What Happened To The Education Revolution?

I was just thinking tonight about St Michael’s Grammar School in St Kilda. I remember back in my Ozemail days, around 1996 or 97. We – along with Microsoft and, I think, Cisco and Compaq – had set-up St Michael’s as a pilot school for all of our latest technology. The classrooms were all networked, there were laptops everywhere, it was all quite exciting. If you had told me then that fifteen years later, many schools would still be lacking a basic internet understanding, I wouldn’t have believed you.

Last week my kids attended interviews at the high school in Brisbane they will be attending next year. Their mother and I went along. The interviews went well – I was quite proud of my youngsters asking very grown up questions about the school and curriculum during the course of the interview – and as they drew to a close I asked the teacher whether or not the boys’ curriculum would be available on the school’s website.

“Ah no,” she replied.

“Well I like to be keep abreast of what they are working on,” I said. “How will I find out what the curriculum is?”

“You’ll have to email the teachers,” she replied.

“Each of them individually?” I asked.

“Yes,” she replied.

“Are their email addresses up on the website?” I inquired.

“Ah no,” she replied.

“Well how do I get their email addresses?” I asked.

“Well they should hand them out to the kids on their first day,” she replied. “Otherwise, you can ask them when you have the first Parent-Teacher meetings a couple of months into the year.

WOW. Seriously?

The primary school my kids currently attend love to send paper notes home with the kids. Of course, these usually end up buried in school bags and we don’t find out about them until it’s way too late. Why aren’t they emailing us with information we need to know? I understand that not every parent has access to the internet, even in 2012, but surely the schools can take the same approach as most of the utility companies now and ask me if I want to receive notifications by email or paper? Wouldn’t that save schools significant dollars each year in printing costs?

Another example – my kids are on their Year 7 school trip to Sydney and Canberra this week. What system did the school put into place for notifying parents that the kids have arrived and are okay? Well it works like this. First, one of the teachers on the trip sends a text message to TWO parents. Then the rest of the parents are supposed to text THOSE parents asking for updates. I kid you not. Even the kids’ soccer team sends out weekly text blasts to all of the parents advising updates to this weekend’s game. It isn’t rocket science.

I haven’t had anything to do with school IT for many, many years, but I can’t believe it is 2012 and we still don’t have laptops (or, better still, iPads) in the hands of every school child; that every classroom isn’t connected by wifi; that a year’s worth of lesson plans aren’t posted on the school’s website for students and parents to peruse in advance; and that all schools aren’t using blogs, email, Twitter and text messages to update parents about stuff they need to know.

I just scanned through the ALP’s education policy document and it doesn’t seem to mention much about investing in internet infrastructure.

Am I being unreasonable?

3 thoughts on “What Happened To The Education Revolution?

  1. It’s the same over here, Cameron. Educators are poor at planning beyond their sphere of influence, be that the classroom, campus, school district, etc. So while many, even most, teachers display relative competency within the four walls of their classroom, they aren’t prepared to communicate effectively with parents. Something that should be very easy to accomplish with a mature global internet but that demands a modicum of technical proficiency and maybe 8 hours of prep at the beginning of each school year adapting readily available communications technologies to their own unique situation. But because they don’t hold that minimal bit of technical expertise and/or commit that one day of preparation every year, they fall back to the centuries-old dead-tree model of communication. And even that is rarely done well for lack of planning.

    Oh but it gets worse. Educators aren’t any better at communicating with colleagues. Most school-site administrators know next to nothing about conditions within the twenty to fifty classrooms under their jurisdiction. Furthermore, classroom teachers are afraid to communicate needs up the chain of command (until the last moment after all alternatives have been exhausted), for fear of becoming the unwitting targets of arbitrary and disruptive administrative meddling or (god forbid) wrath, and administrators are afraid of poking around into the daily business of classrooms for fear of adding to their workload. And so it goes on up the hierarchy, each level not communicating effectively with those below or those above… So that by the time you get to the regional level, educators in charge of local school districts, regional school districts or state boards of education, there is no so-called professional in charge who is capable of addressing issues from a truly informed position. So they pretend to do their jobs by blathering on in meaningless jargon. All the while most of our kids are less and less prepared for the exponentially changing, increasingly unpredictable world in which they will someday have to build their lives. That is, unless they have the advantage of parents who demand better and will fight to get them the education that they need.

    (My apologies if my description of the state of public education is too mired in the American system. It’s the only one I’m really acquainted with. But my guess is, bureaucracies being what they are, it’s much the same in Australia as it is in the California, just the names, titles and flow charts are different.)

    1. Mark, I think you’re right – bureaucracies are the same everywhere.

      Another thing I’ve wanted to see for years is webcam in every classroom, pointed at the teacher and white/black board. So on the weekend I can watch how the teachers discussed how to solve this or that problem, or how she is teaching a certain period in history so I can reinforce it with my kids. Every teacher I’ve suggested this to over the years has nearly had a heart attack.

  2. I forgot to add that most educators, from teachers to principals and on up, are terrified of the internet. They can’t control it. And most parents encourage the paranoia by demanding perfectly safe, sterile learning environments. Of course there is no such thing as a sterile and effective learning environment. Learning involves an element of risk. No way around it. So you can have sterile and safe classrooms or you can have effective education. But you can never have both at the same time. This is as good as a law of nature.

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