35 years pushing uphill

I've spent over 35 years endeavouring to help schools and governments capitalise on the opportunities technology and the digital environment bring to learning. And it is time to reflect on why all the effort myself and others have exerted over this time seems to have had remarkably little effect on the majority of schools. My guess is that only around 10% of schools in the UK have properly normalised the use of the digital environment and digital tools. Though most primary schools are making a reasonable amount of use of technology few are properly linking with the digital environment of the families of pupils. We still regularly get stories of secondary schools banning pupils from using their own mobile devices in school. The students move from an always-on digitally supported life outside school to what is effectively a digital desert in school, only permitted to use the connectedness of the digital environment and the tools it makes available when teachers think it is a good idea.

I have huge praise for all in education who are trying to make their practice reflect the world we now live in. I hope I have done my bit to support them. But the fact that a few schools have shown the way to create an education fit for the connected world we live in but the majority seemingly completely ignore this is frustrating. And it makes me wonder why.

The conclusion I am coming to is that the majority of teachers, school principals and politicians involved with education are just not seeing the change that is happening. Marshall McLuhan prophetically stated that "The medium is the message". Big changes come upon the world not because of what technological innovations can do, but because of how these innovations change the world. Radio and the telephone broke down the isolation of communities and countries and created one world. Cars impacted not because they provided faster transport but because they changed cityscapes and commuting and shopping distances. The digital environment, combined with access to smartphones for all, is changing what we are as people and how social communities operate.

The majority of the schools in the UK, and in many other developed nations, have not realised this. They are reacting to some of the impacts this is having, usually from a fear-based approach rather than an opportunity-based approach. But failing to recognise that the culture into which children have been born, for the last 20 years, is a connected culture quite different to the societal culture that existed before personal mobile phones. Children who had the benefits of SMS messaging throughout their teenage years are now in their 30s and having children. All the children now in school were born into a world connected by the internet.

As Douglas Adams said,
anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works. Anything that's invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it. Anything invented after you're thirty-five is against the natural order of things. All young people consider being connected at all times is a natural part of the way the world works. The majority of schools don't.

That schools and politicians are failing to recognise this major societal change is a gob-smackingly huge failure. Of which I will blog more soon.