Back to the School of the Future

It’s about time I revisited the “school of the future”, a phrase which supported countless symposia and conferences in the pre-crash age of the early 21st Century. It of course was part of the Building Very Expensive Schools of the Future (BvsSF) era which blended vainglorious steel and glass architecture with franchise deals in order to procure vast amounts of ICT and fund a building boom.

In this context, the “connected collaborator” (a.k.a. pupil) was all the rage and we looked forward to digitally-enhanced ever increasing pass rates in ever dumber exams. Mercifully, that’s all history. After the £50m school, the first to go was BSF, then “let’s all buy new computers” to run MS Office and finally, even GCSE exams themselves have now been given the elbow.

Now in their plac,e we will have multi-story prefab schools (Portacabins, anyone?) nicknamed ‘austerity schools’ to cope with a population of 70 million people and support the 18 percent increase in children of school age.  Inside them children will be studying for the new E-Baccalaureates whether the English-bacc or the Tech-bac. (These exams in turn will, of course, disappear as: a) By then no one will be able to spell “baccalaureate”; and  b) UKIP will get a referendum on  “Johnny Frog” exams.)

So what is left for technology? How will the hyper-connected social-media savvy young dudes get on in their 21st Century stackable Nissen huts? Will there be interactive whiteboards, photocopiers, printers, computers even? Nope, I think not.

The reason is simple enough: Paper, power and people. In the UK currently we consume 3,000 sheets of A4 paper per child per year and anyone who runs their own printer with their own money will wince at that idea.  Desktop PC’s, servers, photocopiers, IWbs and data-projectors will soon be seen as the luxurious gas-guzzlers they are, and someone, someone, will notice that the ratio of non-teaching staff to teachers surpassed the 1:1 mark years ago.

In my first school, which was hurriedly fabricated from corrugated iron to cope with the post-war baby boom and bomb-damaged buildings, we wrote on slates with chalk. And given how cold it was in winter, how old the books were, how crowded the classes were and how dim the lights, I would guess their only expenditure was on the teachers’ salaries. 

This low-cost model is, I suspect, on it’s way back. Pre-fab “Austerity Schools” may be cheap, but with modern materials, they will be cheaper to run than the old Nissen huts and Portakabins.

Technically, they will have little problem swamping the classes with wireless broadband supporting the Wi-Fi net-enabled e-reader slates with touch screens and e-ink writing, as well as  any device the students may have of their own. And in case you haven’t worked this out, we will not need: text books, paper, printers, photocopiers, computers, armies of administrators or technicians.

Back to the future, it’s 1958 - at least Mr Gove will be happy for one.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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