Is Core System Wide School Change Possible, and Sustainable?

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

The short answer is yes, on both counts.

But it is extremely rare, far rarer than most governments, politicians, the media and educational leaders would have you believe.

Historically one will struggle to find an education authority, local, provincial or national, anywhere in the world that has achieved core system wide school change, and then sustained that change for more than a few decades.

Virtually all the system wide innovation made globally in the 60s and 70’s has largely disappeared, with the schools returning, some might say regressing, to the traditional mode.

One will moreover struggle to find a major change that has not only been sustained, but built upon in a significant way.

And yet daily academics, the media, politicians and educational administrators glibly envision markedly different schools of the future. 

Most schools in 2040 will, on current trends likely be the same as today, the same as they were fifty years ago, the same as they were a century ago, only they will be more dated relative to the rest of society.

The current indicators strongly suggest many could be more regressive than the schools of the 1970s.

Most will likely still be paper based constructs, site based, linear, hierarchical Industrial Age organisations, using Industrial Age processes, micro-managed by governments and bureaucrats to the nth degree.

New technologies in Industrial Age classrooms doesn’t change the nature of schooling. They never have, and never will.

There will be notable exceptions globally led by governments that recognise the imperative of providing an apt contemporary education for all, that understand the immensity of the constraints to be overcome and what is required for successful sustained digital evolution and transformation, conscious of the time and effort needed to make the paradigm shift, but they will be few. 

The rarity of sustained system change has not been for any want of desire, effort of investment.  The last century plus has seen all manner of thoughtfully conceived, well-funded initiatives, the likes of model schools, the Dewey based progressive school’s movement, the many ‘schools of the future’ and lighthouse schools, open plan schooling, vast national initiatives like the UK’s ‘Harnessing the Technology’ and more recently the various national ‘digital revolutions’. Some of those initiatives made a difference, at least for a time, but importantly few got anywhere near 100% school uptake, and have been sustained over time. 

We’d like to table for discussion the seemingly outrageous proposition that core system-wide school change might in most situations be impossible, particularly over a sustained period.

We’re most assuredly not making this observation as cynical old pessimists, but rather in the quest to assist principals, education authorities and politicians, wanting to move from a paper to digitally based construct to understand the magnitude of the task ahead, and the reality they’ll have to address. 

History says that while change has been possible at the individual school level sustained core change across a total system, be it parochial, provincial or national level, has been much rarer.

That rarity should set off the warning bells.

Political challenges.

Sustained, core system change is only possible if both the political and logistical elements are successfully addressed from the outset, and then on an-going basis.  While for convenience we’ve separated the political from the logistical challenges the two are invariably intertwined.

Within the democracies of the world using the Westminster system of government, or a variant thereof core system change in government schools can only happen when led and supported by the leader of the government and his/her minister/superintendent. It is a given, without which there is no chance of sustained success. 

History reveals much, likely most system wide innovation did not pay due regard to the politics of the change. Invariably the focus has been on the mechanics of the change with scant thought was given to the reality of political churn, the continual change of governments, the seemingly endless cycle of progressive and conservative governments and electoral acceptance. History is festooned with educational innovation that died with the change of government, and even change of minister. Invariably new governments, new ministers of education, school superintendents like to quickly display their credentials, happy to throw out millions of dollars of achievement to demonstrate their way is best. 

Core system change is very unlikely to be sustained unless it is accepted, and in time normalised by the electorate. Experience suggests all too often well-intentioned educators have mapped out major change without giving a thought to the political context, implications or long term community acceptance. One will struggle find mention in the educational change literature the imperative of factoring into the change implementation the electorates likely acceptance of the innovation.

Logistical

Logistically the many challenges facing change at the individual school level, that we identified in ‘The Challenge of Creating a Digital School’ are amplified many fold at the system level, and to those many considerable constraints are added those at the system level. 

These are but some of the hurdles to be overcome.

The challenge of simply running an education system in a time of accelerating change is immense.

Running that system while also implementing core system wide change takes the challenge to another, for many possibly unattainable, level. In analysing the history of one of those rarities that has sustained the system change forty plus years ago while the challenge of making the change in the 1970s was immense the system was, in relative terms working with largely known constants. Paper as the technology core to the construct was largely unchanging. That was a world where it was accepted that one had around a week to respond to an important letter, a ‘leisurely’ turnaround that continued until the early 1990’s.

Fifty plus years after the identification of Moore’s Law (Wikipedia, 2019) the rate of digital evolution continues to accelerate largely as projected, with few organisations, let alone school systems, able to stay abreast of the rate of technological change (Friedman, 2016), (Deloitte, 2017). To the already considerable challenge of conducting a complex human organisation is added the pace of continual social, political, economic, environmental and technological change, including uncertainty, disruption, digital convergence, evolutionary chaos, and continual unintended and unplanned global change. 

An allied challenge, all education authorities will eventually have to a face, is that they are operating – whether desired or not –in a world of chaotic change (Pascale, Millemann and Gioja, 2000). They’ll need to grasp that within that world their long-held belief that development can only occur when rationally, logically planned and implemented must be tempered by the reality that increasingly much development will occur as a natural flow on of digital evolution; unplanned, unintended and remarkably similar worldwide.

Governments, education authorities and schools have ultimately to accommodate both planned and unplanned change, and be aware of, and be ready to optimise the unintended benefits, and the new normal that emerges out of the seeming chaos. Near all the major global changes in the learning and education of the world’s young in the last twenty-five years have flown naturally and unplanned from the Digital Revolution. No planned national or international educational change comes close to having anything near the global impact of unintended, unplanned change (Lee and Broadie, 2018). 

Business from the mid 1990’s recognised in their planning they had to accommodate the intended and the unintended change (Thorpe, 1998).

The digital masters in schooling also appreciated this new imperative (Lee and Broadie, 2018).

The history of schooling since the world went online in 1993 with Mosaic reveals most schools, and education authorities didn’t (Lee and Broadie, 2018), but recent conversations suggest some are, and in so doing are aware they will need to bring the teachers and community with them in that realisation.

Natural evolutionary change is invariably inefficient (Pascale, Millemann and Gioja, 2000). It needs to be shaped to advantage by astute leaders aware of the world megatrends.

Core system change must thus still be planned astutely, with due regard given the many interconnected parts but that planning and the outcomes desired should be more open and flexible, able to accommodate the naturally emerging unintended benefits, and to address the undesired disbenefits.

A telling feature of the successful system change analysed was the integrated totality of the change design and implementation (Lee, in press). It was built on core, timeless educational principles that underpinned every facet of the change. Forty plus years on that was still apparent.

All too often efforts at core school change are piecemeal, delivered by discrete cells within the central office, without regard to the desired totality or electoral acceptance, that soon wither with the change in government, and funding priorities.

The immensity and complexity of the challenges to sustained core system change demand leaders in Government, the central administration and every school capable and astute enough to normalise the desired change.  It necessitates systems continually having educational leaders able to sit in the helicopter and understand the evolving macro scene, the interrelatedness of the many parts, able to ensure evolving, increasingly integrated and complex digitally based school ecosystems sustain and grow the desired change.

The challenge of growing and appointing school leaders able to play that role, and to do so over the decades might be a step too far for most education systems, struggling as most are to find principals simply able to manage the status quo.

To normalise, sustain, and in time grow the core change over the decades the system requires leadership identification, growth and appointment processes that will go a long way to providing the desired personnel.

Most systems, where the focus is very much on appointing heads to manage the status quo, are years away from the desired, with the question having to be asked if the desired can ever be achieved.

A related ‘leadership’ challenge facing near all systems is that the implementation of the change is invariably entrusted to a mature, invariably highly segmented bureaucracy. They use staff, structures and processes employed to maintain the status – quo. That group likely not only lacks the understanding, mindset, drive to implement significant organisational change but also the structural agility to do so. 

It is a recipe for failure, that can be obviated, but from the track record is rarely done. 

Successful sustained core system requires the designers to accept school change must be done from within the school, and increasingly the school community, and done eventually by every school in the system.

The designers can’t wave a magic wand, or simply issue a media release and assume the change will happen.  It won’t.

Allied is the imperative of recognising that every school is unique, with each requiring its own change strategy.

It is appreciated this runs counter to the prevailing views of many bureaucrats and likely governments, but every school has a unique context, history, community, culture, mix of staff, challenges, and sits at different points along the school evolutionary continuum.  Moreover, each has a head with his/her own desires, capabilities, leadership style and facility to orchestrate major organisational change.

While Government and the system leadership must provide direction and support history affirms that leadership must be willing to trust and empower its professionals and communities if it wishes them to normalise, sustain and in time grow the core change.

The willingness to distribute that power is something historically few systems have been prepared to contemplate, but until they do, and cease micro managing and distrusting their professionals the chance of sustained core change will remain remote. 

A telling but largely unacknowledged factor in achieving core system change, that stood out in the analysis of the successful change, (Lee, in press) is the timing of the change.  Achieving the initial momentum and acceptance is the hard part. Normalising and sustaining the change is that much easier if the ball is rolling. It was likely somewhat easier to innovate in the socially progressive world of the late 60s and 70’s than immediately post 9/11. Similarly, it is often easier to introduce major change after a resounding electoral success than at the end of a tired government.

It bids Governments and system administrators to think carefully about context and the timing of a change they want sustained for decades to come. 

Conclusion

Yes, core system change is possible, and sustainable, but it is easy to see why the track record globally is so poor, and likely to remain so.

If, and it is a big ‘if’, governments want to provide an apt contemporary education for all its students and to make changes that will be sustained governments, policy makers, educational administrators, and indeed teachers, the media and society in general must appreciate the immense difficulty of the move, and the real chance of failure.

They need also understand in a world of ever accelerating technological and social change the challenge is growing daily.

It is time to cease being glib about core school change, to appreciate the magnitude of the constraints, to approach the change with the eyes wide open to both the political and logistical challenges and to laud those systems that have made and sustained core change over the decades.

Bibliography

  • Friedman, T (2016) Thank you for Being LateNew York Farrer, Straus Giroux
  • 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 (in press).Creating, Sustaining and Revitalising the ACT Secondary College Model.
  • Pascale, R.T, Millemann, M, Gioja, L (2000) Surfing at the Edge of ChaosNY Three Rivers Press
  • Wikipedia (2019) ‘Moore’s Law’, 2 July 2019 at – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moore’s_law

Reality, and Leading a Digital School

R

A message for the visionaries

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

Schools, like every organisation should be operating within a digital construct, with the digital underpinning all learning and operations, continually shaping their digitally based ecosystem to ensure all students secure an apt, contemporary, holistic and strongly individualised education.

All principals, at least in our mind, should be leading in their schools digitally mature organisations (Kane, et.al, 2016), working with a digital mindset and using their very considerable talents, visioning, drive, knowledge, experience and people skills to continually provide a learning environment and culture that will assist ready the students for today.

The stark reality is that if you agree with our stance you are very much in a minority.

Most schools and educational administrators, from our experience and research don’t share that belief.

Most still work with an analogue mindset, seeing no need to move from traditional mode of schooling.

The related reality, you may well have encountered is that most educational decision makers don’t understand what it means to shift from a paper to digital operational base, and to lead a digital school.

Most likely see a digital school as one that makes extensive use of the appropriate digital technologies. 

It entails being digital, not simply doing digital.

They don’t seemingly grasp that schools globally invariably fit the use of the digital into what still is a paper-based construct, where the paper technology impacted how the school was structured and run. The use of paper obliged the teachers and students to come together in a physical site where the paper could be readily passed by hand. The teachers control of the paper based information placed them in charge of the learning, managing the flow of the information how they saw fit. If the digital technology is perceived to disrupt the paper based mode its use is rejected, the schools continuing with its traditional ways, albeit with some digital trappings. 

In moving to a digital operational mode, in the digital being so normalised in every school operation as to be largely invisible the organization is, as the digital leaders in business have long recognized, (Westerman, et.al, 2014) free to throw off the shackles of the paper technology, and rethink its structure and every facet of the teaching and learning.

The change coming from digital is so fundamental that we have to question everything we have in the organization. Julian Weber, Head of Retail Shell (Durham, Fross and Rosethorn (2019, p6).

That fundamental rethinking that is now happening across both the private and public sectors holds equally with schools that move to a digital operational mode.

Reality says however that digital schools must attune their operations to the contemporary context and reality, charting their growth and evolution ever conscious of their client’s expectations and aspirations, and their local and national obligations and constraints.

If you are of a mind to take on the challenge of leading a digital school do so with your eyes wide open, and factor in to your planning the educational enhancement made possible by working within a digital construct but temper that thinking with a good portion of reality.

The assumption, as we’ve indicated, is that core educational change is relatively easy to achieve. It is not. And yet every month you’ll likely have received invitations to workshops and conferences, locally, nationally and internationally detailing how it can be achieved and sustained.

While those gatherings are likely great social occasions very few address the reality that most schools haven’t fundamentally changed in over a century, that near all core innovation has not been sustained, and that there is a plethora of barriers to be addressed to achieve the sustained shift to a digital operational mode.

In retrospect most of us, the authors included, likely haven’t given due regard to the historical reality, the myriad of constraints to core school change, and how we might better have addressed those constraints. While it is likely most heads have always been a general appreciation of those constraints, one will struggle to find in the literature and the school’s plans a recognition of the constraints, those can be overcome and that can’t.

Most will have their SWOT analysis, but within the ‘threats’ most will likely rarely have included the stark realities of school change.

History affirms the following, salutatory realities.

The first, and most pleasing of the realities is that astute principals can create and continually grow a digital school. But it is a challenge.

The digital evolution and transformation of a school is only possible if the principal is willing and capable of leading the operation. It is same as business, where the CEO must lead (Westerman, et.al, 2014).  It is non-negotiable. It can’t be achieved by great deputies, the best of committees, great teachers or external advisers. They can assist. It must be led by the ultimate decision maker, the head working in concert with the rest of the school’s community. 

Principals will only lead the school for what is in historical terms a relatively short time,and as such possess the facility to orchestrate core change.

Little core school change has thus far been sustained.The moment you leave a school, and a new head is appointed history reveals most, invariably if not all, the changes you’ve orchestrated will be ‘rectified’ and the school will return to its traditional ways. 

Most principal appointment processes are not intended to identify heads able to lead and sustain core change.They are designed to perpetuate the status quo.  Most do poorly in selecting a leader able to sustain and grow the changes made.

Only a relatively a relatively small proportion of schools globally have normalised the use of the digital, and operate in the state of being digital. Despite the hype, the global digital transformation of business, a quarter of a century of schools operating within the Digital Revolution near all schools only use the digital technologies within the existing paper based structures and processes. 

Most principals don’t want to lead a digital school. Most as indicated don’t see the need for change, and are content to manage the status quo. Many in fairness lack the skills to orchestrate core organisational change and will struggle to even maintain a good school.  The BYOT research (Lee and Levins, 2016) suggests only 20%-30% of heads are willing to tackle the challenge of digital transformation. 

A century plus of scant sustained core school change highlights the challenge of successful digital evolution.The remarkable constancy of schooling detailed in the earlier posts, coupled with the magnitude of the constraints to core change and the marked disinclination go digital should be foremost in the minds of every head wanting to lead a digital school.

Understand where change is likely possible, desirable and sustainable, and where likely impossible. Do so in the context of your situation, understanding each school is unique. 

Anticipate the school community’s educational desires. Bear in mind Steve Job’s telling recognition that in a rapidly evolving chaotic digital world the leadership needs to identify and articulate what the clients don’t yet appreciate they want. Part of the change process lies in educating the clients on the value of the new ways, sharing how the change will assist enhance the learning of all, and securing their sustained support.

Be aware of the personal risks associated with going digital. Protect your back. Anticipate the frustration and likely stress. Adjudge how far you can push, understanding that in most instances there is little those in authority can do with successful maverick heads.

Use the school community support to ‘protect’ and sustain the going digital. Politicians and senior bureaucrats historically are highly reluctant to interfere with changes when the school community strongly endorses the change.

Once the school begins to go digital it will evolve at an accelerating rate, in many unintended ways.After the hard work is done seemingly overnight the school will shift from a world of relative constancy and certainty to accelerating, exhilarating uncertain change.

In closing there is another stark reality to bear in mind.

Don’t expect any rewards for successfully leading a digital school.  Anticipate significant opposition and put down, from both peers and at least some within the bureaucracy. You’re undermining their power. As a female head, you’ll likely incur the wrath of the boys’ club’. You will however have life long memories of great staff, wonderful parents and kids whose lives and life chances you’ve enriched.   

Conclusion

Take seriously the warning inherent in the absence of sustained core school change.

That said don’t allow that warning to deter your quest to lead the desired digital school. 

It simply means being smarter in realising your vision.

Bibliography

  • Lee, M and Levins, M (2016) BYOT and the Digital Evolution of Schooling Armidale Douglas and Brown – http://douglasandbrown.com/publications/
  • Westerman, G, Bonnett, D and McAfee, A (2014) Leading Digital. Turning Technology into Business Transformation, Boston, Harvard Business Review Press

The Challenge of Creating a Digital School

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

The challenge of leading, growing and sustaining the evolution of a digital school is immense.

Few globally have succeeded in creating, let alone sustaining the evolution of such schools.

Few school leaders have moved schools from a paper to a digitally based construct. Hundreds of thousands have acquired extensive digital technologies, with many teachers making astute of that technology, but virtually all are doing so within the traditional paper based construct, continuing to use the traditional. linear Industrial Age organisational structures and processes.

The schooling remains site based, unilaterally controlled by the head, with the teaching conducted within specified dates, at set times, for a prescribed period, with defined outcomes, invariably taught by solitary teachers who control everything within their classroom.

Most schools today structurally and organisationally are much the same as those 60-70, likely 100 plus years ago.

There are many reasons why, but likely the greatest is the constraints societies, their governments and bureaucrats impose on schools. They are immense, multifaceted and likely growing.

They are rarely mentioned in the school change literature or considered when major school change, like moving from a paper to a digital operational mode are contemplated.

History strongly affirms their consideration is far more important than the actual technology, both as relates to creating, and sustaining the evolution of a digitally mature school. 

That said schooling’s poor track record, and propensity for near all core school change to regress to the traditional ways does not mean that digital schools can’t be created and grown.

It will simply be challenging.

The key is to understand both the constraints and the factors that will allow you to go digital, and what it meant by create a digital organisation.

In researching the digital evolution of schooling globally (Lee and Broadie, 2018) and the young’s learning with the technology in and out of school over the last twenty-five years the authors’, as two experienced school administrators, were struck by the enormity and array of constraints facing today’s heads.

For a time, we seriously asked ourselves whether any change was possible, but slowly as we reflected on the ways forward, and Mal examined a core whole of system change that has been sustained for forty plus years we appreciated it was achievable, provided one observed the key tenets of organisational change, understood the constraints, and appreciated that working within a digital paradigm would allow astute, committed heads to overcome most of the hurdles.

The major constraint facing most of the world’s schools today is that very few governments or bureaucracies are committed to genuine school change. Every so often there is a committed national or provincial government wanting to provide an apt contemporary education but if you look back fifty years at your situation you’ll likely find few. Indeed, where fifty years ago school innovation and change was deemed paramount, today the focus of most governments is fine tuning the status quo. Most want to continue their control of all schooling, universally reluctant to foster the digital evolution and transformation of schooling.

Aiding their cause is the suite of structural, organisational, cultural, human, legislative, historical and societal impediments that most societies have unwittingly grown, most of which are intertwined, and many of which likely can never be varied. 

Atop those institutional constraints is a layer of society wide realities that impact school operations, the likes of OHS, sexual harassment, bullying, the privacy laws and the mandatory reporting of child abuse.

The Constraints.

  • Structural  

Schooling globally is still largely conducted in linear, hierarchical Industrial Age organisations, employing many Industrial Age practises and processes, still employing a paper based construct, readying students for the 1960s.  

As the world has found in its quest to accommodate accelerating digital transformation this type of rigid structure lacks the agility and flexibility needed to accommodate the rapid, unintended, uncertain change of the Digital Revolution.

The corporate world soon appreciated substantial restructuring, and a move away from the model was essential if organisations were to become digitally mature, able to continually meet rapidly evolving client expectations.  

That need seemingly has never been recognised with schooling, and indeed over time the workings of ‘schools’ industry’ has acted to reinforce the existing structure.  Procedures have been documented, institutionalised and handbooks written declaring what can and can’t be done. Funds have been locked away in time honoured budget categories, with it near impossible to free them for new priorities. 

Most school systems continue to employ a variant of the ‘Westminster’ system of administration with ‘ministers of education’, who invariably have no teaching experience, are advised by ‘departmental heads’ who increasingly are public service administrators with no background in schooling; lacking the educational understanding, drive and vision to lead or even facilitate core change.

Structurally teaching still mainly occurs within the physical place called school, within the prescribed dates and hours.  The focus continues to be site based, schools largely rejecting any moves to recognise out of school learning, or to collaborate and network with any other parties in the education of the young. 

The schools, like the factories of old, still operate as stand-alone entities, the curriculum, teaching, student assessment and everyday operations intended for use only within the classrooms, in class hours.

Physical and digital access to the school’s workings continues to be limited, with the parents having scant understanding of and no say in the teaching occurring behind closed classroom doors. 

The students move as age cohorts along a 12/13 year ‘production’ line, where there is still a strong division of labour, with the students invariably taught in class groups, with solitary teachers teaching their designated part of the K-12 curriculum. 

In being obliged to focus on the micro most classroom teachers, particularly at the secondary level, are professionally disempowered, lacking the macro understanding of the school’s total workings needed to assist bring about organisational change.

The teaching, like the movement of the age cohort, continues to be linear in nature, planned, tightly structured, teacher controlled, with most areas of learning taught year on year. In most situations, the time to be spent on teaching various areas of the curriculum is prescribed, with there being little scope for spontaneous, integrated, collaborative teaching or the use of micro-credentials.  

Most school teaching, learning, student assessment and certification continues to have a strong academic focus, with tertiary academics invariably shaping the teaching program, ensuring academic ‘standards’ are maintained and that the ‘right’ students are readied for university.  The workplace continues to have relatively little sway on school teaching, running a distant second to the academics.

Globally schooling, through the internal and external testing regime continues to sort and sift, with the final, invariably paper based handwritten exams rewarding future management personnel.

Significantly the data gathered in conducting the Industrial Age academic tests has grown its own industry, private and public sector, who in turn use that data to reinforce the status quo. 

The ‘quality’ and ‘effectiveness’ of the production line is tightly overseen by a brace of in and out school authorities. Within the school the teachers are controlled by their unit managers, who in turn are obliged to follow the dictates of a suite of external control groups, the likes of the central office bureaucrats, auditors, inspectors, curriculum agencies, exam boards, and the teacher registration, and teaching standards authorities.

Staff remuneration and rewards, for teachers, the professional support, executive and heads is still based on the traditional thinking. Reward is given the ability to maintain the status quo, in a risk-free manner, with rarely any incentive given to innovate. 

While governments globally continue to laud the opening of their latest ‘school of the future’ the system school building code invariably continues to ready plant for running the traditional school. 

  • Organisational

Organisationally schools continue in the main to be strongly hierarchical, with the principal atop the pyramid being the prime decision maker, mostly unwilling to distribute the unilateral control, and empower others.

Most schools, heads and even governments moreover seemingly believe that only the professionals, working on the school site can and should teach, invariably unwilling to recognise any out of schooling learning or teaching. 

Student assessment and credentialing is zealously monopolised by the schools and education authorities.

It is appreciated that over the last century there have been schools at all levels that sought to flatten the hierarchy and empower more of the community, and shift away from the bell curve, but they remain as ever a minority.

In most the head, and a small executive run the school.

Most teachers and professional support staff remain disempowered, micromanaged, restricted to their area of responsibility, with little or no say in the macro workings of the school.

The parents and students, the clients, sit at the bottom of the pyramid, having no real say in the school’s operations, with the children, having no voice in the teaching or their learning, obliged to instantly comply with all staff demands.

The professionals know best, with the clients expected to appreciate that expertise.

While over the decades, significant organisational change has been attempted, most schools today, and particularly the secondary remain strongly segmented, with the units/faculties having significant authority over ‘their’ operations, and the teachers continuing to work alone with ‘their’ students’. Efforts to better integrate the teaching, to have teachers collaborate are often frustrated by faculties refusing to cede power.

  • Cultural

Culturally most schools have changed little in the last century.

The ‘masters’, even though now mostly female, remain very much in control, dictating the students’ every move.

The learning culture is invariably autocratic in nature.

The students K-12 are distrusted, disempowered, having no voice in their learning, what is taught or assessed, when or how. Their very considerable out of school learning with the digital is rarely recognised. The contrast between in and out of school learning cultures is ever greater, with the digitally connected young globally being trusted and empowered to take charge of their learning with the digital.

While the schools continue to ban the in-school use of the young’s personal technologies the student’s families actively support their children’s astute 24/7/365 use of those technologies in their learning.

Fear remains very real from the early childhood years onwards. Today, as was so a century ago, the students are expected to immediately comply, to conform, understanding that if they don’t they will be disciplined, no matter how petty or daft the instructions.

Likely most parents, except on special occasions will be reluctant to enter the school, particularly if to see the head.

The ‘jocks and burnouts’ scenario so aptly described by Eckert in 1989 still holds globally. The academic achievers, who know how to play the game are rewarded, and those whose interests and talents lie elsewhere are largely disregarded, unless they act out.

  • Human

The human resources provided the schools are those readied by the universities and employers to maintain the status quo, where everyone knows their place.

Few, if any of those institutions have sought to develop principals with the appropriate skill and mindset, able to successfully lead and grow a continually evolving, increasingly integrated, highly complex digitally mature organisation.

The small cadre of heads able to play that role and successfully lead a digital school are largely self-developed.

Their leadership, like the CEO’s of the digital master’s in business (Westerman, et.al, 2014) is critical to the successful digital evolution and transformation of schooling.

While employers speak continually about appointing ‘leaders’ as heads they invariably appoint ‘managers’ who can do the state’s bidding, lacking the ability or desire to markedly change a school, or importantly continue the work of an innovative head. 

Those ‘managers’ are one of the most telling constraints on significant school change, regardless of how good is the staff. 

The authors know of few selection criteria designed to appoint leaders of digital schools.

Interestingly in a connected world few schools or education authorities have opted 

to take advantage of what Shirky (2012) terms the cognitive surplus of networked societies, that seemingly unbounded willingness for people online to assist others.

Rather the focus appears to be on imposing ever more controls on the existing limited human resources, lifting the accountability, restricting the ability to draw others in to the learning, obliging police checks, mandating national standards and requiring regular accreditation.

Conclusion

To these already considerable constraints one needs to add the many legislative, historical and societal hurdles.

You’ll invariably think of others.

It is easy to see why most schools haven’t fundamentally changed in the last fifty years, why so little innovation is sustained and why most schools will likely stay the same for many years to come – despite the need to evolve.

Pleasingly the experience of the pathfinder schools reveals the shift from a paper to increasingly digital base enables the school to overcome many of the impediments, but others will remain, frustrating your efforts.

The key is to understand they exist, that some can’t be changed or even by-passed but most can if approached astutely as a school community.

 Schools as formal state approved organisations will never have the freedom of digitally connected families but as digital constructs they can be configured to provide a far more apt contemporary education than now.

In opting to lead a digital school, and to provide what you believe to be the desired education you could well be flying solo, without the support of most heads, the education authority, tertiary educators or government. 

Some might even actively oppose your quest.

But that said change at the individual school level is possible.

So too is the capacity to sustain that change.

But it requires astute committed heads with vision who understand the challenges and realities, and who are willing to bear the burden that comes from wanting to do best by one’s students.

Bibliography

  • Eckert, P (1989) Jocks and BurnoutsNY Teachers College 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/–  
  • Shirky, C (2012) Cognitive SurplusNew York Penguin
  • Westerman, G, Bonnett, D and McAfee, A (2014) Leading Digital. Turning Technology into Business Transformation, Boston, Harvard Business Review Press

The Traditional Features of Schooling

Graphics by Greg McKay

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

Most schools worldwide today have the same core features as those in the 1960’s, with many the same as schools in the late nineteenth century.

In examining the history of schooling over the last century, and particularly since the shock of Sputnik in 1957, and reflecting on our own sixty years’ plus experience with school change and innovation one must conclude that the core features of schooling have not changed. There is moreover scant suggestion that they are about to, with few if any governments contemplating the kind of digital transformation seen in business and other public-sector organisations. 

It is a reality that needs to be better understood if schooling is to have any hope of evolving at pace with societal change and providing an education relevant to the digitally connected young.

It is appreciated that many visionary and highly committed governments, public benefactors, educators and schools globally have made concerted efforts to innovate and enhance the holistic education of all children in the last century, particularly since Russia put a satellite into orbit.  Many will remember the immense investment in model schools, the Dewey based progressive schools, educational television, reticulated video, computer aided instruction, open plan schools, alternate schools, school based curriculum design, the many national innovation programs, future and lighthouse schools, and more recently all manner of digital technologies and STEM.

History affirms that invariably the dents made in the traditional form of the school have been ‘rectified’ and the school/s returned to the old ways.  

Schooling globally is still conducted within the physical walls of the place called school, within specified times and dates, with solitary teachers teaching class groups, invariably behind closed doors. The teachers still invariably teach the curriculum determined by the authorities, in the manner prescribed, following a structured, linear teacher controlled instructional program, continually measuring, and reporting upon student performance, always comparing the student attainment, from the early childhood years onwards.  The assessment continues be of sole performance, never the ability to work with or to relate to others.

The students still move in a lock step manner through their schooling, moving as age cohorts, from one year to the next over twelve, thirteen years to graduation – the decision makers understanding that a significant part of the age cohort, identified by the academic criteria as of lesser quality, will ‘drop out’ before the final exams.

The schools remain strongly hierarchical, linear Industrial Age organisations, obliged to follow the dictates of government, whether state or independent. The head, often with the support of a small executive continues to decide on the workings of the school. Most teachers and support staff continue to be disempowered, obliged to do as told, closely micromanaged by both the school and government authorities, expected to conform with the national standards and mores. 

In many situations, particularly in the rural areas the students attend the same schools as their parents, the schools often being over a hundred years old.

The students remain at the bottom of the pecking order, invariably distrusted, obliged every minute of the school day to do as every adult instructs, with their every movement controlled and monitored, fearful that any transgression will be punished. They invariably have no say in what is taught or assessed, when, where or how, and as such have little or no influence or control over the in-school education. The experts know what is best. Student alienation with schooling remains high and likely growing globally, particularly among the non- tertiary bound, with recent student Gallup polls revealing in developed nations like the US 50% student disengagement with the schooling (Gallup, 2015).

The contrast with how the young learn with the digital outside the school globally is increasingly marked. Outside the digitally connected young have since the mid 90’s been trusted, empowered, and provided the tools, freedom and support to take charge of their learning with the digital 24/7/365, anywhere, anytime. They, and not the authorities decide what they want to learn, when, how and where (Lee and Broadie, 2018). 

Schooling is still characterised by its constancy, continuity, sameness, paper base and adversity to risk, with schools, year after year, decade after decade following a remarkably similar calendar, running the same events, using the same livery and ceremonies. Heads and teachers move on or retire, replaced by colleagues who invariably continue the routine. 

It is understood most systems structurally have added a year or two to the schooling but the nature of the schooling in the added years remains basically the same.

The increasingly greater monies spent by governments from the 1960s in the supposed quest for school change and enhancement brought no sustained change to the traditional form of schooling – for many good reasons.

Society relies on schools minding the young while the parent/s work, and keeping the unemployment figures down with the older students.  This is ever more so with both parents working, and governments globally having to contend with structural changes in the job market. 

Term dates largely determine the family year everywhere. Any variation to those dates or the school hours is guaranteed to generate all manner of flak and disruption. 

Society expects the schools to manage and control the nation’s young, and ready them to be largely compliant members of society. School exist to inculcate the young on the nation’s ordered ways, with ‘revolutionary’, non-conformist activity invariably repressed and/or criticised by the media.

They are the organisation society has given a monopoly to decide on who will be the future leaders and who the workers, and to ensure that sorting is reflected in the qualifications provided. One will struggle to a find a nation today where the final school exams don’t complete 12/13 years of sorting and sifting, with those in authority and the media lauding the ‘successful’ students, and largely dismissing those who don’t succeed academically.

While that observation might appear harsh success at school is still adjudged, as it has for a hundred plus years by performance in academic, paper based exams.

Tellingly the schools that go digital will not only not markedly improve their ability to meet any of the above-mentioned givens, but will open the doors to on-going digital disruption and evolution, and a shift away from many aspects of traditional schooling.

With its continued existence guaranteed, schooling is one of the rare ‘industries’ today that doesn’t have to worry unduly about productivity, efficiency, continued viability or the workers being ‘restructured’. Indeed, in most situations they currently don’t, unlike business, need to address ‘digital Darwinism’ (Solis and Szymanski, 2016) or the very considerable challenge of digital transformation. Globally political parties still pander to the parent self-interest, and campaign successfully on the promise of spending more on dated, inefficient, inflexible schools and processes, fully aware the extra monies spent on the likes of smaller classes won’t enhance student attainment, educational relevance, school efficiency or productivity.

There is moreover little or no pressure for schools and their heads to change their ways, to accommodate the world going digital. The rewards go to those teachers and aspiring heads that provide a good traditional schooling, who manage the status quo well, meet the government specified outcomes and whose students perform well in the final exams.  All the staff remuneration models are still those of an analogue world. 

Conclusion

Ironically, as we discuss in a later post the greatest pressure is placed on those highly capable educational visionaries who try to educate for a world of accelerating digital evolution and transformation and seek to take advantage of the facility to learn 24/7/365.

Governments seemingly globally do their utmost to control rather than encourage the mavericks.

The continued constancy of schooling globally points to the enormity of the challenge of initiating and sustaining core school change and the imperative of better understanding the constraints to change, and how desired change can be sustained.

  • Gallup Student Poll (2015) Engaged Today: Ready for Tomorrow Fall 2015 Gallup – http://www.gallup.com/services/189926/student-poll-2015-results.aspx
  • 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/–  
  • Solis, B and Szymanski, J (2016) Six Stages of Digital Transformation. The Race Against Digital Darwinism April 2016 Altimeter @Prophet – http://www.altimetergroup.com/2016/04/new-research-the-six-stages-of-digital-transformation/

Is Sustained Core School Change Possible?

I

An alert for those wanting to lead a digital school.

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

The historic, universal, unwritten assumptions are that fundamental school change is not only possible, but is desired by those in authority and can be readily sustained.

Underpinning virtually every education plan and staff development program in the last century has likely been the desire to change and enhance schooling. Myriads of books have been published, studies conducted, reports written and likely millions of conferences conducted globally detailing how. 

Daily politicians continue to espouse the changes they are initiating, giving the impression that the governments of the world actively want significant educational innovation and change.

We’d suggest the time has come to seriously question all three assumptions. 

We accept that merely questioning the assumptions is akin to killing Bambi, but if schooling is to educate the young for a rapidly evolving world the validity of these first order premises should be examined, and the reality addressed.

COSN recently released an excellent study on the hurdles constraining Driving K-12 Innovation (COSN, 2019). The problem was that barriers identified were second order and assumed governments and schools wanted to innovate, could do so, and could sustain the changes made.

It is suggested that

  • For most it might be impossible to fundamentally change the traditional mode of schooling in a sustained way. It can in exceptional circumstances happen with individual schools, at least for a time, but as we explore in later posts historically it has been near impossible to sustain across a total system.
  • it is extremely unlikely most schools will evolve as digitally mature organisations (Kane, et al, 2016) being digital (Negroponte, 1995) in the foreseeable future.
  • most governments and educators have no real desire to significantly change the nature of schooling. They want constancy, continuity, sameness and control, free of electoral risk.

School leaders should better understand what is possible to change and is sustainable, be aware of the myriad of constraints to significant school change, and appreciate where transformation is possible, and likely impossible. 

History reveals that sustaining the change is likely as difficult as making the initial change. It also suggests this key facet of organisational change hasn’t been given the attention due. 

It is time to mix vision with pragmatism, to adopt a more reasoned approach to change, to accept there are givens, and to stop tilting at windmills in areas when there is little or no likelihood of marked variation of the current practises. 

In talking about core school change one is addressing fundamental variations in the traditional mode of schooling. New buildings, technologies, curriculum or assessment procedures don’t in themselves mean core change, particularly when they are simply a variant of the old. One is looking at the likes of schools without walls, open plan schools and the move to a 24/7/365 mode of schooling that integrates the networked with the site based learning.

Heads must recognise from their appointment they will lead the school transformation process for a finite time, with very real likelihood that any significant changes they make to the traditional ways being reversed on their departure. Despite the best efforts of likely millions of very capable heads globally history is festooned with examples, particularly within systems, of the laudable efforts being dismantled or abandoned by less able replacements.

For centuries school planners have worked on the assumption they can, with calm rationale thought shape whatever kind of schools they want. They can’t.  There are immense, likely growing constraints and barriers inhibiting core change. 

It is time for all educational decision makers, but particularly principals to better understand, and work with that reality. We now know what can and likely can’t be changed, that which is immutable and that where enhancement is possible. For example, after two hundred plus years of governments in the northern hemisphere basing their school term dates on the agrarian year, and those dates impacting near every facet of life, the economy, and learning there is no way to markedly change the term times. There are like givens those wanting change must work with.

School leaders should also appreciate that most governments and education decision don’t want any significant change.  Most educational administrations are about control and being risk adverse, committed to ‘protecting and promoting the minister’, concerned not to alienate the electorate or media. While politicians and their educational administrators speak of change the difference between the rhetoric and the reality can be vast. Granted some governments have genuinely wanted enhancement, but history reveals most only want controlled change. Twenty-five years on from the world going digital, and the Digital Revolution transforming all manner of organisations worldwide most of the world’s schools have avoided or been sand bagged against any significant digital disruption (Lee and Broadie, 2018a). Most schools use of the digital the same way as they did a quarter of a century ago, albeit with access to the online.

Conclusion

In the coming weeks, we’ll explore through a series of short blogs the realities facing all school leaders, but particularly those wanting to lead a digital school.

If you would like to comment further do write Mal Lee at – mallee@mac.com

Bibliography

  • Kane, G.C, Palmer, D, Phillips, A.N, Kiron, D, Buckley, N (2016) Aligning the Organisation for its Digital Future. MIT Sloan Management Review, July 2016, Massachusetts MIT SMR/Deloitte University Press – http://sloanreview.mit.edu/projects/aligning-for-digital-future/
  • 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/–  
  • Negroponte, N (1995) Being DigitalSydney Hodder and Stoughton

Being Digital and Knowing How to Learn

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

The digitally connected young of the world in naturally growing their being digital (Lee and Broadie, 2018 a) have increasingly taken charge of their learning with the technology, and developed –  invariably unwittingly – the vital art of knowing how to learn autonomously.

It is a core educational capability they will use, and naturally evolve everyday lifelong – albeit outside the school walls.

It is a new, historic normal that governments and most schools are seemingly unwilling to recognise or build upon, most preferring to perpetuate the myth that learning in a networked world must continue to occur only within school walls, taught and assessed in a structured manner, by professional teachers.

In recent years, even the very young – before they can read and write – have instinctively taken advantage of the freedom given them by their digitally connected families to naturally grow their ability as autonomous learners.

It is a natural development, and a vital educational capability that parents, governments and educators should be more consciously recognising and developing.

In providing the young the agency and the technology, and freedom to directly access to the learning of the networked world, free of the traditional gatekeepers, the families have enabled their children to grow being digital (Negroponte, 1995), (Lee and Broadie, 2018 a), and in their everyday use of the technology to take charge of much of their learning, and to naturally evolve their ability to learn autonomously.

It is a historic step few schools are willing to take.

It gives the young a powerful base upon which to grow their learning, to use the tools in their hands creatively and to use the myriad of evolving digital resources available. They can author their own e-books, create their own blogs or videos, instantly use the likes of Google, YouTube, Wikipedia or the array of streaming services, and draw upon their friends, networks, learning packages, interest groups and specialist sites when desired – without ever having to involve a school teacher. That said, they can readily collaborate in their school studies, if the school desires.

Perhaps most importantly the development has enabled near on two billion digitally connected young (UNICEF, 2017) to naturally, instinctively and largely invisibly grow their ability to learn what they want lifelong, by simply using the evolving technology provided by their families. Daily they grow their capability by doing, by discovering, by turning to friends, peers and the resources online, and searching out the assistance they require, the moment desired.

Twining (2018) uses the expression ‘human learning’ to describe the approach. It has none of the fanfare, structure or cost of traditional school learning but has been immensely efficient and effective in readying near 70% of the world’s young to know how to learn, and thrive within, and accommodate a world of accelerating societal change.

While schools have struggled to remain current in the digital world the young outside the school daily operate at or near the cutting edge with the technology, giving scant thought to ease with which they evolve in harmony with the accelerating change.

It gives all the young, but particularly the marginalised of the world, the opportunity to naturally shed intergenerational disadvantage and to take charge of their learning and lives (UNICEF, 2017).

That said the corollary is that those without the digital connectivity will be further disadvantaged.

For aeons governments and educators have proclaimed the importance of individualising learning, and teaching the students how to learn. Those aspirations appear in most nation’s guiding educational principles. They are seldom effectively addressed. Aged organisational structures, tightly prescribed common curriculum, the pre-occupation with specified outcomes and standards, the focus on class groups, norm-referenced assessment, common skills tests, and external national exams all work to ensure the learning is not individualised, and the students are not readied as autonomous learners.  They are simply taught how to learn in a supervised environment.

Outside the school walls, in taking advantage of families laissez faire approach to learning (Lee and Broadie, 2018 b), the young have over the last twenty plus years individualised their learning with the digital to a degree never seen in schools, and globally would appear to have taken major strides in learning how to learn lifelong with the evolving technology.

Nature of the learning.

On reflection, there has been a suite of related developments that have combined to bring about this historic change.

From the mid 90’s the young globally instinctively opted to take charge of their out of school use of and learning with the digital and the online. They were happy to use the support provided online, and that of their peers, but saw little need to call upon their school teachers (Purcell, et.al, 2013).

From the outset, the young adopted a laissez faire approach to learning with the digital, an approach based on trust, empowerment and agency, antithetical to the structured ‘control over’ model used by schools worldwide. The approach gave the young the freedom to learn what they wanted, how, when and where they desired, using the tools they thought best for the situation. Control was very much with the learner. It was a highly flexible approach, that allowed the child to collaborate with peers, to socially network, to play with the new, to try things, discover, innovate, take risks and learn from experiences. Importantly it obliged the learner to make judgements and to call the play.

By the latter 90’s the Tapscott study (1998) was able to identify the traits and mores the young had universally adopted in using the online and the digital. It also noted that for the first time in human history the young often knew more about a key area of learning than their elders.

Tellingly those traits had naturally grown in the young’s every day, fully integrated use of the evolving technologies.

One of the traits to emerge early was the adoption of a digital mindset, where the digital underpinned near all human activities, becoming increasingly powerful, sophisticated and all – pervasive.

In marked contrast to the school focus, the young, and increasingly their parents, were focussed on learning what would assist them in their everyday lives, today. They decided what they wanted to learn, not the ‘experts’.

The young’s out of school learning has been – and continues to be – characterised by its on-going, highly dynamic nature. There is an unwritten recognition of needing to remain up to date, able to use the desired current technology the moment desired, lifelong. They appreciated the imperative socially, educationally and likely economically of working at or near the cutting edge.

The learning is moreover strongly individualised from very early in life, the digital empowered young using the technology to pursue their own interests and passions. While ready to seek support from the technology, that online, the family, friends and from around the age of six to network with others (Chaudron, et.al, 2018) the children take charge of their own learning with the digital.

In pursuing their own interests and passions they soon tailor their suite of digital tools and capabilities, tools and capabilities that will evolve and change as the technology becomes more sophisticated and they mature and vary their interests.  This is evident from the age of three onwards (Chaudron, 2015, Lee and Broadie, 2018 b) with siblings invariably quickly – and rightly – developing different digital skillsets.

We say ‘rightly’ very deliberately, because children in different global settings, with different interests and needs should grow the apt capabilities, and do as we all naturally now do and develop those used most. In a world of diverse interests, and uses of the digital technology it is naïve to assume – as most school authorities now do – that all the nation’s young should learn a common, ‘one size fits all’ set of practises.

The moment a game changing technological development occurs the young will rightly use the facility, happy to discard or trash the superseded technology.

In individualising and continually updating their suite of digital tools and capabilities the young are naturally- but likely unwittingly – evaluating their needs, and growing the ability to take charge of their learning in a continually evolving, often uncertain digital world.

History reveals the young have continually been to the fore in the adoption of the new technologies and practises (Lee and Winzenried, 2009), handling with ease the accelerating evolution, with no hint that is about to change.

That capability has been enhanced at all age levels by having immediate connectivity, the young being able to use the digital and the networked world the moment they believe it is important. It might only be photographing a noteworthy moment, contacting peers for assistance or checking information but is that sense of control that is important. It allows them to learn just in time and in context.

Something that would not be allowed in most schools.

Application of the self- directed learning

The digitally empowered young demonstrate their ability to take charge of their own use of and learning with the digital, and particularly touchscreen, technology from

very early in life, naturally growing their ability to use the evolving media for the desired purposes (Chaudron, et.al, 2018).

Critically the signs indicate they will naturally evolve that capability lifelong, with family and peer support, regardless of what the schools do, developing their capacity to use the myriad of apps and online resources the moment desired. The Apple and Google app stores alone each have over two million different apps.

Significantly the young, seemingly worldwide, have grown – and are daily growing their understanding how to learn, particularly with the digital with no assistance from most educators or schools.

Enhancement and collaboration

We are not for a moment suggesting that capability can’t be enhanced. It most assuredly should be. Few of the young will for example be developing the many skills associated with scientific, or the broader academic learning.

They will need to be grown.

But grown in a manner that builds upon the attributes already acquired, attributes the young will continue to evolve lifelong regardless.

Those attributes must be valued, not as now devalued and dismissed as trivial.

Ideally the work of the young and their families should be complemented by the schools.

But at this stage history strongly suggests most schools and governments will continue to refuse to collaborate, dismissing the efforts of the families, and asserting that only they can, and should teach the young how to learn (Lee and Broadie, 2018b).

Conclusion

The young’s naturally learning how to learn is shaping as another historic change in youth education, and another instance of where the invariably tightly controlled, and inflexible traditional school approach to learning will remain at odds with the learning and education of the young of the world outside the school walls.

Once again it seems likely it will be left to digitally connected families or the exceptional visionary schools to markedly enhance this critical educational skill.

  • Chaudron, S (2015) Young Children (0-8) and Digital TechnologyLuxembourg, European Commission JRC and Policy Reports 2015 –http://publications.jrc.ec.europa.eu/repository/handle/JRC93239
  • Chaudron S, Di Gioia R, Gemo M, (2018) Young children (0-8) and digital technology, a qualitative study across Europe; EUR 29070; doi:10.2760/294383
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The Importance of Students Using Their Own Digital Kit.

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

This seemingly mundane management issue, that most educators view as just that, challenges the very nature of schooling.

Are schools in democracies places where the state compels a compliant youth to learn what and how government believes is appropriate, or are they organisations that assist an increasingly digitally empowered young ready themselves for life, work and learning in a rapidly evolving, often uncertain, digitally based, connected and socially networked world?

Are they physical institutions that must unilaterally control every aspect of learning of an appropriately compliant, subservient youth within the school walls, or are they learning organisations that work with all the ‘teachers’ of the young in assisting provide an apt, balanced, holistic and largely individualised education?

The litmus test to these questions is whether the school believes it must unilaterally control the choice and use of the personal technology within the school walls, or whether it is willing to trust and empower its students, and give them the freedom and responsibility to use their own suite of digital technologies astutely in all facets of their learning, including that within the school.

Educators as a group don’t appear to have grasped how important it is for the world’s young to be digitally empowered, and to learn from naturally using that capability. It is akin to owning one’s first car, but much more. It is not simply having one’s own highly sophisticated, immensely powerful technologies. It is having the agency to use those technologies largely as one desires, and taking control of one’s use and learning with those technologies. And being able to do so very early in life, before they can read and write, and to do so 24/7/365 lifelong.

It is an agency enjoyed by near 70% of the world’s young (ITU, 2017), (UNICEFF, 2017) – albeit outside the school walls, with the trend line moving at pace to near universal digital connectivity.

UNICEF’s 2017 study rightly observed:

Digital technology has already changed the world – and as more and more children go online around the world,
it is increasingly changing childhood (UNICEF, 2017, p1).

Until schools and their governments appreciate that digitally empowered young are the new normal, and are willing to adjust their ways, to relax their control, to trust and empower those young people to use their ‘own’ kit astutely and creatively in class schools will never normalise the use of the digital, nor play any meaningful role in assisting the nation’s young grow being digital.

Schools will remain doing the digitalwithout ever being digital.

It is appreciated that won’t unduly worry many teachers and governments.

But it does means most schools developmentally will move into a state of evolutionary equilibrium, unable to evolve as digitally mature organisations which can continually transform their operations and accommodate the accelerating digital evolution. Daily they will lag ever further behind the young’s everyday learning with the digital outside the school; their teaching becoming increasingly dated and irrelevant.

The national implications are considerable, particularly when the research (Lee and Broadie, 2018) suggests 70% – 80% of the nation’s schools show no inclination to forgo their control. Most will thus do little or nothing to enhance the capability of the vast human resource digital economies have in their digitally connected young.

The moment schools decide they – and not the students – must choose the personal technology the young will use in the classroom they forgo any hope of assisting grow the nation’s young being digital, having the digital invisibly underpin all school learning, of moving the school from an analogue to digital operational mode, and having it join and assist grow a networked society.

The decision relegates the school to the digital backwater.

In announcing its unilateral control of the technology, the school is proclaiming that it intends to maintain its traditional ‘control over’ ways, and that any use of the digital must fit within those ways. It is saying to the students and their families that not only do we know best, but we distrust you, are not willing to empower you, and we don’t value or recognise the lead role you have played – and are playing – in learning with the digital.

It is saying being digital is unimportant, and that a digitally empowered young – working with their teachers – are incapable of using the digital astutely and creatively in enhancing their learning in all areas of the curriculum, at all stages of learning.

Schools and governments worldwide seemingly don’t appreciate the very powerful messages they send when they make seemingly innocuous management decisions about the control of the digital technology.

It is imperative as a school leader you understand, and are aware of the wider educational and national ramifications of the decision.

The critical conditions.

Five conditions are critical to the sustained natural growth in learning with the digital (Lee, Broadie and Twining, 2018).

  1. Ready access to the personal, preferably mobile technology
  2. Digital connectivity
  3. Support, empowerment and trust
  4. Largely unfettered use
  5. Self-directed learning, able to collaborate when desired (Lee, Broadie and Twining, 2018).

Those five, closely related conditions go a long way to explaining why over two billion young (ITU, 2017), (UNICEF, 2017) are digitally connected, digitally empowered and have normalised their everyday use of the digital, and why so few schools have yet to do so.

If – and we appreciate it is a huge ‘if’ that pertains to the nature of schooling you wish to provide – your school wants to normalise the use of the technology, assist grow the students being digital, and vitally use the digital to enhance all their school learning it needs to understand why the digitally connected families – and the exceptional schools – have succeeded, and why most schools have failed.

Own’ kit and connectivity

Critical is that digitally empowered students can use their ‘own’ suite of digital technologies largely unfettered within the school walls, and have ready connectivity.

That carries with it the school’s and teacher’s appreciation of how best to build upon that ownership to grow the learners and their learning.  It entails a willingness to trust students to use in their everyday school learning the technologies they already use 24/7/365, the need to empower them, recognise, to value and build upon the students being digital, while understanding how they can take advantage of that capability in their teaching.

It obliges the school to understand this is a digitally empowered generation, with a digital mindset, ever rising expectations, who have long taken charge of their learning with the digital, who will do so lifelong, who have grown being digital by naturally using the apt technologies in near every facet of their lives and knowing how best to take advantage of that digital skillset.

The schools can, if they desire complement and add value to the students being digital, but only if they are prepared to support already empowered students use of their own kit in the ways they are accustomed.

Understand it is not about the technology per se.

It about how each of us in a digitally connected world, from around the age of three through to death, can control the use of, and learning with that suite of continually evolving technologies.

It is about being able to do largely what we want, when and how we want.

None who are digitally empowered tolerate ‘big brother’ telling them what they can and can’t do with their personal technology. That intolerance is amplified with a young that have only ever known a digital world, who have long taken charge of its everyday use everywhere except within the school, that have successfully individualised its application and which are likely to be more digitally proficient with the current technologies than most of their teachers.

While it might come as a surprise to many, educators need understand the world’s digitally connected young will only use the teacher directed, structured, linear approach to learning with the digital used by schools when compelled.

It is antithetical to the all-pervasive, highly integrated laissez faire approach they use every day.

  • Control over’ schools

History affirms (Lee and Broadie, 2018) that when the schools insist on tightly controlling the student’s choice and every use of the digital it will do little or nothing to enhance their being digital, their learning how to learn with the technology or crucially their learning in all areas of the curriculum.

All it does is reinforce the traditional analogue mode of schooling, its hierarchical operations, its unilateral control of teaching and largely closes the door for digitally empowered young to use their very considerable, digital capabilities and digital tool kit in their school learning.

Under the ‘control over’ model the ‘experts’ invariably decide on an ‘appropriate’ device, the operating system, software, apps, set up, storage, maintenance arrangements, upgrades and replacements. Their focus is the group, on all students using the same set up, with scant if any regard given to personalising the set up or individualised learning. It is the technology that matters not the learner. The ‘experts’ decide on the school’s ‘acceptable use policy’ (AUP). And how the technology will be deployed, used and monitored. Significantly they also decide – for the students and teachers – which digital technology will not be allowed; from the mid 1990’s banning most of the personal digital technologies and online services the students used 24/7/365 outside the school (Lee and Broadie, 2018).

In most schools, particularly at the secondary level, the technology will likely only be used within specific ‘computing’ or ‘ICT’ classes.

Net connectivity is tightly controlled and censored. Teacher permission is needed, and usually only allowed when the teacher thinks it is appropriate.

The focus is insular, on that happening within the school walls, within its operating hours, less than 20% of the young’s annual learning time.

Digitally empowered students and parents have no say in the technology used, the curriculum, the teaching or the assessment, they simply complying with the experts and teachers dictates.

  • Student choice schools

In letting the students use their own suite of digital technologies the school – perhaps unwittingly – takes a significant step towards adopting a more inclusive, networked mode of schooling, that seeks to genuinely collaborate with its students, families and community in providing an apt education for an ever evolving digitally connected world.

By distributing its control of the resourcing and teaching, and sharing it with the individual learners and their families the school is readying the move from an analogue to digital mode of schooling.

It positions the school and its teachers – at no cost – to continually work in class with students using the cutting-edge or near cutting-edge technology, and to largely overcome the growing technology lag evident in the ‘control over’ schools.

It allows the students to continue to direct much of their learning with the digital, to use the tools they know and use 24/7/365, that they have tailored for their learning style and to use those parts of their kit they – and not the experts – believe will best do the job at hand.

It provides teachers the freedom to work closely with their students, to take on their ideas, to be flexible and when is all is working well to step to the side and let the learners direct their learning.

In working with the student’s technologies, the teachers quickly recognise the individual learner’s interests and capabilities, able to tailor their teaching accordingly. Importantly it also provides the school with a bridge to the families, providing an insight into the capabilities and resources of each, making it that much easier to support and add value to the efforts of the families.

In exploring the work of those exceptional schools (Lee and Levins, 2016) that for some time have encouraged their students to use their own technologies the authors were struck by their willingness to genuinely collaborate with their families, to value and build on the out of school learning, to remove from the curriculum material already learned and to integrate the use of the digital in all areas of learning, and all school operations.

Everything appeared so natural. No one thought twice about ceasing to teach digital proficiency and simply building upon the student’s learning.

That said while the use of the digital was central to all operations, and Net access was appreciably greater than the ‘control over’ schools, connectivity was primarily through the school’s network, and as such appreciably more constrained than outside the school.

It was also evident – a reality confirmed by the case study follow up – all the schools studied were aware that at this point in the history their efforts to vary the mode of schooling were dependent on the current head, and that a change in the principalship or government could see the school revert to its traditional form, with years of effort wasted.

Conclusion

Within the developed nations of the world virtually all the young are digitally connected, and empowered, having only ever known a digital and socially networked society.

Their upbringing has been – and continues to be – within digitally connected families, with ready access to all manner of highly sophisticated personal digital technologies, and increasingly powerful, tightly integrated digital ecosystems.

From very early in life they have been provided their ‘own’ kit, connectivity and trusted, empowered and supported to use that technology largely unfettered.

By three most children born into digitally connected families will be digitally empowered, and have begun the lifelong journey of taking charge of their use and learning with the digital, understanding how to learn with it, and naturally and confidently growing their being digital.

They are never going to relinquish that power.

While ever schools refuse to attune their ways to the new reality the young, with the support of their digitally connected families, will continue grow their being digital outside the school walls, continually evolving their capability, and daily widening the gap between the in and out of school use of the technology.

Digitally empowered young are never going to going to embrace a highly structured ‘control over’ approach to learning with the digital where they are disempowered, devalued and subservient.

Rather as a vast, growing and evermore powerful cohort they will likely increasingly expect society and its schools to accommodate the changing world, and to attune their ways and adopt a mode of schooling where digitally empowered young normalise the use of their personal technologies.

As a school leader contemplating the way forward appreciate you are deciding on the desired nature of the schooling, and not simply a minor management issue.

Bibliography

 

 

  • ITU (2017) Measuring the Information Society Report 2017 Volume 1 Geneva International Telecommunications Union – https://www.itu.int/en/ITU-D/Statistics/Pages/publications/mis2017.aspx
  • Johansen, S.L, Larsen, M.C and Ernst, M.J (2016) Young Children and Digital Technology– Aarhus University, Aalborg University, Danish Media Council for Children and Young People, February, 2016 – http://www.aau.dk/digitalAssets/201/201213_national-report_2015_denmark_proofread-2-.pdf
  • Lee, M and Levins, M (2016) BYOT and the Digital Evolution of Schooling 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
  • Meeker. M (2018) Internet Trends 2018Kleiner Perkins May 30, 2018 – http://www.kpcb.com/internet-trends

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Many Strengths of Digitally Connected Families

 

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

It will likely come as a surprise to most teachers and governments but the new reality is that the digitally connected families of the developed world are far better positioned than schools to grow the children’s being digital from birth, and to lead their learning with the digital.

At first glance this might appear an outrageous observation. However unwittingly, and largely unseen, the digitally connected families have over the last twenty plus years naturally and largely unseen developed the many strengths that give them considerable advantage over even excellent teachers working within highly constrained linear, hierarchical Industrial Age schools.

While the strengths of the family are on trend to grow at pace so too are the constraints on teachers, pointing strongly to the schools in their teaching with the digital lagging increasingly behind their families.

The seemingly obvious solution – exemplified in the exceptional schools and classrooms – is for the school to genuinely collaborate with their families in growing the children’s 24/7/365 learning with the digital. But – and it is a very considerable ‘but’ – at this stage in history no government, national or provincial appears to want that collaboration. The authors can find none that have articulated the educational, social, economic and political advantages of doing so.

All appear to want to maintain their unilateral control of schooling, and its traditional form and ways, affording only limited importance to being digital.

That said as a professional educator working within a digital and socially networked society, striving to provide your students an apt education for the contemporary world it is important to appreciate why the digitally connected families are so well positioned, to understand their strengths and why the trend line is pointing to the schools and teachers being only able to complement and add value to the work of the family.

The insight should help explain how teachers can add important value, but also why

the digitally connected families have led, and will continue to lead in growing the young’s being digital, and why schools in a networked society should be pooling the resources and expertise of the families and the school – not trying to compete.

The strengths of the digitally connected family.

  • The parents. They – not the school, nor government, nor the tech industry – have ultimate responsibility for how their children use and learn with the digital technology outside the school walls. In leading a small, highly agile self-regulating family unit, in total control of its operations and budget the parents have both the power and freedom to call the shots the moment desired.

The environment

  • Laissez faire environment.The family unit operates within in a market driven, largely laissez faire economy, free of any government control, with the autonomy and agility to do what it wants, when it wants and to respond instantly to continual accelerating change.

 

  • Learning culture.The digitally connected families have invariably created highly supportive learning cultures, where the digital is central, and the children are trusted and empowered to use the latest technologies largely unfettered, able to largely take charge of their learning with the digital 24/7/365. The contrast with the distrust, disempowerment, and the control exercised by schools over the children’s every action is stark.

 

  • Natural evolution.The family is free to evolve its use of and learning with the digital naturally, able to shape the emerging global megatrends to advantage. As the unplanned, unintended developments occur they can optimise them.

 

The young and their families have in learning with the digital naturally, instinctively and unwittingly adopted a remarkably common approach worldwide, creating the same kind of supportive learning cultures, developing similar capabilities. Nationality, gender and the family’s finances don’t appear to vary the fundamental nature of the learning with the digital all that much (Chaudron, et.al, 2015).

Positive Digital Mindset

  • Importance of the digital.Study after study from the early 90’s onwards has identified the importance most families worldwide attach to their children having the current digital devices (Lee and Broadie, 2018). That research is backed by their buying pattern, with it being the parents – not government – who have funded near two billion (UNICEF, 2017) young people’s technology and digital connectivity.

 

  • Positive outlook.The young and most of their families from the 90’s have been highly positive with the digital and online, grabbing the opportunities opened, exploring all manner of possibilities, trying things, taking risks, with many continually pushing the envelope. Importantly that have addressed the pitfalls that come with marked change in a largely positive manner. In contrast, most schools and governments for twenty plus years have been reactive, often negative, preoccupied with the possible risks, doing what governments have done historically with all new technologies, focussing initially on the dangers.

 

  • Digital and socially networked mindset. Over the last twenty plus years the young and their families have grown an increasingly stronger digital, and socially networked mindset. It is outward looking, continually seeking to take advantage of opportunities opened by the networks and the increasingly interconnected world. Most schools in contrast still employ an insular, inward looking, analogue mindset, and operate as artificial walled communities.

 

  • Common sense and instinct.On reflection, since the 1990s the families have shown eminent common sense, shaped in large by their natural instincts. Their focus has been their kids.

 

  • The young and their families have embraced and enjoyed using and learning with the digital. It is cool and a must have. The challenge has always been to limit the usage.

The learning

  • Control from birth to being digital.The family is in control of the young’s learning with the digital from birth. Children born into digitally connected families will by three be well on their way to being digital, and will have adopted the mode of learning with the digital they will use lifelong. The die is cast before government or teachers come into the play.

 

  • Digitally empowered. The very young enter school digitally empowered. It is a control they will exercise throughout life, relinquishing it reluctantly only when compelled.

 

  • Focus on the individual learner. Educationally the family’s concern has always been the learning of each child, the individuals, understanding the importance of each taking charge, each developing their own set of capabilities. While schools have for years spoken of individualising the learning none have gone close to what the families have achieved. In fairness, it is appreciably easier to do so with a couple of kids than hundreds, but it is a strength of the family unit.

 

  • 24/7/365, just in time, in context.In being digital and using the digital every day the young are free to learn anytime, anywhere they believe apt. They don’t have to wait until the teacher, curriculum and timetable allows.

 

  • Self-directed.From the early in life the children take charge of their learning with the digital, deciding what they want to learn, how, when and with the support of whom and what resources. In having that agency, they, not the education authorities decide what is to be learned, the children quickly individualising their learning, putting them on the path they will follow lifelong.

 

  • Informal, naturally sustained integrated learning– where the children, in taking control of their learning instinctively adopt a highly integrated, invariably non-linear approach, that naturally accommodates the changes brought by the evolving technology. They have no obligation, unlike teachers, to pursue a common, authority prescribed, linear instructional program that is only updated periodically.

 

  • Digital normalisation. Children today born to digitally connected families have invariably normalised the use of the digital well before entering school. The digital is a natural, almost invisible part of their life. While the families globally have rightly chosen to support that normalisation, most schools have not opted to try.

 

  • Learning in a continually evolving digital world. The digitally connected young have naturally developed not only their digital proficiency, but also the art of updating that proficiency in harmony with the evolving technology, full well understanding their learning must evolve lifelong. It is a capability that goes a long way to ensuring they use the current technology and technological practises, and take the opportunities opened by them.

 

  • Natural adaptation. History (Lee and Broadie, 2018) reveals the ease with which the young have been able to adapt their use and learning with the digital, to do their own thing, to use it to assist their school studies, and when obliged to use it compliantly within the classroom. The superseded technologies, the iPods, the Nokia, the CDs, DVDs, the games consoles, the myriad of cables and chargers quietly disappear into the cupboard.

However, history also reveals most schools lack that adaptability, unwilling or unable to change their ways, beholden to the set curriculum, assessment procedures, insisting the young and their families do what the school/authority requires.

Blockage free learning

  • No formal assessment, exams or reports.None of the very considerable constraints associated with student assessment that exist in the schools are found in the digitally connected families. They have never shown any desire or need for continual assessment, formal hand written exams, term reports and the associated stresses, loss of learning time, hassle and administrivia (Lee and Broadie, 2018).

 

  • No sorting and sifting. The family, unlike most schools are not obliged to continually rank the children, to compare performance and to perpetuate the Industrial Age practise of sorting the future ‘managers’ from the ‘factory workers’.

 

  • No accountability. Again, in contrast to the schools where virtually every operation must be justified and accounted for the digitally connected families are free to do what they want, never having to justify their approach – other than to themselves.

 

  • Bureaucracy free. Learning with the digital within the digitally connected family could well be one of the few situations in modern society where government bureaucrats play no part. The family is free to do as it wants, when it wants without operational guidelines, budget committees and government buying and accounting procedures.

 

  • Family set controls. The family, often as a unit, often unconsciously and sometimes with the parents calling the shots, sets the ‘rules’ and controls on the use of and learning with the digital. It can thus readily change the controls as the kids mature, respect the trust shown and the technology evolves.

Learning conditions

  • Trust and empowerment.While the families of the world have long been willing to trust, and empower their children to take charge of their learning, most schools have not.

 

  • Freedom to learn. The same holds here. One of the great plusses of an informal education has always been the opportunity for the young to explore new worlds, to dream, to create, to pursue their interests and passions, and occasionally to break a limb. The digital adds a new dimension to that facility.

 

  • Immediate digital use. The young, outside the school, have immediate use of the desired digital tools, physical and online, not constrained by the myriad of human and technological controls and blocks found in schools.

 

  • Networked learning.One of the great strengths of the young today is that they value, from around the age of six (Chaudron, et.al, 2018) human networking, and naturally, and likely unwittingly use it in their everyday learning.

 

  • Family learning. One of the largely unseen but very powerful features of the young’s learning is how much naturally occurs within the family setting, ranging from the very young mimicking their siblings and parents, the kids knowing more than their parents, the parents providing quiet guidance and the occasional strong nudge, and the nuclear and extended family going about their everyday networking, naturally, unwittingly growing their learning.  All benefit.

The technology

  • Personalised. The young in digitally connected families have ready access to their ‘own’ suite of continually evolving digital technologies, acquiring what they want, free to set them up as they desire to accommodate their learning style and interests. Johannsen (Johanssen, et.al, 2016) noted that 91% of Danish children 0-8 had ready access to tablets, with 42% having their own. In brief the young have agency over both their learning and the tools, in marked contrast to most schools where they have no agency.

 

  • Connectivity. The same is so with the digital connectivity. Within the home and on the move, they are largely free – depending on age – to connect the moment desired. Within the school connectivity, as all will attest, is tightly controlled, and even when permitted is invariably is done through censored networks. Outside the school connectivity is a core part of learning, where within most schools it plays only a peripheral role.

 

  • History highlights (Lee and Broadie, 2018) the continued early adoption and use of a wide array of the emerging personal technologies by the young, they quickly becoming proficient with the new. History also shows them using most of the technologies well before the school, often years before and in many instances using technologies never allowed in schools.

 

  • Family ecosystem.All the out of school learning is – usually unwittingly and unseen – assisted by increasingly powerful family digital ecosystems, aided in turn by the family member’s networking with other ecosystems. Think back a decade and note how the family digital ecosystems have grown, become that much integrated and powerful, the number of devices now in sync and what the future scenario will likely be.

 

  • Using all the desired technologies. One of the oft forgotten strengths is the families use of all manner of digital technologies, the games consoles, PVRs, smart TVs, high end digital cameras, Go Pros, smart watches, fit bits and all manner of mobiles, desktops and apps. In contrast, most schools opt to use only the one ‘appropriate’ device, the specified software and ban all other technologies.

 

  • Willingness to use the technology that can be afforded.In contrast to the schools that seemingly have a thing about using only quality kit the young, particularly those in the less affluent situations are happy to use any that will do the job, be they hand me downs or the lower end Android technology. They are willing think laterally to get what they want. The key variable is the expertise of the user not the gear.

There are undoubtedly other strengths.

Notwithstanding the above are an impressive set of capabilities.

Conclusion

Collectively they go a long way to explaining why most digitally connected families are far better placed than their local school/s to lead the way in learning with the digital and to do so in the years ahead.

They also affirm why astute schools and teachers would do betters to complement and enhance the contribution of the families, and not like now, try and compete.

Bibliography

  • Chaudron, S (2015) Young Children (0-8) and Digital TechnologyLuxembourg, European Commission JRC and Policy Reports 2015 –http://publications.jrc.ec.europa.eu/repository/handle/JRC93239
  • Chaudron S., Di Gioia R. , Gemo M.; Young children (0-8) and digital technology, a qualitative study across Europe; EUR 29070; doi:10.2760/294383
  • Johansen, S.L, Larsen, M.C and Ernst, M.J (2016) Young Children and Digital Technology– Aarhus University, Aalborg University, Danish Media Council for Children and Young People, February, 2016 – http://www.aau.dk/digitalAssets/201/201213_national-report_2015_denmark_proofread-2-.pdf
  • 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/
  • 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

 

 

 

 

Being Digital: At Three. The Implications

 

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

Children born into digitally connected families will likely by the age of three be displaying the key attributes of being digital: attributes they will evolve and naturally grow lifelong.

It matters not whether the families are in the developed, underdeveloped or developing world.

This development of the last decade, post the release of the iPhone and global uptake of the touchscreen technology goes a long way to explaining why near 70% of the world’s young are digitally connected (ITU, 2017) and two billion plus young people (UNICEF, 2017) have normalised the use of the digital and naturally grown being digital.

What we now know is that children born into a digitally connected family – a family that uses the digital technology invisibly in near ever every facet of its lives – will from the day of birth begin observing and mimicking the family’s ever use of the various technologies. By the latter part of the first year of life the children will likely try to operate mum’s smartphone. By the latter part of year two, but most assuredly by three the children will be digitally proficient (Chaudron, et.al, 2018), demonstrating the attributes critical to them taking charge of their learning with the digital, lifelong (Erikson, 2106), (Chaudron, et.al, 2018).

Significantly the children will have taken charge before they can read and write, they using what has been a largely latent inherent visual intelligence from birth to naturally grow their being digital.

Tellingly it appears the digitally connected families of the world have instinctively and naturally – and likely unwittingly – grown their children’s being digital in a remarkably similar manner, observing five key conditions (Lee, Broadie and Twining, 2018) – with no guidance or funding from government or its schools.

The educational implications of this historic global development are profound and game changing for parents, children, educators and governments worldwide – even if governments and their institutions choose to ignore the changes that have occurred. UNICEF in its Children in a Digital Worldstudy rightly concluded:

Digital technology has already changed the world – and as more and more children go online around the world,
it is increasingly changing childhood (UNICEF, 2017, p1).

Nature of the learning

By three most children in their use of and learning with the digital technologies have instinctively adopted the same laissez faire approach used by the young of the world – outside the school walls. It is a highly fluid, unstructured, non-linear approach where the children learn informally, invariably through play, just in time and mostly in context, generally astutely guided and supported by the family.  Driven by an innate curiosity it is usually discovery based, highly integrated, with the children using all the facilities available to learn what they want, when they want.

Theirs is a digital, largely visual and aural world, where video is dominant and where they instinctively first look to the touchscreen technology to access the desired entertainment, communications facilities and information.  The early indications are that the very young increasingly use the digital, and particularly the visual and aural facilities to assist grow their vocabulary, speech and ability to write, both with the keyboard and in time with a pen. This has been particularly evident since the introduction of the multi-modal communication facility on touchscreen technology that enables children, particularly in the undeveloped world, to by-pass the QWERTY keyboard.

By three the very young are showing clear signs of taking charge of their learning with the digital (Chaudron, et.al, 2018), deciding what they want to learn and how – ready to tell nanny ‘no I want to use my thumbs to navigate, not my fingers’. Very soon each child’s learning is individualised, with seemingly all unwittingly acquiring a common suite of capabilities (Lee, Broadie and Twining, in press) while also growing the skills that allow them to pursue their interests and passions.

By three it would appear the young worldwide have adopted the same approach to learning with the digital, that they will use 24/7/365 throughout life.

The capability is succinctly, if surprisingly, summed up in the Mark Billingham’s 2018 thriller The Killing Habit.

‘Got one!’ Without a clue what was going on, Thorne leaned down to watch, amazed as always, at how frighteningly adept the child was with the technology. At how kids could play games like this before they could read, could open apps, and navigate screens before they could manage joined up writing. He remembered Alfie, eighteen months younger than he was now, trying to swipe the picture of the TV and announcing loudly it was ‘rubbish’ (Billingham, 2018, p 349).

The nature of the learning – as you’ll appreciate – is antithetical to the traditional highly controlled, ‘one size fits all’, expert determined, teacher directed, structured linear teaching used in schools.

Two billion young plus affirm the world’s young have no desire to use the traditional approach, and that there is nothing government or schools can do outside the school walls to change that reality. They can if they wish support, complement and add value to the children’s out of school mode of learning. But they are never going to remove the agency and control the young now have over a key aspect of modern life – except within government controlled classrooms.

Core to the sustained natural learning with the digital, and digital normalisation – as we elaborate upon in Your Kid’s Being Digital (Lee, Broadie, and Twining, 2018) – are five conditions, that families globally appear to have instinctively observed.

  1. Ready access to the personal, preferably mobile technology
  2. Digital connectivity
  3. Support, empowerment and trust
  4. Largely unfettered use
  5. Self-directed learning, able to collaborate when desired.

Collectively the conditions have worked to naturally grow the children’s being digital.

Being digital

Being digital is far more than digital proficiency, and being able to use the evolving digital media 24/7/365 efficiently and effectively. It is about having a mindset, a mode of thinking, an expression of values, a set of ever rising expectations, an ability to draw on many connected elements, a way of learning and understanding how to learn, a taking charge of one’s own learning, being able to network, to accommodate accelerating change, to continually develop, lifelong (Lee and Broadie, 2018,a).

Proficiency wise, as Billingham observes, the children by three have demonstrated their ability to readily work the core functionality of the current personal and family digital technologies (Chaudron, 2015, Chaudron, et.al, 2018).

Well before they can read, write or begin school they have learned to use the visual, and increasingly the audio AI controls to navigate the networked world, and use the digital media to access the desired functions.

Moreover, they have learnt to use the various digital communications facilities, strongly favouring video.

With their strong digital mindset, their first step is to use the digital and the connectivity, with that propensity normalised before they start to read and write. The book to them is a second order technology

They are very much a digital, not a pen and paper generation.

In having the agency and capability to use the technology largely unfettered the children globally have shown they will – as they have for thousands of years – pursue their interests and passions, aided today with increasingly sophisticated and powerful digital tools (Ito, et.al, 2013). UK’s Ofcom for example has noted that in 2017 42% of 3-4 year olds used YouTube, up 10% on the year before (Ofcom, 2016, 2017).

While kids have always had this capacity in their informal learning the parent’s provision of the technology, connectivity and agency overnight removed the traditional adult gatekeepers of the information and gave children the freedom to access the resources of the networked world, the moment desired.

It moreover enabled them to decide the best approach to the learning. They – and not an adult – decide when to employ a discovery based, didactic or highly repetitive learning approach.

Similarly, each child chooses the digital tools they need for the task at hand.

Implications

The implications of the young being digital by three are profound and far reaching, for the young, their parents, families, schools and governments and society in general.

They are yet little appreciated, particularly by most educators, governments and the media – that appear to be more focussed on the dangers of the technology rather than the profound impact it has had, and will continue to have worldwide, both on the up and the down side.

It has, as the UNICEF study (2017) notes changed the nature of both youth, and youth education – albeit outside the school walls.

It is vital the young as they mature better understand the implications of taking charge of their learning with the digital, learning how to learn and becoming increasingly autonomous learners.

While 70% of the world’s young are digitally connected 30% are not. They are, educationally, socially and economically disadvantaged.

Connectivity can be a game changer for some of the world’s most marginalized children, helping them fulfil their potential and break intergenerational cycles of poverty (UNICEF, 2017. P1).

The parents of the young need to better appreciate the many implications of playing the lead role in growing their children being digital from birth, to understand the family’s educational strengths in this area far outweigh the schools (Lee and Broadie, 2108, b) and that they cannot rely on the schools to assist grow their children taking charge of their 24/7/365 learning with the digital.

Schools and governments need to grasp that they have no control over the world’s young growing their being digital, and never will while ever they continue with their insular, school focussed, structured, ‘control over’ approach to digital learning, and dismiss the learning occurring naturally in the families from birth.

Governments could better assist by investing a fraction of the millions spent on technology in schools by giving the monies directly to the families in need.

Conclusion

By the age of three the die is largely cast on the young’s adoption of their approach to learning with the digital. As the children mature and naturally grow and evolve their being digital so they will develop as largely autonomous learners and do so lifelong everywhere – other than the classroom.

Bibliography

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trust and Being Digital

 

 

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

Trust is critical to the young growing ‘being digital’ (Lee and Broadie, 2018a).

Without trust the young will never normalise the use of the digital, and naturally enhance their use of and learning with the continually evolving digital technologies.

It is a new reality that most schools and governments don’t appear to have grasped. Rather globally we see them continuing to distrust and disempower the students, somehow imagining their unilateral control of the students every use of the technology will enable its normalisation, and enhance the nation’s young being digital.

Little is the wonder that near on two billion young (ITU, 2017) (UNICEF, 2017) have normalised the 24/7/365 use of the digital outside the school walls, but relatively few schools globally have been able to achieve that normalisation and have the digital underpin all learning.

We know now that five interconnected conditions are critical to the young’s sustained, natural learning with the digital (Lee, Broadie and Twining, 2018).

  1. Ready access to the personal, preferably mobile technology
  2. Digital connectivity
  3. Support, empowerment and trust
  4. Largely unfettered use
  5. Self-directed learning, able to collaborate when desired.

In providing the children their ‘own’ suite of digital technologies, free to configure them as they wish the digitally connected families are communicating very strongly to the kids the family’s trust in them.

In schools insisting the students use the prescribed digital device and software, in monitoring its every use and in failing to recognise and value the student’s out of school learning with the digital schools are saying very strongly – intended or not – we not only distrust you, but we don’t trust anything you do out of our eyesight.

In enabling the children to connect to the digital technology and the networked world the moment desired, and to do so largely unfettered the family is affirming both its trust in the kids as well trust in the upbringing and education the family has provided.

One will struggle to find a school anywhere that allows, let alone encourages students to digitally connect the moment they believe it will assist their learning, free to access the desired sites and facilities. Rather access is tightly controlled, with the students invariably needing to get teacher permission, to operate within a mandated acceptable use policy, to do at specified times and to work through a tightly controlled, filtered and indeed censored network.

In addition to trusting their children to use the technology and connectivity largely unfettered the family trusts their young to take charge of their learning with the digital technology, they decide what they want to learn, when, how and with the help of whom. Moreover, they are trusted to do so from as young as three, and supported from that age onwards to become autonomous learners, charting their individual path.

Importantly the families – likely unwittingly – trust their children to adjudge their own capabilities and to decide when, and how they best enhance their learning.

In contrast governments and their schools allow the same empowered young no voice in the in-school learning with the digital, with the experts and teachers deciding what needs to be learned, controlling every aspect of the teaching and assessment, with most schools neither valuing or recognising the student’s individualised learning with the digital.  Tellingly not only are the children distrusted, so too are their parents.

Most schools remain strongly hierarchical organisations, tightly controlled by both government and the school executive, with not only the children and the parents distrusted but so too most teachers. Teachers globally are disempowered and micro-managed to the nth degree. Teachers, almost as much as the students are invariably obliged to use the school specified hardware and software, to use a tightly controlled network, and to follow the prescribed syllabus and assessment regime.

There are, as indicated, exceptional schools that have trusted and empowered their teachers, students and families, which have successfully built upon that trust in a BYOT program, normalised the whole school use of the digital, and vitally collaborated with the families in enhancing the children being digital (Lee and Levins, 2016).

But they remain the exception – their continued success strongly dependent on visionary often maverick heads, able to politic their way through the myriad of bureaucratic and government constraints.

Until governments and their senior education decision maker – be it a minister or superintendent – understand the centrality of trust, and openly promote school cultures that build on trust and empowerment schools will likely continue to have limited impact on the nation’s young being digital. Yes, there will always be exceptional heads, schools and classroom teachers that do make a difference. But there will continue to be, as there has been for near on forty years, great teachers burnt out by dated, stultifying organisational structures, and decision makers who refuse to let go of their control, and genuinely trust and empower the professionals, parents and students.

In advocating working from a position of trust the authors are not naively saying there is no need for astute control, for agreed operational parameters, for hierarchical structures and final decision makers.  We are also conscious of the profound impact of the digital in the last twenty plus years and that public policy makers invariably lag 10-15 years behind the technological developments (Deloitte, 2017).

We are simply commenting on the global reality that in the last twenty plus years outside the school walls when the young are trusted and supported to use and learn with the evolving digital technology they naturally grow and evolve their being digital. Moreover, they are on trend to do so lifelong.

When distrusted and disempowered they don’t.

In 2016, the authors wrote on ‘Trust and Digital Schooling’ (Lee and Broadie, 2016), noting then the inability to successfully create digital schools without trust. We observed:

Without trust schools can’t thrive in a socially networked society and sharing economy (Lee and Broadie, 2016).

Two years later, and having scrutinised the evolution and success of the digitally connected families and researched the digital education offered by schools worldwide between 1993 – 2016 (Lee and Broadie, 2018b) we more than ever stand by that observation, and add that without trust schools cannot grow the nation’s young being digital.