Friday, October 9, 2009

A School of the Future?

Tēnā koutou katoa – Greetings to you allImage of Honawan opens in same windowOpens New Window on SLURL
I believe that education in the future may not be best achieved in schools. However, this post summarises what I think should be the components of an ideal school of the future. It is not a summary of my idea of where education should be going, or how it should be obtained.

Tania Sheko is hosting the 'Green Pen Society' (GPS) writers' club over at Brave New World, for Paul Cornies at quoteflections.

Her topic for October is:

What would your ideal school look like?
Design the school of the future – but do it now!

How could I resist a topic like that?

Having taught in many different schools, and in different countries, I’ve gathered hunches, likes, dislikes and theories that can help me with ideas for the design of the ideal school of the future. It is a difficult task.

A secondary school

The ‘ideal school’ is forever a mythical artefact, for by definition a school has to meet the needs of many. No school can serve completely all learners all of the time.

As well, its situational constraints must necessarily govern the functions that it can deliver and needs to provide.

My ideal school would be a secondary school with a roll of learners from say, ages 12 to 18 years. It will prepare all learners for further learning. It will provide pathways to employment for those learners who, for whatever reason, leave the school to seek employment before having completed all available education levels within the school.

School providers and authorities

Assuming that the school is capable of serving all situational needs of its learners, the first requisite must be that it is affordable.

Fine education costs. We should all know that by now. If it results in overspending, however, then ultimately the future availability of good education within the school will suffer.

For as much as the ideal resources, pedagogies and learning environments are important, and to whatever specification these may adhere to, if they cannot be sustained, or are not seen to be sustainable by the providing authority, they cannot form the components of my ideal school.


My school will have experienced governance, administered by a necessary board of trustees who genuinely have the future situational needs of the learners at heart. To do this, the governance must have a vision for the big picture of what education should bring to learners in the 21
st century.


Counterpart to governance, the school’s management will likewise have an eagerness to use such teaching structures within the school. There will be commitment to use resources, pedagogies and learning environments that foster teaching and learning that best suit the future needs of learners.

The whole picture

As boring as all of the above may seem, without them no ideal school will succeed. They are integral parts of the whole picture.

The school will have classrooms, workshops, laboratories, a library, recreational areas and halls as fit the needs of its composition. If at all possible, it will have a roll of about 550 learners. From experience this size appears to find the optimum fit when it comes to timetabling and managing resources and courses, especially for the senior learners within the school.

Allocation of classes should aim at an optimum size of 24 learners
and a ceiling of 28, with some flexibility within reason. This is an ideal school, so depending on the needs of individual learners there may be a call for smaller class sizes for some groups.

The best fit

I use the term ‘best fit’ on purpose here. Education is a complex thing.
I believe it is impossible to provide every factor that makes for good education, simply because of its complexity. Like other complex systems, however, it should be possible to make a best fit for ongoing situations, within and external to the school, that will be neither static nor exist in a state of equilibrium.

To this end, the learning resources provided in the school must also be capable of adapting rapidly to current changes. Methods used for delivering resources to teachers and learners must likewise be capable of evolving and adapting to suit emergent themes that will trace and follow the development of the immediate society.

A blended learning approach that best utilises the appropriate methods for teaching and learning to fit the learner and topic will be recognised by teachers and teacher management.

Elearning platforms

If an elearning platform must be established within the school, it should be open source. The expense of any commercial elearning platform can so easily preclude further development in platforms other than open source ones, so it is best to adopt open source from the beginning. This frees up finance, much needed within the school, for non-negotiable expenses and specific resources that may have no alternatives.

A stable, generic learner management system should embrace any learning content management system chosen to meet the needs of the school’s resource requirements. Too easily, the maintenance expenses on such systems can get out of hand, ending up like the tail wagging the dog. This is why good governance working closely with good management within the school is so important.

I’m talking in ideal big picture stuff here and purposely not mentioning commercial brands of hardware or software. A school that’s capable of adapting through emerging requirements should not be tied to any specific commercial provider or commodity brand.

And this brings me to a conclusion. The ideal school will need to be mobile, as the movement of a flock of birds. It will shift with the elements, yet remain intact as it moves bodily to meet the varying needs of the ever-changing learners within it.

A Green Pen Society contribution

Ka kite anō – Catch ya later

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