Roger Broadie and Mal Lee are embarking on the quest to identify the major trends and issues that they believe will impact on the nature of schooling in 2050.
The late management guru, Peter Drucker, very wisely remarked
Trying to predict the future is like trying to drive down a country road at night with no lights while looking out the back window
The best way to predict the future is to create it.
We will limit our quest to the identifying the megatrends on course to markedly impact the nature of schooling in 28 years, and the major issues school decision makers worldwide will likely have address it they are to create the desired schools.
The great benefit of Naisbitt’s seminal, and immensely popular 1984 publication on Megatrends was that it provided the general reader a succinct and clear appreciation of the trends likely to impact both society in general and its organisations.
It is well worth a revisit to appreciate how prescient was much the work, and its continued validity today.
That is what we hope, in our own humble way, we can do for global schooling.
One of the oft forgotten realities is that the ‘grammar of schooling’ worldwide is remarkably similar.
So too is the way the young of today’s digital and increasingly networked world use and learn with the digital 24/7/365 outside the school walls.
Our plan is to identify the similarities, the global trends, the philosophical and political flashpoints, and the issues to be addressed in shaping the desired schools.
As the digital evolution and transformation accelerates and impacts near every part of society school leaders in the next couple of decades will be expected to adapt to the evolving scene, while at the same time contending with ‘political masters’ who will invariably wish to maintain control of ‘their schools’.
It should make for an interesting challenge.
Between us we’ll draw on over 100 years of experience with schools and several decades of writings and research on the digital evolution and transformation of schooling and the education of the young.
Over time we intend inviting colleagues and interested readers to contribute to the thinking and finally drawing together of our read of the scene
The need is that much greater when teaching within the more networked mode.
Natural digital evolution, the pace and magnitude of the organisational transformation, the expectation that schools will continually accommodate the new normal, and the increased dependence on dynamic social networks should oblige all teachers to be reflective practitioners, able to apply the skill in their teaching and in enhancing the wider school community.
Teachers globally, particularly in the last couple of decades, have been readied in many schools and systems to make extensive use reflection in adjudging and enhancing their own teaching.
Extending the rationale underpinning the earlier post on teachers as specialists and generalists (Lee, 2022) all teachers should also be able to apply that skill to school’s working as a networked organisation.
It is no longer enough to restrict this vital professional skill to just their teaching.
It should increasingly be applied to better understanding the school’s ecosystem and networking.
In 1987 Schon astutely observed
In the varied topography of professional practice, there is a high ground overlooking a swamp. On the high ground, manageable problems lend themselves to solution through the application of research-based theory and technique. In the swampy lowland, messy, confusing problems defy technical solution. The irony of this situation is that the problems on the high ground tend to be relatively unimportant to individuals or society at, however great their interest may be, while in the swamp lie the problems of greatest human concern. The practitioner must choose. Shall he remain on the high ground where he can solve relatively unimportant problems according to prevailing standards of rigour, or shall he descend to the swamp of important problems and non-rigorous inquiry (Schon, 1987, p3)?
Significantly he made these observations before the digital and networking technology transformed the organisational landscape.
The imperative of adjudging the total topography, and not simply the ‘high ground’ is that much greater within more networked organisations, where near all operations are interconnected, the divisions are blurred and the organisation is naturally evolving, at an accelerating pace.
Tellingly the division between what is the ‘high’ and what the ‘swampy’ ground is even blurred.
Compounding the need is the increasing use being made of social networks, formal and informal, all of which are dynamic, some with a long life, others that exist only for a specific purpose. Few of the networks ever appear on an organisational chart, and few, if any have their contribution to the organisation quantified and included in a data analysis.
That said any who networked to advantage or have observed their impact, positive and negative will appreciate the importance of both the teachers and heads being able to reflect upon, shape, grow and when apt abandon the networks. We are in a world where one ill-considered post in the school’s e-newsletter can within minutes go viral and impact the school’s marketing for several years.
The COVID experience affirmed the importance of not only understanding the workings of schools as networked organisations but all professionals being able to reflect on the totality of the school’s workings, to compliment the positive, and to flag the ineffectual procedures.
The pandemic hit most every school underprepared. Schools instantly put in place what were thought to be appropriate arrangements. The informal networks quickly provided their feedback and many schools within weeks had to markedly change their approach. There was not the time to go through the ‘desired’ data collection and analysis. Rather professional reflective practitioners, working in the ‘swamp’ listened, observed and with their educational expertise and years of experience immediately made the requisite changes.
At this point in time there is little, or nothing published on the application of reflective practice across total school ecosystems, and in particular those strongly networked. Indeed Schon’s 1987 work on Educating the Reflective Practitioner that devoted many pages to schoolteachers concentrated on the classrooms and post graduate practicums.
That shortcoming needs to be rectified. It is appreciated that will take time, and some astute thinking as folk seek to get a better handle on already highly complex, integrated, rapidly evolving, unique, synergistic ecosystems.
But that need shouldn’t stop schools immediately growing the ability of all teachers to better reflect on the practises of the total school. As COVID underscored they are already working in networked schools that need to be better understood immediately.
Critical is the willingness of the head to genuinely respect, trust and empower all teachers, and to give them the requisite agency and support.
In brief the teachers have to be treated as education professionals.
Schon makes the oft neglected critical observation that all professionals in learning their profession grow their memory muscle, knowing instinctively what to do at any given moment. That holds equally in teaching. It is a vital quality that comes from years of experience, reflection and is a professional capability that should be respected and valued.
Without respect for that professionalism by the head it is pointless a school or system contemplating the growth of reflective practitioners.
In growing the teacher’s capability to reflect upon, and adjudge the total ecosystem, particularly the ‘swampy’ elements it is important, as flagged in earlier posts, to grow their macro understanding of the school’s workings within the networked mode.
Much of that understanding can be naturally developed as teachers go about their daily work, but with a major caveat. The head must orchestrate the creation and evolution of a digital and networked learning environment and culture, that daily involves teachers in all manner of across school community projects, teaching teams, working groups, committees and critically networks, an involvement that naturally grows the understanding.
That involvement will, from experience also naturally grow the use of a stronger digital and networked mindset in every facet of their work.
While growing the macro understanding schools, as all the good ones do let their teachers also pursie their interests and apply their particular talents where best suited.
Globally most every networked organisation is readying it’s professionals to better understand and shape the workings of increasingly interconnected, naturally synergistic, and complex networked organisations.
Some highly sophisticated research is being undertaken and quality tools are being developed.
In a networked society the art is to take advantage of those developments and to apply them to your own setting.
Schön, D (1987) Educating the reflective practitioner, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco.
All teachers and heads, and indeed all school decision makers should understand the workings of schools operating as networked organisations, the impact the new mode will have on their teaching and the school, the possibilities open and the implications that flow.
So too they should recognise the uniqueness of schools as networked organisations, and the constraints that uniqueness will impose.
But most crucially all should understand networked organisations are dramatically different entities to the traditional school, on trend to be evermore so.
Networked schools oblige all within to continually attune their ways and thinking to a naturally evolving, increasingly integrated, socially networked, and complex synergistic environment. It is a natural transformation over which governments have limited control.
It is a macro understanding that will assist them recognise the almost boundless opportunities the mode provides to enhance the teaching, but also alerts them to the need to continually adjust their ways as they seek to reap the potentially considerable dividends.
One of the greater adjustments will entail enhancing and making greater everyday use of their social networking skills and understanding. All need to appreciate the power and centrality of both the formal and informal social networks, their pervasiveness, dynamic nature, the openings they can provide, the efficiencies, and economies they can yield, the unintended impact they can have and why the art of networking is a core skill every teacher needs to grow throughout their career.
It is appreciated it’s art that isn’t likely recognised in any teacher standards document, selection criteria, data set, initial teacher education or professional development program but it is central to the workings, growth and critically the leadership (Asia Bank, 2017) of networked organisations.
Traditionally schools have operated as largely stand – alone, insular, segmented, organisations, that controlled their own affairs, used their own resources, all literally within the school walls.
That insularity was in large dictated by the use, and in time the dependence, on paper as the underpinning technology. Paper, while historically a revolutionary technology, was and remains a limited technology. Be it in the form of books, work sheets, exercise books or letters paper must be distributed by hand, and as such needed to be used within a physically compact site.
As Tyack and Cuban (1995) noted, few thought little about the situation. That is what schools were. Or at least until an infinitely more sophisticated technology began displacing paper and changing the operating base.
The schools were moreover relatively simple, loosely – coupled organisations (Weick, 1976), built upon largely autonomous, segmented divisions, invariably located within distinct sections of the school site. Likely paper played its part in fostering that segmentation and the creation of discrete infants schools, science faculties, art departments and the like, all having their own space, which most staff rarely left during the working week.
It was relatively easy to scrutinise the work of each division.
Even in the 1990s most schools operated as stand-alone entities, with the internal units run largely autonomously.
Most schools in the 1990s had only telephone lines at best in the faculty rooms, rarely any within the classrooms.
The insularity and segmentation were heightened by the invariably strongly hierarchical organisational and communications structures, where all powerful unit heads focussed on their part of the educational production line. Few departmental heads were concerned about the macro workings of the school.
While astute social networking was important, particularly within the establishment schools, it’s use was very much limited by the communication’s technology. Some might recall long distance calls were a big deal, expensive, made only after gaining approval.
That situation largely held until the start of this century.
As the networks spread, became ever faster, more sophisticated, inexpensive, and ubiquitous they unobtrusively began fundamentally transforming schools’ workings and challenging long accepted thinking and practises – on trend to evermore so.
Those challenges should be addressed by a knowing staff forever onwards.
The physical, and the associated social networking, allied with the efficiencies and opportunities that came with digital convergence soon lessened the use of paper, lowered internal and external school walls, transformed school communication, blurred long established boundaries, challenged the retention of aged practises, and promoted increased integration and staff and job reconfiguration.
While the rate and extent of the transformation has been different in every school, in less than twenty years schools worldwide have ceased being stand-alone, insular, largely segmented organisations working only with their own resources and have become more networked organisations, outward looking, increasing dependent on the resources and connectivity of the networked world.
As Lipnack and Stamps (1994) presciently observed the possibilities with networked organisations are virtually boundless, limited in the main by the human imagination.
In 2010 Lee and Finger, and group of international colleagues wrote of Developing a Networked School Community (2010).
They envisioned this type of scenario.
Figure 2.3: Networked School Community – Mid range structural Change
Lee and Finger (2010, p42).
They moreover detailed the many educational, economic, social, and political advantages and challenges of the networked mode.
In reflecting on the model, it is much the same as that schools unwittingly employed during the COVID lockdown, with the ‘school’ operating online, the Cloud providing most of the resources, and the student’s and teacher’s homes the facilitating infrastructure and connectivity.
That networking, and the use of the expertise and resources of others is on trend to increase, but with several significant caveats.
Physical schools, that students attend most working days of the year will remain the norm.
The fully virtual networked organisation will remain the exception in schooling, restricted in the main to distance education, and older age cohorts.
The full productivity of nations can only be achieved when the young attend the physical place called school and the free the parents to work.
Schools as networked organisations have thus – likely always – to operate and grow within the now century plus old traditional school structures.
The current, often dated, legislation of most every nation will moreover limit, likely forever, school – and hence government – control of the networked school to within the school walls, and school hours. While the technology and desire might exist to extend that control several high level court cases have already made it clear the legislation will restrict school and government control to the traditional remit.
Any effort to extend that control will on present indications be vehemently opposed by most of the electorate. The young and old expect, nay demand they be in charge of their personal use of the digital 24/7/365, lifelong. By extension digitally connected families expect to control the family use of their technology, free from government involvement.
The emerging reality is that the more schools network and spread their operational footprint they won’t have formal control over a sizeable portion, unless they genuinely prepared to collaborate, and respect, trust and empower all powers in the wider networked community.
Currently the signs are that only in a small proportion of schools and education systems recognise the irrevocable transition to a more networked mode occurring, the possibilities and the imperative of better understanding the new scenario.
Presently most schools and governments appear to be more interested in using the network technology to unilaterally control ‘their’ schools and maintain as best they can traditional ways.
It bears remembering that the same network technology can be used equally well to control and micromanage every school operation, or to trust, empower and genuinely collaborate with one’s community.
You can be best attest to how it is being used in your situation, but it is highly likely that you are in a school that has transitioned to a more networked mode but where every facet of the school’s workings is still unilaterally controlled by the school and/or the state.
How long the electorate will allow its schools to reject the new normal time only will tell.
Central to life within a networked society is trust, empowerment, and agency.
All digitally connected peoples, but particularly the young expect to be trusted to use and learn with the digital as desired, with the agency to use the capability largely unfettered.
People want to have control of their use of and learning with the digital, and to exercise that control lifelong
It matters not whether folk are three (Chaudron, 2015), 15, in their 40’s or in a care home.
We all expect to choose our own suite of digital devices, to configure them as we desire and to use them the instant wanted, how we wish, and to learn what we want, anywhere, anytime, 24/7/365.
Moreover, we expect to connect at speed.
We accept the need to act responsibly, and work within boundaries, but the underpinning expectation – the default setting – is that everyone regardless of age or situation should be respected as an individual, trusted, empowered, and have the agency to use the technology they desire, as they desire largely unfettered.
You, like I, see government being involved only when we breach the law.
And yet the moment the students, parents and teachers move through the school gate government exerts its unilateral control.
It says that it rejects society’s new normals, and it will continue to distrust and disempower the students, parents, and most of its teachers. Moreover, it will unilaterally decide what technology will be used, which not, how it will be configured and used. It alone will decide what will be taught and assessed, how and when, and that the students will continue to be taught the same material, still in large class groups.
There is invariably scant, if any, willingness to trust, empower any of the ‘clients’, to listen to them or to give them any agency.
How long the dichotomy will be accepted by society at both the individual school and system level will be interesting to watch.
It is a dichotomy that in many ways bids all question the nature and purpose of schooling within a networked society, and the extent to which the electorate is prepared to accept unilateral government control.
Bestowing trust means distributing the control of the teaching and learning, something governments worldwide are reluctant to do today as they seek to use ‘their’ schools for political advantage.
It is most assuredly a ‘new normal’, a tension all associated with schools are going to have to contend with until the school practises mirror those of society.
What is already apparent from several notable US court rulings that any efforts by education authorities to extend their control beyond the physical school walls will be challenged and judging by the rulings thus far will be thwarted.
Unwittingly the COVID experience, the necessity of schools to rely upon the home resources of its digitally connected families and teachers, and to trust and give both greater agency likely added pressure to the school’s needing to adopt a more collaborative and socially networked mode of schooling.
Simultaneously the dependence on the family personal resources likely also enhanced the agency of the parents, an agency that many parents will see as the new normal and will not forego.
Notwithstanding if a survey was conducted with the present school and system leadership most would probably still contend only, they have the expertise to decide what is right for every child, not the parents, the teachers or indeed the students.
Prior to 2020 only the exceptional schools recognised the educational desirability of transitioning to the networked mode, of empowering its community, actively taking advantages of its resources and expertise, and creating networked school communities.
What the situation is today only those in the schools can tell.
Sadly, in the end when it comes to trust and agency it is all about control, and whether governments, and in many instances religious orders, and their bureaucrats, are willing to cede some control of ‘their’ schools.
Despite the spin rarely do governments have the apt education of the young as their priority.
Intriguingly the more one delves the more one appreciates how little trust there has been in traditional schooling, the extent to which the governments continue to use schools to enhance their power and the challenge even the most capable of heads and educators will have in running a school based on trust, agency, and genuine respect.
Chaudron, S (2015) Young Children (0-8) and Digital Technology Luxembourg, European Commission JRC and Policy Reports 2015 -http://publications.jrc.ec.europa.eu/repository/handle/JRC93239
Society will expect, possibly unwittingly, the natural evolution and transformation evidenced in daily life and near ever organisation to be mirrored in its schools.
It will moreover expect the lessons learned from the COVID experience also to be taken on board.
In the last two years the transformative impact of these two developments has seen the popularisation, and global embrace of the term, the ‘new normal’. It has come to mean
a previously unfamiliar or atypical situation that has become standard, usual, or expected (OED)
It particularly pertains to the new ways of doing things society expects to be an everyday facet of life, work, and learning.
While in some senses a redundant expression, in that the societal norm automatically evolves as society changes, the problem is that the term ‘normal’ has become synonymous with a sense of conformity, constancy and a lack of deviation from the established ways.
The desire would appear to be to use a term that better communicates the speed with which some societal norms are evolving. Particularly apparent during the pandemic were the many situations where what was ‘normal’ at the beginning of the year had been superseded by a ‘new normal’ six months later.
Leaving aside the semantics the crucial point for teachers and heads to recognise is that inherent in the transition of schooling is the expectation that schools will continually accommodate the ‘new normals’.
While much of the accommodation has been, and will likely continue to be, relatively easy there has been, and always will be a set of issues, trends, and developments that will challenge the accepted ways and ask hard questions.
As the digital disruption accelerates, widens, and becomes that much more transformative so schools will likely be expected, implicitly and explicitly, to address evermore of the hard questions. Fountain pens, immersion in a library of old books, pull down blackboards, teachers ability to control the flow of information and being free to teach as one wishes behind the closed classroom door, no matter how treasured the ways of a digital and networked world are no longer.
There might be well be good educational reasons for choosing to stay with the traditional ways that the parent community will accept.
There might equally be reasons that appear sound to heads and staff that the students and parents don’t believe mirror the thinking and ways of today’s world.
Heads are going, likely increasingly, and forever on, to have make some difficult calls and lead.
Ideally schools, like businesses, should be ready to naturally accommodate the evolving new normals. The thinking, the culture, the processes, the staff, the curriculum, the school community should be attuned to providing the desired constancy while simultaneously continually providing a contemporary education.
It is likely however most schools today are still attuned to a world of constancy, continuity, and conformity, ill prepared to handle rapid, uncertain, potentially transformative change.
Many, possibly most, principals and schools still likely see the pandemic as a temporary irritation that once over will allow them to return to their ‘normal ways’.
What is thinking in your school?
Businesses wanting to thrive within the ever evolving world have long chartered changing client expectations with highly sophisticated tools.
Most schools have likely not followed that path. Indeed, experience as a head and educational administrator suggests that many loath the idea that students and parents are clients, whose expectations must be heard. Rather they, and often government, remain strongly of the belief that only they have the expertise and understanding to decide what is appropriate for the students.
The past 25 plus years suggests that mindset can accommodate the less disruptive of the new normals.
How well a top down leadership approach can accommodate the more challenging new normals described in the next post is moot.
In an increasingly socially networked world, where the digital mindset is so pervasive, organisational transformation is accelerating and where trust, agency, collaboration, working in teams and being highly agile and flexible is increasingly important unilateral control from on high might well be ineffectual, and indeed unacceptable to most staff, students, and parents.
The latter is very much the view coming out of the research with those digitally mature corporations that have successfully accommodated both the digital evolution and COVID (Deloitte, 2017, (Kane, et.al, 2016), (Kane, et al, 2017). It reinforces the imperative of the chief executive officer distributing control and responsibility and giving the professionals the agency to assist shape the desired ever evolving digital ecosystem.
That distribution of agency is crucial to readying schools to naturally accommodate the new normals.
The transition of schooling from its traditional, insular paper based mode to one that is increasingly networked has been in the main a natural evolutionary development.
It is moreover an inexorable evolution, that is on trend to become faster, more sophisticated, wide reaching, transformative and to be part of schooling forever.
Critically the transition parallels the transformation occurring within most other organisations, private and public sector, as they make greater use of the digital and networking, and the digital convergence, AI and greater efficiencies promote more tightly integrated, synergistic, and interconnected digital ecosystems.
No world body, with visionary educators planned or shaped the transformation.
No government/s funded the phenomenon.
Rather it evolved naturally out of the confluence of a suite of global developments, linked in the main to the exponential growth in the power of the digital and the networking of the world.
The challenge for schools, likely including yours, is that most education decision makers, and likely most educational researchers believe, often fervently, that every facet of school growth must planned. Nothing can be left to chance. All growth must be approached in a highly rationale, largely linear manner, the progress measured, and the lessons learned factored into the next plan.
Educational bureaucracies worldwide insist schools have detailed planning documents, that identify to the nth degree the learning outcomes that will be the focus of the school’s work and reporting. In some of the more highly controlled education authorities priority is given those few outcomes to the near exclusion of all else.
There is little or no place for unplanned or unintended developments, or for the optimisation of the unintended developments no matter beneficial they might be.
With many schools there is little chance of moving away from ‘the plan’.
Implicit is the belief that humans can control every variable at play within in a school, within a tightly interconnected, rapidly evolving world, and plan accordingly.
It is a mindset that likely contributed to the failure by most not to see the transition by the world’s schools to the more networked mode. While focussing on the forest floor they didn’t see that the forest had changed.
You’ll struggle to find any that acknowledge the students and teachers in their personal lives have been, and are naturally growing their digital mindset, the digital competencies they want and are continually adapting their ways to the global change.
Similarly, it will likely be difficult to find any harnessing that natural growth in their staff development.
Significantly few schools appear to have factored into their planning the realities of natural, chaotic evolution (Pascale et.al, 2000), digital disruption, the inefficiency of the evolutionary growth or the importance of shaping the natural evolution to advantage.
What moves has your school made in this area in its planning?
Have you, has the school, paused, and wondered how it is that the digitally connected young of the world, all using their own digital devices in a strongly individualised, laissez faire, largely unfettered manner, use and learn with them in a remarkably similar way?
It is a fascinating expression of natural evolution. As far back at the late 90s Tapscott (1998) identified the universal mores and attributes that the Net generation had grown in but a few years in their use of the internet.
The same similarity of thinking and use is to be found today, as we discuss in a future post.
Over 50% of the world’s 8 billion plus population are digitally connected (ITU, 2020), as are 70% plus of the world’s young (UNICEF, 2017), with the trend very much to near universal connectivity.
All have naturally grown their digital mindset, competencies and being digital in their 24/7/365 use and learning with the digital – not in a classroom.
Neither schools nor government have played any major part in funding the personal connectivity of the world’s 4 billion plus people, in providing the devices or in supporting their learning. The devices and connectivity have been bought by the families of the world.
Perelman astutely observed in 1992 that near all the users of personal computers had taught themselves and would continue to do so into the future.
That is the reality.
It is moreover a reality, and a capability that schools and governments were able to instantly capitalise upon when schools shut their doors in early 2020. Few have fleshed out why governments globally were immediately able to ask the teachers to teach from their homes, and the students, K-12, to partake immediately in a fully networked teaching. Neither government nor the schools have played any major part in growing that capability.
Indeed, a growing commentary suggests that most schools and education authorities even in 2021 still don’t fund or actively support their staff teaching from home.
Does your school or government for example contribute to the cost of setting up your home office or connectivity?
In the early 1980’s Naisbitt (Naisbitt, 1984) alerted the world, but particularly the business world, to the megatrends shaping the world, and the facility at best to shape those forces to advantage.
40 years later, and 50 plus years since Gordon Moore enunciated his hypothesis the ability to shape the megatrends is that much more challenging.
Even more so is deliberately going against the megatrends. Societal expectations, particularly with businesses, but also with schools would soon render unviable any that chose not to adapt.
The critical leadership skill today for both heads and increasingly teachers is to better understand the evolutionary megatrends impacting schooling and to shape those forces to continually provide the desired schooling.
School planning, like that in every organisation is vital but it should be of a type apt for the day and situation, that accommodates both the planned and unplanned growth, and which has the capacity to readily adjusted to often rapidly changing circumstances.
The lesson the COVID experience has taught everyone, and every organisation is imperative of being flexible and agile, able to change plans literally within hours.
It is ever more important schools do what businesses have done since at least the 1990s (Thorpe, 1998) and be open to swiftly identifying the potential unintended benefits and disbenefits. The transition to a more networked mode will have its up and downsides. Schools should be ready to identify, adjudge and optimise the unintended benefits and quickly quash the inevitable disbenefits.
Contrary to the belief held by likely most educational decision makers one can argue that all the major worldwide educational changes that have occurred in the last twenty plus years have been unplanned. The emergence of digitally connected families, their lead role in growing their children’s digital mindset, and use of and learning with the digital, the growth of the young being digital, social networking, the shift from a predominantly text based mode of learning and communication to one that is increasingly multi-media and visual and the facility for the nation’s young to take charge of their learning anywhere, anytime 24/7/365 were all unplanned.
One will struggle to identify a planned global educational development that matches the aforementioned.
That reality should be factored into the school’s planning and workings.
Amplifying that need is the imperative of every school factoring into its planning and operations the accommodation of what society regards as the ‘new normals’.
The COVID -19 experience, coupled with the transition to the more networked mode is already shaping as a watershed moment in the history of schooling.
The pandemic alerted the world to the historic transformation underway, accelerated the transition, forced teachers, students, parents and schools to pool their resources and collaborate in the teaching, obliged schools to accommodate societies rapidly evolving expectations and bid them think about the desired nature of the school within a connected world.
Importantly the pandemic, coupled with the network technology necessitated schools use the digital resources of the student’s homes, to collaborate with and actively involve the digitally connected families in the teaching and provide the parents a historic insight into the school’s teaching and workings.
It gave young parents an agency that many are likely not to relinquish lightly.
COVID, in its stress testing of every facet of facet of society and its organisations both transformed significant aspects of life, work and learning and posed fundamental questions of near every organisation.
It did the same with schools. It identified their strengths and shortcomings and asked how fit for purpose were they to educate the nation’s young today.
Significantly the pandemic revealed to school communities worldwide the extent to which ‘their’ school had transitioned from their traditional paper base to one that was more networked, and how ready it was to teach in an increasingly networked mode.
Whether the schools saw that ‘reveal’, as flagged in the first post is moot.
The pandemic showed that most all schools could, albeit to varying degrees, educate its students in a fully networked mode, as well as on site, and use a mix of the two modes.
Importantly it revealed that near all students and teachers had in their personal lives naturally grown their digital mindset and competencies, and had the home connectivity and infrastructure, and in the case of the students the family support, to partake in a fully networked mode of teaching and learning.
That said the COVID experience also highlighted the disturbing social inequities existent in most all schools, with the socially economically advantaged continuing to be advantaged while those less well off, and the marginalised were further disadvantaged. Very early in the pandemic the digital divide, even in nations with 90% plus home connectivity, became strikingly obvious. As did the failure by near all authorities to have put in place the measures to guarantee equity of digital access and home connectivity for all students.
While, for example it is estimated that 9 million plus students (Tyton, 2021) were enrolled in ‘learning pods’ and ‘micro-schools’ in the US in 2020 during the shutdown all were paid for by advantaged families, for advantaged children.
The poor were left to fend for themselves.
The pandemic also reminded the world that schooling the nation’s young entailed far more than the teaching and testing of a few academic subjects. Schools are not and should never be simply about PISA scores.
Schools are nation’s tools for growing, educating, and nurturing all its young. The many concerns brought to the fore during COVID about student alienation, dropping student retention rates, poor socialisation, student well-being, mental health, digital inequities, the marginalised, racism and the treatment of girls are all matters society rightly should expect schools to play a major role in addressing.
Unintentionally COVID reminded societies and their governments schools were unique organisations. They have simultaneously to be constant while also contemporaneous, always adapting their ways to meet society’s evolving expectations.
The pandemic affirmed the constancy in making it clear to all, that the existing school organisational structures that the world has known for a century plus, could not be changed. They were immutable. Society expects schools, likely more than ever, to nurture and educate the students during set times each day, five days a week, for most of the year within the physical place called school.
The social, educational, economic, and political imperative became daily more apparent.
Tellingly the transition to a more networked mode has successfully occurred within the existing structures and will in most instances have to continue doing so in the decades ahead.
COVID laid to rest the belief by many futurists that that the core school organisational structures can be changed, and that the technology removes the need for site based schooling.
COVID also shattered the myth that all schools were the same. It revealed that all had not transitioned to the networked mode at the same rate, nor were all at the same point in their transitioning.
Rather it demonstrated to students and parents globally that every school was unique. Different styles of leadership, mix of staff, heritage, clientele, context, aspirations, shaping vision, culture and level of resourcing all contribute to that uniqueness.
What the pandemic did was to alert school communities to the different stages schools were at in their transition, and that the differences would likely grow. While the astute, visionary heads were shaping highly focussed, tightly integrated networked learning communities, others were trying to retain the ‘grammar of schooling’ within the more networked mode. One school observed tried to do the latter with a 100% migration of its site based schooling online, even to the extent of using the existing lesson times, mandating the students wear uniforms and imposing detentions on those who transgressed.
The imperative of each school shaping their own desired transition became that more apparent.
As did that of schools accommodating, as best they could the ‘new normals’ expected by the wider society. The speed with which schools were required to adopt those changing expectations during the course of the pandemic will be long remembered.
COVID bid each school, like every other organisation, rethink its purpose, its fit for today’s world and to tackle the pitfalls that invariably come with digital disruption, and increased networking.
It should have prompted schools to clarify their educational purpose and the nature of teaching they want to use in a rapidly evolving, seemingly chaotic, networked world.
Was there any such contemplation in your school?
What became apparent globally was that the digital and network technology can be equally well used to unilaterally control and micromanage every facet of the teaching and learning or to distribute the control, to trust and give agency to the teachers, students and parents and have them work collaboratively in the teaching of the young.
What approach would you take?
Which does you school employ?
Has your school begun to address the issues highlighted during the shutdown?
Do for example all students need to physically attend a place called school, all the time?
What mix of face to face and networked teaching should the school now use, at different age levels, in different areas of learning?
Is yours a school where the socially and economically are further advantaged, and the marginalised are still disadvantaged or does it need to provide all a more equitable contemporary education?
Should ‘success’ at your school still be equated solely with the ability to perform well in handwritten exams that assess academic knowledge, or should it embody something broader, that includes both academic attainment and the ability to thrive within rapidly evolving, uncertain networked organisations?
This series of posts will not attempt to decide on the purpose or the nature of schooling.
Nor will they suggest any one mode of schooling is better, or indeed what mix of on-site and networked teaching is most appropriate.
It leaves that to the school, and education authority.
Moreover, they will make no effort to provide a rationale for the natural transition to a more networked mode, or to identify the plusses or minuses of the global phenomenon.
Rather the posts will address the reality, and hopefully assist shape the desired transition, while at the same time factoring in living with COVID.
Tyton Partners (2021) School Disrupted. Part 2. July 2021
Transitioning from Traditional to Networked Schooling
Schooling worldwide is moving inexorably from its traditional, largely stand-alone, strongly paper based mode to one that is increasingly networked and digital.
The extent of the transition has already been profound, even in the more conservative of schools, far more than most likely have realised, on trend to become even greater.
It has however been largely unseen, unplanned and undocumented, hidden in part by contemporary society’s ready acceptance of the evolving new normal. It is highly likely that most teachers won’t have appreciated the magnitude of the change, although being central to the development.
Indeed, this is likely the first article to describe the transition, and to alert the education community to the transformation underway.
The implications of the transition for all schools, teaching, and indeed all school operations are already immense. However in many respects the world is still in the early stage of the more networked mode, just beginning to understand the ramifications of the development.
While coming blogs will touch upon some of those ramifications far greater analysis at the school and macro level by many more in the years ahead will be needed.
What however is clear is that all associated with schools, but particularly the teachers and heads, need to better understand the global phenomenon. They need to understand the key features, the trends, how the teaching and school have already been transformed, the shift to more tightly coupled digitally based ecosystems, able to adjudge the impact of the transition on the desired schooling, and how they might best assist shape the natural, inexorable transition to advantage.
Serendipitously the COVID pandemic, in its stress testing of every facet of schooling, has alerted societies worldwide to the transition that has occurred since the 90s, and affirmed the world has reached the point where for the first time in human history schooling can be provided remotely, in a fully networked mode and not just within a physical place.
In the space of 25 years near all the developed world’s, and increasingly the developing and undeveloped world’s classrooms, K-12 have transitioned from being telecommunications deserts to being networked. Schools have transitioned from a few, highly guarded, 56K phone lines, with none in the classrooms to near all teachers and classrooms having ready connectivity to high speed, multiple media, broadband networks.
In the early 90s a head had several weeks to contemplate the reply to be posted to the office. Near all communication, and virtually every aspect of teaching was paper based, handwriting was all important, books were dominant, the photocopiers daily consumed reams, and the control of the mail stamps and long distance phone calls was paramount.
Schools, three quarters of a century on from their standardisation around 1920, were still insular, largely stand-alone, loosely coupled (Weick, 1976) organisations that operated behind closed doors, replicating year in and year out, what Tyack and Cuban (1995) termed as the ‘grammar of schooling’.
The basic grammar of schooling, like the shape of classrooms, has remained remarkably stable over the decades. Little has changed in the ways schools divide time and space, classify students and allocate them to classrooms, splinter knowledge into ‘subjects’ and award grades and ‘credits’ as evidence of learning (Tyack and Cuban, 1995, p85).
……Established institutional forms come to be understood by educators, student and the public as necessary features of ‘real’ school. They become fixed in place by everyday custom in schools and by outside forces, by legal mandates and cultural beliefs, until they are barely noticed. They become just the way schools are (Tyack and Cuban, 1995, p86).
Schools were viewed as places of constancy, continuity and sameness.
Serendipitously as much the same time as Tyack and Cuban their observation schools, usually unheralded, began to be networked, initially internally within the administration, library and a few computer labs, and then also externally via a series of ever larger connections to the Internet.
In historic terms the transition to a more networked mode has been rapid, starting slowly in the 1990s, gathering pace in the 2000s, and accelerating evermore since 2010.
As seemingly recent as early 2010 the world and its schools could not have handled the pandemic like it did but 10 years later. The iPad revolution had yet to be launched, apps were unheard of by most, the broadband connectivity was lacking, and the primary school age cohort had yet to grow its digital mindset and competencies.
By early 2020 they had. 90% plus of digitally connected families across the developed world had the digital mindset, infrastructure, competencies, broadband connectivity and vitally the desire to collaborate with their schools in a fully networked mode and to support their children. Indeed, few questioned the ability of Year 2 children to participate in Zoom lessons. It was part of the new normal.
Critically near all teachers, mostly of their volition, had also grown their digital mindset, competencies, home infrastructure and connectivity to a level where they could teach remotely from home.
On reflection it has been the networking technology, the connectivity and the facility for ever greater, inexpensive social networking that has been the game changer – far more so than the digital devices.
Significantly history has affirmed the transition to the more networked mode has been in the main a natural evolutionary development. It is on trend not only to increasingly impact every facet of society, learning and the operation of most every organisation, but should also oblige all organisations, including schools to rethink their workings, the desired human resources, their fit for purpose and the aptness of their planning in an environment that necessitates they accommodate both the planned and unplanned developments.
For schools and education authorities still wedded to the belief that all change can and must controlled, planned and measured, natural, often seemingly chaotic evolution and transformation could be a significant challenge. Many could struggle to reconcile the reality that one of the most significant and transformative changes in the history of schooling has been, and continues to be, unplanned, and that they not only failed to see the change but, in their planning, failed to accommodate the phenomenon.
In the accelerating digital disruption of the world there will in the adaption to the new continue to be the plusses and minuses, and inevitable tensions as people grapple with what of the old to retain, and what to let go, with some gaining power at the expense of others.
That will be true of near all schools.
Schools, like every other organisation, can at best shape the global transition to a more networked mode to advantage, optimising the benefits, remediating the disbenefits, while continually adapting their workings to provide the desired education.
They cannot stop the transition.
Society will expect schools as public institutions to adapt and accommodate the new normal.
Approached astutely, with a clearly understood purpose, understanding the nature of the transition, the forces at play and being willing to factor in both the planned and unplanned individual schools globally have demonstrated they can not only adapt but thrive.
Neither this or the future posts will attempt to rationalise the world’s, or schooling’s transition to a more networked mode, or to discuss the pros and cons.
It is pointless.
Rather the focus will be on working with the reality.
One of the realities is how readily all manner of societies have adapted their ways to the accelerating, all-pervasive, digital evolution and transformation, and embrace, invariably unconsciously, the evolving new normals. Invariably it is only when one stops and reflects does the ease of much of the adaption to the emerging digital technologies and increasingly powerful digital ecosystems, and the willingness to abandon the old ways become apparent. Few comment on the normality in 2021 of near all elders using their smartphones and QR codes, but it is an immense social transformation that barely rates a comment.
Parents, students, the media and government all speak in the COVID world of returning schools to ‘normal’. In reality most are likely talking about a return to site based, face to face schooling. A related reality is that post COVID most will unwittingly expect a ‘new normal’; a schooling that incorporates many of the plusses that emerged during the fully networked mode. Video conferencing in some form for example has likely already become a normal part of everyday schooling.
In reflecting on the transition and the evolving ‘new normal’ one will soon appreciate that the expectation will be that they are accommodated by the schools.
Their accommodation – or more likely the refusal to do so – has already created tensions, and will continue to do so, probably at an ever higher level as the transition accelerates.
Think for a moment on the transition that has occurred in your school in the last couple of decades, the transformation that has taken place in near every facet of your school’s workings, and the issues raised and tensions generated as some staff sought to retain the ways of the past, while others wanted to take advantage of new opportunities.
In reflecting consider the myriad of issues and options that accompany the development.
There is much to be gained by analysing the transition within all facets of your school’s workings in the last 20 years.
How that might best be done will be addressed in the next post.
What however will be immediately apparent will be the
magnitude of the transition
shift from a paper based operation to one that is ever more digital and networked
ever greater use of networked teaching
shift to a more tightly coupled organisation
movement from a highly insular to more networked learning environment
inexorable, often unplanned nature of the phenomenon and the strength of the megatrends
importance of readying the staff and school to thrive within the significantly different teaching environment.
What should also be apparent has been the profound impact COVID has had in accelerating the transition to the more networked mode.
Tyack, D and Cuban, L (1995). Tinkering Toward Utopia. Cambridge. Massachusetts. Harvard University Press.
Weick, K (1976) ‘Educational organisations as loosely coupled systems’. Administrative Science Quarterly 21 1976
The 2020 COVID – 19 pandemic obliged schools and their communities like never before to address the facility to move to a more digitally based schooling.
Notwithstanding we expect most schools, education authorities, teacher education institutions and governments to return as soon as possible to the standard model of schooling, still shaped by an analogue mindset, having no desire to go digital.
But we are also aware of notable exceptions worldwide that used the digital astutely, who grew as school communities during the pandemic and which will continue to grow as digitally mature organisations.
Our desire is to use this site to monitor and reflect upon the digital evolution of schooling.
Serendipitously over the last year Roger Broadie and I have been focussed on readying a new publication on the digital for ACER Press Australia.
The challenge given by the Publisher was to address the reality that a quarter of a century on from the world going online the use of the digital in most schools worldwide remained peripheral.
While the digitally connected young and their families globally had normalised the 24/7/365 use of the digital most schools had not.
Could we write a book that addressed that challenge, and assisted teachers and trainee teachers normalise the use of the digital in their teaching?
We’ve written a book entitled Digital Teachers. Digital Mindsets.
It will be released early 2021.
The book takes as its premise that every teacher, K-12 should in 2020 to be a digital teacher, shaping their teaching with a digital mindset.
It reasoned that most every teacher in 2020 shapes their personal lives with a digital mindset.
Teachers, like all of us expect to use our digital devices the moment desired, to connect instantly anywhere, anytime, at speed, 24/7/365, to use the personal devices they want, configured how they like, with the agency to use and learn with the digital as they desire.
The moment most of those teachers walk through the school gate they revert to using an aged analogue mindset. They assume learning with the digital must be tightly controlled, taught by specialist ICT teachers, with the students distrusted and disempowered, and needing to do and learn what the ‘experts’ believe best. The focus is the technology, and the ‘right’ technology at that, with all students mastering the same skills.
The aim of the new book is to assist every teacher, at every level, in every area of learning normalise the use of the apt tools of the contemporary world in their teaching, shaping the use with a digital mindset.
The argument is the thinking, an apt contemporary mindset not the technology per se must shape the teaching and learning.
Mid way through the writing COVID-19 struck, affirming the necessity of every teacher, in every school being able to operate from a digital base.
Tellingly the pandemic stress tested every facet of schooling, and in particular its ability to work digitally, remotely and with an apt shaping mindset.
While there were important notable exceptions most teachers, schools, education authorities and governments were ill-prepared.
The continued dominance of an analogue mindset, dependence on a century old ‘grammar of schooling’, focus on the basics and expectation that the digital would be used only within the existing organisational structures did little to ready teachers or schools to go digital.
As governments, education authorities, schools and education unions and professional associations review their performance during the pandemic and ‘stress testing’ we believe it important to make that thinking readily available and to critique the findings.
In the coming months – and likely years – we intend doing just that and monitoring the evolution of schooling, at the same time as we elaborate on the thinking within Digital Teachers, Digital Mindsets.
Below are links to two important pieces of research, both of which relate to equity of access to the digital.
Should education authorties persist with their school smartphone bans at a time when nations are rolling out their corona virus contact tracing apps?
Why shouldn’t medical authorities be able to trace potential corona virus contacts among the young in schools, by using the smarts of the technology?
As governments globally promote the benefits of students learning from home, come to better understand the many benefits of using the student’s digital devices and debate how best to minimise the risks associated with reopening schools is it not time to revisit the bans many governments placed on smartphones in schools?
Virtually overnight the pandemic has obliged educational decision to markedly rethink the contribution the digital can make to the education and well-being of the nation’s young.
Part of that rethink should be the critical part the young’s personal devices play in their 24/7/365 development, learning and well-being in a digital and socially networked society.
A related aspect is the imperative of school decision makers recognising in 2020 schools are part of an increasingly interconnected and networked world, where smartphones are the device no one, and most assuredly the young can do without.
It is surely time for all to understand that the highly sophisticated smartphones in the student’s hands are devices of enormous power and potential – that require smart minds to realise that potential.
The corona virus tracing app is but one example of how the devices can be used for the good.
There are endless other possibilities.
But none will be realised while ever the Luddite stance is maintained and teachers’ ability to explore those possibilities is denied.