A few years ago when I was worked as the eLearning manager at NZ’s Correspondence School it became very clear to me that the offerings of the Correspondence School were relevant not just to those who were unable to attend a traditional school, but to anyone within our education system. It didn’t require an Einstein intelligence to figure this out – around 50% of the school’s 20,000 students were in fact already attending traditional secondary schools, using TCS courses to supplement the limited subject offerings of what was available to students in their own school. The transition into an eLearning environment, I thought, provided a wonderful opportunity to not simply supplement our existing school system, but to transform it!
Unfortunately, at a time of increasing scrutiny into costs etc., the opportunity for transformation was lost to those on the conservative side of the fence – and so we go on building new old schools, some with exciting new architectures, but more of the same happening on the inside – not because there isn’t a will or desire to change that too, but because the time-pace constraints that are inherent in the physicality of schools dictate much of what follows – timetables, subject silos, attendance registers etc.
An article in the Independent over the weekend caught my eye – titled ‘No more school as council opens ‘learning centres’, it describes a bold decision by the Knowsley Council in Merseyside to close all eleven of its existing secondary schools and replace them with learning centres.
The style of learning will be completely different. The new centres will open from 7am until 10pm in both term-time and what used to be known as the school holidays. At weekends, they will open from 9am to 8pm.
Youngsters will not be taught in formal classes, nor will they stick to a rigid timetable; instead they will work online at their own speeds on programmes that are tailor-made to match their interests.
Children will be able to study haircare, beauty therapy, leisure and tourism, and engineering as well as the more traditional academic subjects.
They will be given their day’s assignments in groups of 120 in the morning before dispersing to internet cafe-style zones in the learning centres to carry them out.
The 21,000 youngsters of secondary education age in Knowsley will also be able to access their learning programmes from home.
I can imagine the debates that this announcement will start – but I say “good on them”! At last, someone with the gumption to truly look outside the box and conceive of a way in which secondary education may be provided that takes advantage of the opportunities that new and emerging technologies provide, and is truly learner-centred in its approach.
Of course, the challenge now will be to find the innovative providers of learning that will be made available in this online environment, to ensure that what they end up with is more than simply a ‘delivery channel’ for lots of online content, reinforcing a transmission model of education similar to many classrooms, but now available within a different timeframe.
The one thing that does concern me about the Knowsley decision, however, is that it’s become an ‘all or nothing’ approach, so this will become the only way for secondary students to complete their schooling. It will be interesting to see how well they can stave off the pressure, that I’m sure will come, which may led to their study centres simply becoming traditional schools again – with longer opening hours!