscores the danger of that thinking, it likely guaranteeing failure.

In researching The Creation, Sustaining and Revitalisation of the ACT Secondary College Model (Lee, 2019), a core system change that has been sustained forty plus years, it soon became apparent that after several decades the executive with operational responsibility for the change had little understanding of, or interest in its origins or the philosophical underpinnings of the original innovation. Rather the focus was on the enhancement of the now and the immediate future, done without regard to why the initial change could have been made, why the model had been sustained or why it was, after decades of use, still strong enough to build upon.

There was no sense of history, or desire to draw upon a successful heritage in shaping the future.

At a time, globally where accelerating organisational evolution and transformation is the norm, where increasing use is made of generalist senior executive, staff turn-over is high, corporate memory is often lacking and the analysis of current data is all pervasive it is ever more important for schools and systems to couple the current data with a historical analysis and understanding, and ensure future enhancement is consonant with the principles that underpinned the original change.

It is time to reduce the time, effort and monies wasted, and the inordinate disruption caused by ineffectual short-term change that has little or no ties with the initial core change.

That entails better understanding the total scene, the past, the now and the desired future. 

It moreover obliges decision makers consider the distinct nature of sustained organisational change in schools. While there are many elements common to sustaining and building upon the core organisational change in business and other public sector organisations the signs point strongly, as we discuss in our next post to schooling having to work with a suite of the unique givens.

The understanding those givens can only be gained through historical analysis, the history of the original change, the context, aspirations, shaping philosophy, guiding principles and ascertaining why the initial change had been accepted and normalised, or why the change was never embraced. It requires understanding why the change has lasted, and ascertaining if it has the strength to be built upon and given an extra lease of life.

Importantly only historical analysis can, as Suddaby and Foster (2017) and his colleagues have recently observed identify the key long term and emerging trends, in and outside the school and system, the challenges that emerge from those trends and the lessons to be learned. Data analysis alone can’t at this stage provide that insight.

While still early days and appreciating much more research is needed there is already a suite of lessons school organisational change designers can draw upon, lessons that have emerged out of the inordinate number of failures and the rare successes.

  • Most core school, and system organisational change will not be sustained. Despite the daily hype, and claims about the ease of change it is immensely difficult to achieve and sustain.
  • Very few schools or systems globally have sustained most core organisational change more than thirty years, and successfully revitalised that change.
  • Most core system wide innovation will likely regress to a state of evolutionary equilibrium, and gradually disappear. Likely the pace of regression will accelerate as memory in the executive of the guiding principles wane, and decisions are made that slowly but surely weaken the thrust of the initial core change.
  • Sustained long term organisational change must continually grow, be nurtured, refreshed, attuned to the changing context, and periodically be significantly revitalised.
  • Mistakes will be made. Ineffectual change leaders will be appointed. Poor strategic decisions will be taken. Politicians will meddle. Some mistakes will be fatal, others addressed rapidly will become part of the learning in a long journey. In brief organisational construct change is an immensely challenging, complex, multi-dimensional exercise that is in practise very difficult to pull off. It needs the best people to succeed, not just anyone. 
  • The signs are that the hardest and most expensive part in successful sustained change is getting the start right. Get every facet of the totality right and accepted, and the indications are that the sustaining, and even the periodic refreshment can be done readily and relatively inexpensively.
  • Successful sustained change will move through a series of stages, from the initial start- up, to normalisation, maturation and refinement, and in some instances to revitalisation and further maturation and enrichment.
  • The one organisational change seemingly readily accepted and sustained globally has been the move to add another year or two of schooling. In most instances the move hasn’t dramatically changed the nature of the schooling.
  • Sustained change requires it be normalised and accepted electorally, with the signs suggesting that must be achieved within the first year or two.
  • Allied is the likely reality that the teachers must embrace the change and the guiding principles from the outset, and naturally pass that acceptance orally from one generation of teachers to the next if the change is to be normalised and sustained.  
  • The key attributes of, and the challenges with each phase will likely be remarkably common globally, with the factors underpinning the sustaining of the change and its revitalisation being markedly different to most in the initial phase.  

The research undertaken on the near universal failure of schools globally to move from a paper to digital organisational construct, and the historical analysis of the ACT secondary college (Lee, 2019) provides an important insight into what those factors likely are, but other case studies will be needed to hone the thinking.

Conclusion

The most important insight historical analysis provides is that changing the core organisational structures of schools is damn hard.

It is immensely difficult within individual schools.

It is even harder at the with a system.

It is likely appreciably more difficult to sustain that change and do so over the decades.

The challenge of sustaining while simultaneously also evolving the organisational change is an art few have clearly mastered.

It is a markedly different art to that of making the initial change.

While the theory is important the sustaining, and the opportune revitalisation of the core change is an art that requires a macro understanding of whole school change and a recognition that this very much a political exercise. Sometimes it is small p political, but in mostly it is likely capital p political.

Ultimately it is about orchestrating electoral acceptability, governments winning and retaining office and the executive decision makers securing personal ‘wins’; an imperative rarely mentioned in the school or even the general change literature.

  • Buchanan, D, Fitzgerald, L, Ketley, D, Gollop, R, Jones, J.L, Lamont, S.S, Neath, A, and Whitby, E. (2005) International Journal of Management Reviews. Vol. 7, Issue 3. 2005
  • Lee, M (2019) The Creation, Sustaining and Revitalisation of the ACT Secondary College Model. Armidale, Australia, Douglas and Brown – http://douglasandbrown.com/publications/–  
  • Suddaby, R and Foster, W.M, (2017) ‘History and Organizational Change’. Journal of Management.Vol.43. No. I 2017

The Creation, Sustaining and Revitalisation of the ACT Secondary College Model

Courtesy Bill Donovan

Mal Lee

This historical analysis examines the creation, sustaining and the challenges facing the revitalisation of the Australian Capital Territory’s government secondary colleges and its unique, college based Year 12 assessment system.

It is a read for all interested in sustaining school change, and those wanting to revitalise the ACT’s government colleges.

It examines why this core system wide school organisational change could have been made, and why the model could have been sustained forty plus years, when globally virtually all the other school innovation of the 1960s and 1970s has long disappeared.

It asks why the ACT secondary college model has been so successfully normalised as part of growing up in Canberra, why it has been universally accepted by the electorate and why decades after its inception the model still has the strength to be built upon, and readied for the decades ahead.

The analysis provides the ACT education community – the students, teachers, parents, the tens of thousands of graduates, the college leadership, the administrators, Government and the tertiary educators – an insight into the model’s educational vision, its guiding principles, key attributes and culture, and a base from which to discuss the attuning needed for the contemporary world.

The analysis moreover provides educators and researchers globally an important insight into the largely unexplored art of sustaining, and revitalising core system wide organisational change.

The ACT college model remains globally one of the few core school organisational changes that has survived the change of head, the change of government and forty plus years on seemingly has as strong a learning culture as when the colleges first opened in 1976.

What is it that has enabled the ACT change to continue to grow, and now tackle significant revitalisation when near all the other major innovations made in Australia in the mid 1960s and 1970s – and indeed in later decades – have long disappeared?

Published under Creative Commons the analysis can be freely downloaded at –http://douglasandbrown.com/publications/–  

Schools as Digital Constructs

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

In moving schooling from a paper to digital construct the way is opened to shift to an increasingly sophisticated, powerful, flexible and naturally evolving operational base, and allow schools to continually provide an apt, ever richer, contemporary 24/7/365 education.

Critically the shift in thinking enables schools and systems to better accommodate the world of accelerating, seemingly chaotic, often uncertain digital and societal evolution they are operating within, and importantly to evolve and grow in harmony with the rest of society.

Theoretically, as indicated in the last post (Lee and Broadie, 2019), the possibilities for teaching and learning opened by a digital construct are virtually unlimited, with possibilities being added daily as the thinking develops and the technology evolves. 

While that might hold in many fields of endeavour, schools as formal government controlled institutions with defined obligations, having to contend with societal expectations will always be more constrained than most other organisations. 

That said the success of the schools that have gone digital, and adopted a socially networked mode have demonstrated schools can move some distance along the digital evolutionary continuum, and with apt leadership and support can evolve ad infinitum.

The facility to do so will differ markedly with the type of school, likely the size and type of education authority, and the government of the day. Independent, and largely autonomous schools will invariably have greater scope to move, as will smaller government systems. 

While individual schools can make a significant shift ultimately the government of the day must play a lead role if the schools/system is to move from Industrial Age staff selection criteria, working conditions and remuneration or to remove the blockages imposed by the likes of statutory examinations boards, basic skills tests and inspectorates. 

Tellingly, mostly unnoticed, many nations now have in their distance education schools/system ground breaking digital constructs, that have long abandoned their correspondence schools, which astutely couple the evolving technologies, social networking and face to face teaching, and provide an important insight into what is possible. Significantly many of those schools already have working conditions and remuneration arrangements markedly different to the mainstream schools.

The key variable in any construct shift will be human, with the decision makers opting to move to a digital construct or choosing to reject or minimise the opportunities opened and stay with the lower order variant.  

Thus far, near all the world’s education authorities and schools have chosen, consciously or not, to stay with the latter, to fend off digital disruption and natural evolution, and to largely deny the opportunities opened by a digital construct.

While most schools and systems have chosen to retain, and laud the paper construct, outside their walls the world continues to evolve at an accelerating rate, daily distancing the young’s in from the out of school use of and learning with the digital (Friedman, 2016). The digitally connected young outside the school naturally, and unconsciously employing a digital mindset, embracing networked learning, taking charge of their 24/7/365 learning with the technology, and daily growing their version of being digital (Lee, Twining and Broadie, 2018).

The paper construct, with its focus on learning within the physical site and virtual disregard for any learning outside the school has likely inclined most to disregard the reality that formal schooling occupies less than 20% of the young’s annual learning time. They seem conveniently to forget today’s schools are operating within a rapidly evolving, chaotic, increasingly connected world where most global change happens naturally, unplanned, with myriads of consequences and unintended benefits and disbenefits. Disruption, seeming chaos will invariably result in order, and a new normal.

Among the many challenges in shifting to a digital construct is to obviate the inefficiencies of natural evolution (Pascale, Millemann and Gioja, 2000). There is need to marry the natural with planned change, to continually take advantage of the pertinent global megatrends in creating and shaping the desired learning environment and culture.

The early adopter schools have demonstrated how that can be done.

But ultimately governments must lead the way for school construct change to happen and be sustained widely.

While visionary, often maverick heads and governments have orchestrated pronounced construct change, history reveals all too often that change is ‘rectified’ and the dents removed with the change of head, or government. Invariably the dents are removed by the application of stultifying carry overs of the paper construct. The great dampener, is the use of principal selection criteria that favour those wanting to maintain the status quo, and which accords no importance to the new head being able to grow the construct shift underway.

Governments must be responsible for the human construct it employs within its schools. If it opts to stay with the traditional then it should bear the political, educational and economic consequences. If it chooses to shift it needs to ensure the total construct, the total digitally based ecosystem is attuned to realising the shaping educational vision.

The Opportunities 

Even at this still relatively early phase of the Digital Revolution the opportunities opened for schools moving to a digital operational construct are immense, and largely limited by the human imagination. 

Many of the possibilities the authors have examined in earlier writings, all of which can be read on the Digital Evolution of Schooling website.

There are a few that merit special mention.

The move provides the opportunity to:

  • Return to first principles and clarify the desired shaping educational vision. It bids all associated with the school to question, and to continually question the aptness of all paper construct practises in a digital context.
  • Have all associated with the school/s, but particularly the leadership approach contemporary schooling, and the wider education of the young, with a digital, and networked mindset – not as now with an analogue.
  • Ensure the educational vision, the clear sense of purpose guides the creation and daily shaping of a school ecosystem and culture that facilitates the desired learning and resourcing. 
  • Identify those facets of schooling to be retained within the digital construct – which are likely to be many.
  • Evolve the school/s, largely in step with society’s ever rising expectations – rather than as now daily falling further behind.
  • Have schools play a more integral and productive part within a networked society and economy, moving them out of their current insular situation, making them more efficient, effective, economic and productive, contributing more fully to the growth of not only the young but also the local and national economy. 
  • Transform paper constructs into digitally mature organisations, built in large upon a tightly integrated, ever evolving, increasingly sophisticated, synergistic digital ecosystem, able to readily interface with and contribute to the networked world.
  • Realise John Dewey’s (1916) century old desire of more consciously cultivating both the informal, out of school learning with the formal, in school in the holistic education of each child.
  • Better individualise every child’s education, and build upon the young, from around the age of three taking charge of their use of and learning with the digital, learning to learn and naturally growing their being digital.
  • Have the schools genuinely collaborate with their digitally connected families in the education of each child, with both parties aware of where they should focus their efforts in growing the child’s holistic education. 
  • Accommodate both planned, and unintended change, and to optimise the benefits that flow naturally from chaotic evolution.
  • Grow a set of operational parameters for a continually evolving digitally based ecosystem and culture, where the young are trusted and empowered – rather than, as now trying to accommodate the young being digital within an aged paper construct where they are distrusted.
  • Have the digital underpin all school operations, normalising its ubiquitous use in and outside the classroom, using it to complement the other media, and accrue the efficiencies, economies, synergies and enhancement that can be achieved, intended and unintended.
  • Have the schools, as formal institutions recognise that while they can never lead the way in the young’s use of and learning with the digital they can better recognise, build upon and provide direction to the 24/7/365 use and learning.
  • Rethink the current Industrial Age structures, processes, working conditions and remuneration and gradually move to those befitting a digital construct. 
  • Complement the site based with networked teaching, learning and assessment, that can occur 24/7/365, anywhere, anytime.  In the upper secondary years, strong arguments can be mounted for much of the learning to happen off site, in jobs, apprenticeships, internships or intensive workshops.
  • Employ a more networked mode of school resourcing, where the school and the families pool their resources and expertise, and where schools can draw upon the resources of a networked society, and lessen its near total reliance on government/parent funds.

The educational vision

As we detailed in the last post, the paper construct has led to approaches to schooling, teaching and learning that we continue to accept as ‘normal and correct’ without thinking. Having pursued those ‘normals’ for aeons we understand the type of learning they produce. But we have yet to identify the learning possible within a digital construct.

These now need to become the subject of acute observation and research. 

The most obvious of these new affordances are:

  • Time learning. If students accept and enjoy the learning challenges that schools lead them into, they can radically extend the time they spend learning. This makes student engagement vital, so that learning is driven more by their internal desire to learn rather than external pressures.
  • Just in time access to information. ‘Road-bumps’ in learning, caused by lack of knowledge or understanding can be rapidly overcome, so that they don’t inhibit and damage the flow of learning.
  • Individual learners taking charge of their learning 24/7/365, lifelong. The implications of the learner, and not so much the ‘authority’, taking charge of their use of and learning with the digital, from around the age of three through to death are profound.
  • Connection to people. Ideas can be discussed online, and forums allow learners to follow the discussions of others. This can bring a multiplicity of people into students’ learning networks and raise the importance of students verbalising and discussing their current understanding.
  • The importance of learning to learn, relative to learning a formal curriculum. A key feature of the digital world is the extremely rapid growth of knowledge, which necessitates life-long learning for all. This also implies that state derived curricula and assessments need to focus on competence in a field, and to change as the societal perceptions to be competent evolve.

The Way Forward

The move to a digital operational construct necessitates schools having school principals willing and able to orchestrate the shift, and its continued evolution.

This has been strikingly apparent in the schools that have made the shift(Lee and Winzenried, 2009), (Lee and Broadie, 2018),and indeed in the digital evolution and transformation of all private and public sector organisations.

Without an astute chief executive officer, with digital acumen, able to set the expectations, communicate the vision and daily orchestrate the daily workings and growth of a digitally based school ecosystem there is little chance the shift will occur, let alone be sustained.  Great deputy heads, highly committed staff and supportive communities can all assist, but the head must lead.

The head must moreover understand that the construct shift is first and foremost a human challenge, where the school community shapes – on the fly – an organisation it believes can best deliver the desired education.

It is not, contrary to the current approach, a technological challenge, best left to the ‘ICT experts’. 

For well over a quarter of a century the universal propensity has been for teachers, ICT coordinators, principals, administrators and particularly governments to focus on the technology, and often only the technology (Lee and Winzenried, 2009), (Lee and Broadie, 2018). Invariably the first step has been to purchase the latest gear, and to laud its purchase. Few appear to understand they have simply been trying to shoehorn a limited use of the digital technology into a paper construct, constrained by Industrial Age structures, processes and mindset.

Not surprisingly the billions spent on digital technology for schools hasn’t magically occasioned construct change, nor will it.

The challenge is for school leaders to identify and gradually shape an organisational structure, a learning environment and culture that takes advantage of the evolving digital technology to provide the desired contemporary education.

The schools and education authorities that have moved to a digital construct have recognised the imperative of putting the educational agenda to the fore and then addressing the many human and technological variables that assist further the agenda.

They have also appreciated they can hasten the shift from the paper to digital construct by tackling those variables largely unconstrained within the existing construct. The shift from an analogue to digital mindset, distributing the control of the teaching and learning, trusting and empowering all, enhancing the family-school collaboration, ensuring all students have the technology, recognising out of school learning with the digital, pooling the home and school resources and expertise, the establishment of an integrated school ecosystem, social networking, and the adoption of a culture of change can all for example be fostered within the existing operational parameters, with few involving an overt clash with the established ways.

History suggests the evolution in schools will be gradual, the schools moving along an increasingly higher order evolutionary continuum, shedding the ways of the paper construct, overcoming the impediments to change, working increasingly within a digital construct.

The authors’ research with the early adopter schools (Lee and Broadie, 2016), points strongly to;

  • The schools, while each shaping their own course, in a seemingly chaotic world will move through remarkably similar evolutionary stages as they shift from the paper to increasingly digital construct
  • Each displaying, regardless of type or context, common attributes at each stage
  • Most schools in their evolution and shift to a higher order of operation needing to move through each of the evolutionary stages
  • The evolutionary continuum continually lengthening as the thinking, expectations and technology becomes more sophisticated
  • Primary/elementary schools moving faster along the continuum than the secondary.
  • The schools lessening their dependence on the physical site for much learning, taking increasing advantage of networked learning and teaching. 

Movement along the continuum will rarely be constant, more often it will be the case of two steps forward, and one step back, often with a change of head the school regressing to the world of paper (Lee and Broadie, 2016).

The unplanned commonality evidenced globally in the young’s use of the Net (Tapscott, 1998), and more recently in the children’s use of and learning with the digital (Lee, Twining and Broadie, 2018) is seemingly mirrored globally in schools shift to digital construct. 

Conclusion.

While still early days, with appreciably more research to be undertaken the strong suggestion for any school, or education authority seeking to move to a digital construct is to note the key traits evidenced in the evolution of all digitally mature organisations. 

  • Dewey, J (1916), Democracy and education, New York Macmillan.
  • Friedman, T (2016) Thank you for Being LateNew York Farrer, Straus Giroux
  • Lee, M and Winzenried, A (2009) The Use of Instructional Technology in Schools, Melbourne ACER Press
  • Lee, M and Broadie, R (2016) A Taxonomy of School Evolutionary Stages. 2ndEdition Armidale Douglas and Brown – http://douglasandbrown.com/publications/
  • Lee, M and Broadie, R (2018) Digitally Connected Families. And the Digital Education of the World’s Young, 1993 – 2016, Armidale, Australia, Douglas and Brown – http://douglasandbrown.com/publications/–  
  • Lee, M. Broadie, R and Twining, P (2018) Your Kids Being Digital. A Guide for Digitally Connected Families. Armidale. Australia Douglas and Brown http://douglasandbrown.com/publications/
  • Lee, M and Broadie, R (2019) ‘Moving Schooling from a Paper to Digital Construct’. Linkedin -19 August 2019 – https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/moving-schooling-from-paper-based-digital-construct-mal-lee/
  • Pascale, R.T, Millemann, M, Gioja, L (2000) Surfing at the Edge of Chaos NY Three Rivers Press
  • Tapscott, D (1998), Growing up digital: The rise of the Net Generation, McGraw Hill, New York

Moving Schooling from a Paper to Digital Construct

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

One of the greater challenges facing schooling globally is to open the minds of school educators and governments to the reality that most schools are still paper based human constructs, employing Industrial Age structures, processes and cultures, that will increasingly struggle to provide an apt contemporary education in a digital world.

Daily educators generate reams of paper, and spend millions of dollars in the belief that an aged, inflexible, inefficient, paper based human construct can educate the nation’s young for a rapidly evolving, seemingly chaotic digital and socially networked world, where learning happens 24/7/365, anywhere, anytime.

It can’t.

Business has long recognised the imperative of moving to a digital operational construct to remain viable.

Most educators don’t appear to have grasped how much paper as a technology has shaped and continues to shape schooling, and does so unnecessarily. Nor do they appear to recognise or worry how the paper operational base stymies the evolution of schooling.

This short post is simply intended to underscore the extent to which paper has impacted schooling, to affirm the qualities of paper that obliged a distinct form of schooling and to highlight the imperative of schools, like all other organisations employing a more digital operational construct.

When, many moons ago the wonderful new technology of paper became mature and sufficiently affordable to be used as the core instructional medium in schools, there may well have been some far-sighted educators who warned of its likely impact.

  • Textual ways of describing and explaining would replace oral and visual explanations.  Handwriting would become central.
  • The learners would have to come to where the books were located, instead of teachers being able teach in homes and the community.
  • The opinions of the author of the book chosen as the instructional text, the hierarchical structuring of knowledge and a linear approach to explanation would dominate.
  • The learner would be unable to question the author or seek clarification of how the subject was explained.

·     The learners would need reveal their understanding of the content of the books mainly in writing. The teacher would assess the students understanding predominantly by how well they could explain themselves in writing.

·     Only the teachers – not the parents, the elders or most assuredly the children – would be trusted to assess and report upon the student’s learning.

But those warnings must have been outweighed by the advantages. It was surely advantageous for pupils to read more and to practice their writing. The words of great scholars and experts could reach all young people. The old oral and visual methods of transmitting knowledge were too variable, not precise enough. And teachers by then revered the book technology.

Of course, it worked well for the children of well-off parents, attending elite schools. Sufficient books could be afforded and looked after. The subjects of concern such as religion, the learned languages, the study of great authors and mathematics fitted well with a textual approach. The need for science to generate a visual understanding could be solved by creating a whole vocabulary of specialist words, through which a visual image of a complex leaf shape, or piece of apparatus could be visualised. In more recent decades the print technology likely improved the book learning of science by allowing diagrams and images to be placed alongside the textual descriptions.

It worked considerably less well for poor children with little access to other books through which to develop their reading, but they were of little concern to the elite schools. Subjects needing visual and kinetic understanding could be left to the mechanic’s institutes and apprenticeships, so again could be ignored. And so, textual, paper-based approaches came to dominate and indeed shape schooling.

Such has been the success of the paper-based instructional and assessment industries, and their enthusiastic purchasers in schools, the skewing of the learning and schooling was overlooked.

We are now at another such point. Digital technology has become mature and affordable for schools. And though the imperative is still the same – how best to help children learn – most schools, education systems and assessment organisations, are fiercely resisting adoption of a digital operational construct.

The fears of our invented far-sighted educator have all come to pass. And the affordances of the digital make their importance very clear, not only for schools but for learning beyond school and in the workplace:

  • Oral, visual and multimedia ways of presenting and explaining massively exceed textual ways.
  • Digitally connected young people learn 24/7/365 in their homes and the community, with instant access to orders of magnitude more books, at no virtually cost.
  • Different views can be sought, knowledge and explanations are hyperlinked enabling knowledge construction in different ways.
  • Learners can now question each other, the author and numerous helpful others, to seek clarification of how a subject is explained.
  • But what has not yet changed is that the young are still expected to demonstrate their understanding in writing, on paper. Hand written exams still dominate the end of Year 12 globally. 

And this is not just a technological development that primarily benefits those who can afford the considerable expense of books. With smartphones being sold in Africa for $20 and more than 70% of the world’s young digitally connected (UNICEF, 2017) this is something all with technology can benefit from.

With Ericcson (2019) projecting that by 2024 the 70% will have risen close to 90% the imperative of providing an apt education for the digitally connected young grows. 

While our imaginary educational seer anticipated much of the impact of the paper technology she didn’t foresee the extent to which it would shape the nature of schooling, or why schools globally have been so loath to move to an appreciably more sophisticated technological base, on trend to grow in power and capability exponentially. 

What we know now is that paper as a technology must be physically passed by hand to others. It necessitates bringing all the students together on the one physical site to pass around the paper. 

The technology prompted a pronounced focus on the written word, relegating voice, expression, visual intelligence, sound, images and video to the minor roles they still occupy in schools today. In a world where the young as a video generation happily use all types of digital media in their everyday life and learning scant time is devoted by schools to growing the quality of that wider usage. Rather at a stage where no employer or tertiary institution would accept a handwritten CV or presentation time must still be devoted in secondary schools to physically readying the students for the mechanics of writing three-hour examinations. 

One can argue paper promoted the strongly linear approach to teaching and learning that dominates school teaching. It is likely most teachers and teacher educators still believe the linear, the movement from chapter 1, to chapter 2, and so on is the ‘right’ and only way to learn. Tellingly the approach stands in marked contrast to the non-linear, hyperlinked, constructivist approach to learning with the digital used by the world’s young – and old – outside the classroom (Lee, Twining and Broadie, 2018).

Paper, and the associated linear nature of the instruction enabled teachers to control the flow of information. It helped place the ‘masters’ in charge, using the information flow to manage the class. The astute distribution of paper assignments, readings and tests assisted class control. Many teachers moreover used the book, particularly the text book as the de facto syllabus, teaching program and teaching resource. Turn to page 32, do exercise 12.

Paper as the underpinning technology not only obliged site, but also group based teaching, the sheer logistics of working with reams of paper stymying the forays in to more individualised teaching.  

Paper as a static, unchanging but highly durable technology unwittingly fostered the all-pervasive sense of constancy and continuity, with most schools continuing to operate year after year as insular, stand- alone, inward looking entities reliant on the suite of paper based resources available within the walls. What do we have class sets of?

The introduction of the many digital technologies not only removed the teachers’ and indeed student’s need to work within these now aged constraints but opened all manner of opportunities to learn.

A hundred plus years of schooling, doing much the same thing year after has engendered the belief that the practises adopted to work with the paper technology are the only way to run a school and teach.

What appears to have been forgotten is that all organisations, schools included, are human constructs shaped by the variables of the time and place, whose practises should be continually challenged. It is appreciated many other factors, the likes of educational philosophy, context, culture, resourcing have impacted on the nature of schooling but the remarkably similar nature of schooling worldwide stems in the main from the paper construct.

We are not for a moment suggesting abandoning all within that construct, or doing so overnight. Paper is, and will on current trends continue to be an important instructional technology for many years, but its use is waning, being replaced increasingly by far more sophisticated, efficient, effective and cheaper digital media. In schools the cost of the paper photocopier remains an important (and expensive) part of the budget.

There are many, many vital elements of schooling that must retained in any new construct. The challenge is to decide which and identify how they are best addressed.

Lipnack and Stamps, in commenting in 1994 on the emergence of networked organisations tellingly noted; 

Boundaries are conceptual, not physical, in virtual workplaces and need to be to be completely reconceived so that the ‘physical site’ thinking is no longer a limitation (Lipnack and Stamps, 1994, p15).

The digital construct

A quarter of century on it is time schools understood they are part of an increasingly connected world, and that when learning can and does happen 24/7/365 and is not restricted to the ‘physical site’ they should be employing a digital construct, with the digital underpinning all operations. 

The possibilities opened within such a construct are theoretically virtually unlimited, and are being added to daily.

The limit is largely the human imagination.

The movement to a digital construct obliges the educational decision makers to think about every current school practise and its continued use, the desired and not.

That said, the reality is that the legacy of the paper construct is immense and universal, and it will likely be years before many aspects of the construct will cease to impact. The thinking is ingrained in the minds of generations worldwide, in legislation, bureaucratic procedures, working conditions, salary agreements, law and vitally the culture.

Schools and systems shaping a digital construct must contend with that reality, and the attendant constraints to change.

The great plus in moving to a digital construct – aside from the many opportunities opened, and efficiencies and economies made possible – is that it prompts schools and systems return to first principles, and decide on the education, and indeed teaching they want to provide. That vision, those principles should inform the design of the construct, and the digitally based school ecosystem/s created to facilitate and support the desired learning.

It is the same as in business. The ‘business agenda’ should shape the organisational form and the technologies used.

The history of the use of the digital in schooling in the last 25 plus years (Lee and Winzenried, 2009), (Lee and Broadie, 2018) strongly suggests most school decision makers haven’t appreciated that imperative. Most don’t appear to have grasped successful digital evolution and transformation is first and foremost a human challenge, that requires astute minds to shape the desired operational construct, and then to identify the facilitating technologies. 

The form the digital construct might take we’ll discuss in the next post.

Conclusion

Suffice it to reiterate the crucial point made earlier – it is vital all associated with schooling understand most of the world’s schools are operating within a human construct shaped strongly by paper technology.

The construct served the world well for many centuries but structurally

and culturally it has struggled for decades to accommodate accelerating, digital evolution and transformation, and provide the desired apt contemporary education.

That will only be possible within a digital construct.

  • Lee, M and Winzenried, A (2009) The Use of Instructional Technology in Schools, Melbourne ACER Press
  • Lee, M and Broadie, R (2016) A Taxonomy of School Evolutionary Stages. 2ndEdition Armidale Douglas and Brown – http://douglasandbrown.com/publications/
  • Lee, M. Broadie, R and Twining, P (2018) Your Kids Being Digital. A Guide for Digitally Connected Families. Armidale. Australia Douglas and Brown
  • Lipnack, J & Stamps, J 1994, The age of the network: Organizing principles for the 21st century, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., New York
  • UNICEF (2017) Children in a Digital World. UNICEF December 2017 – https://www.unicef.org/publications/files/SOWC_2017_ENG_WEB.pdf