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The Traditional School Structures Will Never Change

Greg McKay

Mal Lee

The core organisational structures of schooling were standardised around 1920.

They remain the same today, with it ever more apparent they will never change. 

For the last century billions have been spent seeking to vary the standard structures.

It has born a veritable school change industry and the belief by governments globally that sustained school change is easy.

It is not.  It is near impossible.

The constraints at play are immense.

There have been some changes in exceptional situations that have been sustained for decades but a century on they remain the exception.

It is time for all associated with schools to recognise the structural constancy they are working with, to stop tilting at the windmills of structural change and accept successful sustained change is possible only within the existing school structures.

It is time for the many calling for revolutionary school change, particularly in light of the pandemic, to understand the reality and to work with the givens.

Societies, parents and governments worldwide expect the nation’s young to physically attend a place called school, most days of the week, at set times each day, most weeks of the year, breaking for the agreed holidays. 

They moreover expect them to be taught in class groups, based in the main on age, and for the students to move in a largely lock step manner through 12-13 years of schooling. 

The schools and teachers are expected to take prime responsibility for the children’s school time care and development, and the provision of an apt holistic contemporary education.

Those expectations were stress tested, like every other facet of schooling, by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The pandemic affirmed socially, economically and educationally worldwide the critical importance of the traditional school organisational structures. 

It also reaffirmed the imperative of the nation’s young being off their parent’s hands, and in schools for much of the of the working year. The nation, the economy and society can only ever operate in a hovering pattern while ever the young have to be tended by their parents. National productivity is dependent on both parents being able to work, knowing the exact times and dates their children will be at school.

Tyack and Cuban in 1995 talked of the ‘grammar of schooling’. They, like many eminent educators before them noted the constancy of schooling, and its inability to maintain sustained structural change (Lee and Broadie, in press).

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).

A quarter of a century on the grammar of schooling remains as strong as ever.

Implicit in the analysis of the grammar of schooling, and the commentary on the constancy of the standard school organisational approach over a century is a criticism of the standard model, and a belief the structures must be fundamentally changed to achieve the desired school improvement.

Many, including the author have striven over the decades to make what were perceived to be essential structural improvements.  

Change to the standard model was perceived to be critical.

COVID -19 has done schooling globally a great service by seriously challenging that assumption, and demonstrating it is folly to continue pursuing that path. 

The pandemic has obliged all associated with schools to differentiate between the core organisational school structures and what can be done within those structures.

It has affirmed the core structures can never be changed.

But it also demonstrated substantial successful sustained school change can occur within those structures.

Indeed the pandemic has made it clear that successful school change must be done within the existing structures, giving society the constancy it desires while also providing the young the opportunity to have an apt contemporary education.

In forcing schools to go digital, in highlighting the critical importance of the physical place called school and giving teachers and schools a working insight into what was possible and desirable within a networked learning community the pandemic hopefully put to rest the now century old belief that core structural change is critical to school growth.

Schools globally demonstrated during the pandemic their ability to operate as digitally mature organisations, to think digitally, to normalise the everyday use of the digital, to create dynamic digital cultures and learning environments, to use the networks to genuinely collaborate with their families and to grow ever richer digital ecologies – from within the existing walls and organisational structures.

An apt comparison are the many cutting edge businesses operating in traditional hours, within converted warehouses and factories. On first glance physically they look like dated organisations, but a closer look will often reveal the dramatic changes that have occurred within those aged walls.

The same holds with schools.

Some of the most dynamic will at first glance appear to be Victorian era establishments, with the students wearing much the same trappings as generations before, attending at the same time, participating in decades old rituals but venture within and one will soon see the dramatic change that has occurred in the learning environment, the culture, the teacher student relationships and the nature of the teaching.

One of the unheralded virtues of the digital technology is that it is not like paper, site dependent. It can be used as readily within that Victorian era building, an ancient two teacher rural school, a modern flexible designed suite of buildings, a train or coffee shop.

The key is to accept the traditional school structures will never change, nor will the core parent expectations but within those walls and expectations there are immense opportunities for on-going successful change and evolution.

  • Lee, M and Broadie, R (In press) Digital Teachers. Digital Mindsets 
  • Tyack, D and Cuban, L (1995). Tinkering Toward Utopia. Cambridge. Massachusetts. Harvard University Press.

A Century of Traditional Schooling. With More to Come

Mal Lee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Standardising the model

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

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

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

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

They also took charge of teacher training.

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

The schools they created are those you know well.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Permanence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Strengths

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

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

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

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

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

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

Opportunities

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion.

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

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

Home schooling or home education?

Roger Broadie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moving Schooling from a Paper to Digital Construct

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

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

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

It can’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The digital construct

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

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

The limit is largely the human imagination.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

The construct served the world well for many centuries but structurally

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

That will only be possible within a digital construct.

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

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

Five Conditions Critical for Sustained Learning with the Digital

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

The young and their digitally connected families globally have highlighted over the last twenty-five plus years five conditions critical to the young’s natural sustained learning with the digital (Lee and Broadie, in press) (Twining et.al, 2017).

Not the schools.

Those conditions are:

  • Ready access to personal, preferably mobile technologies
  • 24/7/365 digital connectivity
  • Empowerment and trust
  • Largely unfettered use of the digital
  • Self-directed learning, collaborating when desired.

All five of the conditions are closely linked.

Vital also are parents who believe the digital is very important to their children’s education and life chances, a learning environment, a culture that facilitates and supports those conditions and a digital mindset that shapes the expectations and the use and learning with the digital.

If you pause for a moment and reflect you’ll appreciate those five conditions have also allowed you and the 3.65 billion plus ** others digitally connected to sustain your natural lifelong learning with the digital – at no expense to government.

The five conditions

With the advantage of historical reflection (Lee and Broadie, in press) and a contemporary study by Twining and his team (Twining, et.al, 2017), the five conditions, plus the importance attached by the parents and the supportive learning environment have been evident since the launch of the Web in 1993.  While in the next twenty-five years society moved from an analogue to a digital world, the percentage of the young using the technology skyrocketed, the age of the users plummeted and the digital mindset strengthened the five critical remained as important as ever.

In retrospect, they go a long way towards explaining why more than half the world’s young are digitally connected, using the digital in every facet of their lives and learning and are able stay abreast of exponentially evolving technology – with no support from government or most of the world’s schools.

Ready access to the personal, preferably mobile technologies

Without the gear the young can’t use it in their learning.

Without their own kit, they can’t normalise its 24/7/365 use.

History underscores the importance of the young having ready, 24/7/365 use of ‘their own’ relatively current digital technologies.  They need to configure it as desired, to ready it for their immediate use, to select the software and peripherals that fit their learning style, to continually upgrade its functionality and to appreciate the ownership of the kit affirms the trust and responsibility accorded them.

From the early 2000’s – but particularly since the advent of the iPhone in 2007 – the young have shown a strong preference for mobile technologies that allow them to learn anywhere, just in time, in context, when wanted.

The App Revolution allowed the young of all ages to personalise their mobile tool kit, and to use that desired. Where previously the functionality was built into the device from the mid 2000s and the shift to smartphones increasingly software solutions replaced much of the old in-built, allowing each of us to choose the apps we wanted.

Compare the apps on your mobiles with your partners and the kids and you’ll quickly appreciate the extent to which all of us have personalised, indeed individualised, our digital tool kit.

In 2016, a study revealed 42% of Danish children under seven owned their own tablet, and 91% had ready usage (Johansen, et.al, 2016).  Comparable figures will be found in all developed nations. They point to a young that will forever on expect to have and use their own mobile technologies 24/7/365.

24/7/365 connectivity.

The same young will expect, as they do now, to use a device, an app or to connect to network the moment desired. They, like you and me, believe they have the right to do so, and will moreover expect the connection to be fast and reliable. It has been the norm for young of the world for near on twenty years, a norm that has been strengthened by the increasingly sophisticated and convergent technology. The young, again like us, will expect to immediately take a video of the whale breeching off the beach, to check the details on Wikipedia, and to edit the video and add a voiceover before posting to YouTube.

Moreover, they will expect to be able to video conference with friends free of charge about the happening, and to show it to the family on a large HD screen.

Without that connectivity, most of the learning can’t happen.

Empowered and trusted

Without the empowerment of, the trust in and the possession of the personal technology the young can’t normalise the use of the digital.

Nor can families or schools.

This has been evident globally – outside the school walls – since the advent of the Web twenty-five years ago when the first families empowered and trusted their children to use the digital astutely.

Since then millions upon millions globally have opted – seemingly naturally – to do the same.

While over the period the technology has become increasingly sophisticated, powerful and all pervasive, and changed all manner of practices the digitally connected families of the world have continued to empower and trust their children’s use and learning with the digital. The young have grasped the opportunity, fundamentally changing the nature of youth (Lee and Broadie, in press), exploring new worlds and pursuing their interests and passions, all comfortable using the latest technologies, with many becoming highly competent in their area/s of interest (Ito, et al 2013) (Twining et al, 2017).

Very early in the piece (Tapscott, 1998) the parents recognised that for the first time in history the young knew more about a domain of learning than their elders, and that there was much to be gained by supporting the children’s learning and the young assisting the family grow its learning.

Largely unfettered use

From the outset in the early 90’s the parents opted – of their own volition – not only to empower and trust their children but also gave them the freedom to use the digital largely unfettered.

It is appreciated that in the 90s there was a mystic around the online and that many of the parents had little understanding of computing but over time as their understanding grew and they came to appreciate they had to better ready their children for the digital and networked world and more closely monitor the use they still allowed even the very young considerable freedom – albeit within the bounds agreed by the family, and unwittingly by the networked society.

While little is written, it is intriguing to note how millions upon millions of young people globally for twenty plus years have observed the universal operational mores and etiquette.

While the degree of freedom varied with the developmental stages and the responsibility shown the young of the world have for many years had the freedom to go directly to the learning of the world online, and by-pass the traditional gatekeepers.

They have moreover had from the outset the freedom to use the digital to create what they like and to communicate with whom they wished – more and more free of any toll – everywhere except in the school (Twining, et.al 2017).

From the early 2000’s the young globally have embraced the emerging mobile technology making it very much their own, central to their lives and learning, doing largely as they wish, particularly from the upper primary years upwards.

It bears remembering that in 2009 around 25% of the world’s young were digitally connected, by 2016 the percentage had risen to around 50% and is on track to reach 70% by 2022 (Ericsson, 2016).

That connectedness coupled with the freedom accorded has and will continue to change lives regardless of any desires by those in authority.

Self-directed learning, collaborating when desired

The learning culture, the trust, empowerment, freedom and the technology all combine to allow the young to direct their learning with the digital lifelong.

It places them in charge of learning what they believe is apt, when and where, and with the support of whom.

They – and not some external party – decide when they need to improve their capability and how they will do so.

Tellingly history shows the young naturally taking control of their use of and learning with the digital from their initial use of the technology. If you’ve not already done so observe watch a two or three year using an iPad and you’ll soon find they want to take charge, to explore, to discover, to use if they want their thumbs rather than their index finger, disliking being told what to do, except when stuck.

Whether this is a natural trait time and research will tell.

Educationally from the outset of the young have acquired a core life skill they will use and enhance for the rest of life.

In placing the responsibility on the individual and supporting their efforts the families have grown the vital ability to naturally sustain the learning with the digital, that in a continually evolving world needs to be lifelong.

That core skill soon sees the young individualising their capability with the digital, and while many of the capabilities will be common, others, as with all of us will be distinct.

While taking charge the young are very ready to call upon others, particularly in the family or peer group the moment the need arises.

The school scenario

Few schools globally would in 2018 countenance these conditions in the student’s learning with the digital.

Reflect on your own.

Most schools still ban the in-class use of the young’s suite of mobile technologies. France for example in 2017 chose to ban smartphones in all its schools.

Digitally connectivity in virtually all schools is tightly controlled, with the teachers deciding when and if it permitted. Few would likely tolerate the idea of children instantly going online to find the information.

The school and its ICT experts know what is best. The children, the parents, and often most staff have no say, and are expected to comply with the school’s instructions.

The student use of the digital is tightly controlled and structured, very firmly based on distrust, with every student operation, often keystroke monitored.

Globally schools, at the behest of government, the curriculum authorities and the network managers, decide how – and how not – the children will learn with the digital, with no recognition given the out of school attainment or consideration given to the young learning how to take charge of their sustained lifelong learning with the digital.

Twining and his colleagues in the UK concluded

Schools seldom replicated how children’s digital practices develop outside school, especially with regard to providing opportunities for sustained and increasing participation with others who shared similar interests. Instead, children’s ICT use in schools tended to be short term and discrete (Twining, et.al, 2017. P.vii).

Not only don’t most schools support the five critical conditions but they don’t nurture in the young the ability and responsibility for naturally sustaining their learning with the digital lifelong. They are geared to a past world of constancy

Conclusion

Ask yourself what chance has my school, or that of my children, of meeting the five conditions critical to the natural sustained learning with the digital, that the young can draw upon and grow throughout life.

We suspect the answer will be none.

The next question is a huge one – what if anything is the school going to do?

The current very strong global trend is to do nothing.

And let the young will continue to develop their learning with the digital outside the school walls, continuing to deal the school out of the play.

 

 

** 3.65 billion is a conservative figure. The very real challenge with the figures is weeding out the multiple ownership and inactive subscriptions. The Ericsson Mobility Report of November 2017 (Ericsson, 2017) places a figure of 7.8 billion on the number of mobiles subscriptions, 5.8 billion on the number of broadband subscriptions and 4.4 billion smartphone subscriptions.

 

Bibliography

 

  • Ericsson (2016) Ericsson Mobility Report 2016 Ericsson November 2016 – https://www.ericsson.com/assets/local/mobility-report/documents/2016/ericsson-mobility-report-november-2016.pdf
  • 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 (in press) Digitally Connected Families. And the Digital Education of the World’s Young, 1993 – 2016, Armidale, Australia, Douglas and Brown – http://douglasandbrown.com/publications/

 

  • Tapscott, D (1998), Growing up digital: The rise of the Net Generation, McGraw Hill, New York

 

  • Twining, P et al. (2017) NP3 – New Purposes, New Practices, New Pedagogy: Meta-analysis report. London: Society for Educational Studies.http://edfutures.net/NP3

 

 

 

Parent Responsibility for Learning with the Digital

 

Mal Lee

[ This is intended as a discussion starter for use with both the parents and the staff, addressing a core issue rarely discussed].

The moment you give your children the digital technology you are responsible for its use and your children’s learning with the digital.

Not the school, not government, nor the technology companies, the internet providers, siblings or grandparents, but you. All the others can, and should assist, but ultimately you are responsible – likely to an extent few have thought about.

Moreover, you’ll be responsible until adulthood.

Not only do the parents have the moral, legal and ultimately the educational responsibility, but twenty years of history and over a billion digitally connected young globally have demonstrated that the parents are far better placed than any other body to enhance their children’s learning with the digital.

It is time to recognise the responsibility shown by the parents of the digitally connected young, to laud their achievements and to acknowledge the educational leadership role they have played and must continue to play, from the beginning of their children’s lives.

But it is also time for society to build on their success and understand that it will be the young and their digitally connected families – and not the schools – that will increasingly lead the way in learning with the digital – regardless of what schools or governments desire.

Governments, and particularly the schools like to believe that they are charge, and that only they have the expertise to provide the desired digital education. Indeed, most governments would contend that in closely controlling the use of the digital in the schools they are complete control of the young’s digital education.

They are not. And have not been for twenty plus years (Lee and Broadie, in press).

They assume learning equates with schooling, and that learning with the digital only takes place in schools.  They don’t appear to understand that 80% plus of the young’s learning time annually is spent outside the school walls, that more than half the world’s young have successfully learned to use the current technologies outside the school walls or that increasingly pre-primary children will start school having already normalised the use of the digital – with no input from the schools or government.

Globally governments and most schools have long demonstrated little or no understanding of learning with the digital in a Digital Revolution that is daily transforming the ways of the world (Lee and Broadie, 2017) (Lee and Broadie, in press). They mostly opted to stay with the traditional ways, within insular hierarchically controlled Industrial Age organisations, where teachers teach and assess year in and year out much the same as when you were young. There has invariably been no place in those schools for the children’s digital technologies or that learned with the digital outside the school walls. Indeed, France in late 2017 decided to ban mobiles in all its schools.

Not surprisingly the schools were very early dealt out of the digital education play, likely to remain so.

The ability of schools, even the most visionary, to match the learning with the digital provided outside the school walls, is impossible. Schools as public institutions controlled by government, bureaucrats, resourcing, working conditions, legislation, law, accountability requirements, inflexible organizational structures and history can never respond to the accelerating digital evolution and transformation in the same way as the highly agile digitally connected families of the world. Even if governments wanted its schools to change, or indeed to collaborate with the families.

In a world where the young are digitally connected 24/7/365 and expect to use their personally configured mobile technologies to learn in context the moment desired, anywhere, anytime, at speed, and largely unfettered they are not going to find that opportunity in most schools. Rather they will find themselves distrusted and disempowered, with the limited learning time tightly controlled, their every use of the digital supervised, connectivity restricted, their use of their personal technologies likely banned and the facility to direct their own learning with the digital denied – all supposedly for their protection and well-being.

The history of learning with the digital over the last quarter of a century has seen the schools each year lag ever further behind the out of school use, struggling – or not even attempting – to handle the accelerating pace of digital evolution.

As the research (Friedman, 2016), (Deloitte, 2017), and common sense will attest only the young within highly agile and supportive digitally connected families can hope to accommodate the current exponential digital evolution. All organisations, even the digital masters are now struggling to keep pace with fifty plus years of exponential change.

Over the last twenty plus years the young of the world have been to the fore with virtually every technological development – and are on trend to continue to be so – in large because of the support of their parents and digitally connected families.

What parents need to do now is to appreciate the role they have played, consider how they can better play that role and why it must be the parents of the digitally connected young who take ultimate responsibility for their children’s learning with the digital.

The Global Leadership of Digitally Connected Families

 

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

In addition to taking prime responsibility for the 24/7/365 digital education of the world’s young the digitally connected families over the last two decades unwittingly took an increasingly greater lead role in the provision of that education.

Critically – and largely unseen- they took that lead worldwide. What we have witnessed over the last twenty plus years – and see today worldwide – is a naturally evolving phenomenon, over which governments and education authorities had held no sway.

In examining the past 20 plus years it soon became obvious that the digitally connected families had – and continue to have – significant advantages over formal schooling in providing the desired rapidly evolving 24/7/365 digital education.

Since the advent of the WWW an empowered young, with the support of their families, have played a lead role in the out of school digital education. Over time they have naturally accommodated the accelerating digital evolution and transformation, while the schools struggled.  The young, with time to explore and a strong desire to share, are often ahead of their parents in the use of digital connectivity. And considerably ahead of their teachers.

With the advantage of hindsight, it is easy to see why, and why even the most visionary and well led of schools took so many years to achieve digital normalisation. The reasons lie in the organisational arrangements, the educational model used and the attitude adopted.

Organisationally the established schools of the world continued to use the tightly controlled, inflexible linear and hierarchical structures that emerged in the Industrial Age, while the digitally connected families employed a highly agile model, able to evolve naturally at pace.

Helbing in commenting on the Digital Revolution reiterated the inability of all manner of bureaucracies to accommodate rapid, uncertain change and the importance of moving to the use of highly agile self-regulating units.

In a rapidly changing world, which is hard to predict and plan, we must create feedback loops that enable systems to flexibly adapt in real time to local conditions and needs (Helbing, 2014).

The shift globally to greater school autonomy was a step in that direction but in examining the plethora of controls imposed by governments and their bureaucrats – controls over the likes of working conditions, the allocation and use of funds, school times, purchasing, imposed digital systems, reconciliation of accounts, treatment of students, the curriculum and the mode and time of assessment it was apparent that ‘autonomy’ was limited.

In contrast the digitally connected homes of the world, operating as small self-regulating units, within a laissez faire environment with their own resources, and responsible for their own children had no such constraints. They could instantly acquire the technologies they wanted and use them as they wished. Quietly over time they have taken advantage of the dynamic highly fluid nature of their situation to quietly create increasingly integrated and powerful digital ecosystems.

The teaching model employed by schools was – and continues to be – highly structured and controlled. It was throughout the period insular in nature, inward looking and fixated on the physical place called school. Education in the use of digital devices was invariably taught within class groups as a discrete subject. The schools followed a set, linear curriculum where the class teacher directed the teaching and student assessment, accommodating all manner of external controls and management checks.

In contrast the digital education model outside the school was completely laissez faire, freewheeling, seemingly chaotic, invariably non-linear, done ‘just in time’, undertaken anytime, anywhere, invariably in context.  It was wholly individualised, directed by the learner’s desires, with she/her deciding where to turn if support was needed.  That said the nature of the teaching and learning adopted was remarkably similar worldwide. It very soon became the new universal normal for the young.

Importantly the self-directed learning with the digital was highly appealing to the young, exciting, intrinsically motivating, with no need for any assessment other than by oneself and through recognition by their peers.

Significantly throughout the period – even though in hindsight they did very well – many parents continually looked for support and direction, and to collaborate with the schools. In the first half of the period this reflected the lack of digital understanding and in the second when the increasingly sophisticated converging technology took the learning to a continually higher plane.

Parents struggled to find that support.

In 2002 Pew Internet studied the digital disconnect between the schools and the homes, noting

Students are frustrated and increasingly dissatisfied by the digital disconnect they are experiencing at school (Pew Internet, 2002).

The genuine collaboration didn’t begin until the late 2000s when the first schools moved to a digital operational mode and recognised its educational sense.  As Lee and Ward (2013) observe, it would appear the home – school collaboration will not occur until schools have gone digital and are ready attitudinally.

The work of the digitally mature schools globally from around 2010 – 2012 demonstrated that schools could with the right principal and mindset play a lead role in the 24/7/365 education of the young – if they are of a mind to recognise and build upon the out of school learning, and genuinely collaborate with their digitally connected families. They had the educational expertise desired by most families, and the ability in a 24/7/365 setting to take the young’s working knowledge of the digital to a significantly higher level.

But it all came down to attitude.

The young and the parents of the world have shown from the advent of the Web – like the visionary school leaders – the importance they attach to their children’s digital learning.

Most governments and school don’t.

Despite the fine sounding rhetoric about the digital the priorities of developed nations are expressed in their basic skills tests.  The priorities expected of principals invariably relate to the perceived basics like PISA score performance and most assuredly not an appropriate holistic education for an evolving digital and socially networked world.

While there are ‘maverick’ digitally mature schools globally pursuing the latter in 2017 they are still rare.

Disturbingly not only are most schools unable to accommodate exponential digital evolution and change, but most – along with their governments – are not interested in so doing.  Even when schools have developed approaches to the use of digital that empower young people and which listen to how they learn best in the digital world, these approaches can atrophy and disappear when leadership changes. This suggests that the ways most teachers perceive their accountability are so strongly linked to traditional industry-age schooling that this can rapidly outweigh the benefits they see of digitally empowering the young, as soon as the school leaders cease to make this a priority.

A telling reality is that a quarter of a century after the advent of the WWW and decades of societal digital transformation globally, digital education performance in schools is still being assessed by paper based exams.

Little is the wonder that the digitally connected homes of the world are taking an increasing lead the 24/7/365 digital education of the young.  Tellingly the 2011 Project Tomorrow report (Project Tomorrow, 2011) noted that while the digitally empowered parents wanted to collaborate with the schools if the schools chose not to the parents would take the lead,

That is what is happening globally, largely unseen. As the strength of the young’s capability to use digital grows, and as industry-age schooling continues to produce only meagre advances in the learning of the young, the stage is being set for a breakdown in parents’ belief in how well their children’s schools are preparing them for life.