If you ask any group of people what they want from schools, the answer would probably be roughly the same—high-performing schools that help children reach their full potential, arming them with the knowledge to be critical thinkers who possess the skills to succeed in today’s job market.
Unfortunately, that might be where the agreement about what schools should do ends. There are so many opinions and experiments about what works best in education that I argue we are actually getting farther away from what schools should be for our children.
So, while I have my own theory about what schools should do, my plan doesn’t involve specific curricula or policies that will have to be changed the next time a batch of standardized tests shows a poor result. No, my plan is to take a step back from dictating daily classroom strategies and set up basic parameters that will allow schools to tap into the knowledge and expertise of their teachers while staying focused on making sure they are meeting the long-term needs of students.
Like a lot of people, I’ve been thinking about education and how to improve it for decades. However, unlike most people, I’ve approached this task with experience from a variety of viewpoints, not just a singular one. I’m chair of a group of schools in the East of England and have been in school governance for 20 years. I’m the CEO of an education technology company and have been listening and learning from educators for more than 30 years. I’m an author who’s written two books and numerous articles about education. But possibly most important — I’m a parent.
I’ve watched my children work their way through the school system and – while I realize U.K. education differs from the U.S.’s – we have a common lack of foresight about how school affects the type of adults our children become.
Think back to all those brilliantly publicized great EdTech ideas of the past that have miserably failed. It’s quite possible you’ve lived through one, two, or more. I’ve been in the education and tech business for about 30 years, and have seen everything—from lavish laptop programs to superior software concepts launch with fanfare only to end up being scrapped. They were written about in our most popular magazines and showcased at the education trade shows, but they didn’t last more than a few years.
As a student of EdTech history, I believe I know. It’s part of the reason for writing My Secret #EdTech Diary. Many of those well-meaning, inventively inspiring EdTech solutions–most of which were based on a device, or specific software–vanished because there was little forethought. There was inadequate thought given to training, professional development, maintenance, upkeep, upgrades, support, setting expectations, and then securing the funds needed to sustain them.
Historical perspective about EdTech launches that failed
These historic EdTech launches were initially expensive not only to develop but to be deployed, used, and ultimately dropped. Think about the cost of a district laptop initiative. The cost is staggering, but it needs more than just money.
Historically, laptop deployment plans were very political, too. They had to be sold to more than just directors of technology; they needed to be endorsed by entire communities, which ultimately funded them. Looking back, it’s easy to see that the plans would never endure through breakdowns, leadership changes, curriculum transformations, and lack of use. EdTech like this was doomed from the beginning, because it couldn’t be sustained beyond the purchase of shiny devices.
So, why look back?
Looking back at our mistakes is vital. It is also simple to do and can help us to avoid future failures. Especially now, post COVID, when we have the opportunity to be educationally innovative, and more relevant and intentional with our products. If we’ve learned anything by looking back, it is that we were unprepared for a situation like the pandemic.
I’d like to say again, we have so much technology available to us and yet for many we were unprepared. How did that happen? There’s a spotlight on education and technology right now and an opportunity to rethink and reshape how we utilize EdTech and how it can best underpin amazing teaching and learning. The positive outlook for EdTech companies is that they can help provide the change needed, and to do it for more than a few most economically fortunate, but rather for everyone around the globe. That will require more than simple, shiny-device thinking. We need to use what we’ve learned from the distant as well as the recent past.