Another Brick in the Wall
What do our future classrooms look like?
The cover of the Weekend Australia magazine last week was immediately arresting. It’s an aerial photograph of half a dozen children—probably upper primary students—in a classroom. But they’re seated on brightly coloured chairs shaped like giant hands. There’s a book there, but most of the kids cradle laptops and e-readers. They are not “facing anything” and there’s not a whiteboard in sight.
The article is “Funky School” by Caroline Overington and in it, she discusses Australian schools that are doing things differently.
It goes largely like this: instead of smaller class sizes, make them bigger. Instead of intimate classrooms, build fewer walls and make them enormous, airy “learning spaces”. Instead of one teacher, put four or five in there. Proponents argue that instead of less attention, children actually receive more because there are both teachers and students allowed to move around the room and offer help. Technology plays a big role in these places as well. In the short video on the site, students are head down into their iPads, moving their fingers across the screen with confidence and focus.
The goal appears to be self-directed learning; the type of learning that adults actually do on a daily basis. Whenever we want to research something, we’re self-directing. No one is telling us what to do or how to find it. Some see self-directed, lifelong learning as one of the biggest aims for modern education. When we have students who can think for themselves, we’ll have a strong society and a healthy workforce.
The article concludes with a quotation by Peter Turner, the regional director of Catholic schools in Wollongong. Turner says:
“It’s all about the teacher, by which I mean, it’s about the integrity, the quality and calibre of the teacher in the class. If you can get that right, you can pretty much teach in a tent.”
And this is where all my enthusiasm for these new schools comes into question. Possibly like a lot of readers, I immediately began thinking of footage I’ve seen of schools in third world countries where the students sit five to a desk. Schools where the cost of my cup of coffee this morning buys their class set of exercise books and pencils for the year. Where, by necessity, one teacher at the front of the room has captured their attention and is teaching them how to read, write and think.
I applaud anything that shakes up an education system that (in some respects) hasn’t changed since the industrial revolution. I believe that if nothing changes, nothing changes. The jury is out on the evidence and judgments that would “prove” these new classrooms work. But isn’t it okay to try?