No more classrooms or more democracy?

Vittra school Stockholm

Vittra school Stockholm

I rediscovered a very interesting study commissioned in the UK by the DfESClassroom of the Future. It argues that a pleasant and comfortable environment for learning will stimulate children’s imaginations. Everyone will share this view even if most of our schools are very far from offering such architectural and design features. Very interestingly, the report linked the delivery of an effective education, which makes use of all the possibilities of the Information Age, to the way the school buildings reflect advances in technology (1).

I had a chance a few months ago while attending the Informal Ministerial Conference on Education at Oslo to visit one of these “dreamed schools”: Kastellet skole. It was as if I had the opportunity to physically approach the concept of Creative Classrooms. The school’s architecture with its open, circular, flexible classrooms enabled the “natural” integration of ICT in the school: in fact, computers were almost invisible as they are in our daily lives when we use our computers and tablets while barely looking at them.

The Vittra school in Stockholm took the “invisibility” paradigm one step further with a new kind of pedagogical space without walls. No more classrooms, no more desks… A dream come true. I had at last a clear vision of where education was heading to: a fully inspirational environment combining the latest technology with daylight and open spaces.

A few days later, about to enter UNESCO in Paris, I stopped for a minute to watch the exhibition “Journeys to School dedicated to the children around the world on their daily route to school. Looking at the images, I thought of their classrooms, so far away from the one at Vittra.

I thought of the classrooms in Mali, like the one below (supported by the UK organisation Global Giving).

A classroom in Mal (Dialakoro Keleya)

A classroom in Mali (Dialakoro Keleya)

An innovative classroom in Mali requires sanitary facilities and a permanent building. It is not (yet) about internet and broadband connection. I took the example of Mali but could have chosen a prefabricated school in Spain or Greece to highlight the educative inequities and question how realistic the “dreamed models” of the North could be.

But it will be easy to overlook an innovation just because it can’t be transferred to others.

I believe it is not enough to design a model of schools with no classroom and transparent walls to change the whole educative system. Even if some schools in the Northern part of Europe look like “dreamed places”, many children in the south will keep on entering prefabricated schools for years. Even if broadband is becoming the norm, technological optimisation is far from being the norm. But change should take place despite social inequalities, technological instability, and economical uncertainties. This is where a broader vision of education can make a “real” difference.

I thought of Roger Harts statement in his book about children’s participation (1): “It is ironic that the electronic media are enabling children to have greater understanding of the earth and of global environmental issues at a time when the geographic mobility of many children in the North and in urban areas of the South is becoming more constricted due to parents’ fears, and they have little everyday spontaneous contact with the natural world.”

This should help us reassess the effectiveness of educative innovations and emphasise the need for education to evolve towards a comprehensive participatory framework. Children, according to Roger, should be “supported to develop their capacity to critically explore and understand the world they live in from their own perspective and life experiences and be directly involved in the governance of the settings of their everyday lives”. This is when our need for change will be fed by innovative experiences that have developed over the years in a non-technological context. Schools like “Escuela Nueva” in Colombia or innovative networks in Reggio Emilia demonstrate that change can take place at the margins of the system and with the involvement of the community.

 



[1] Bridging the Bandwidth Gap: Open Educational Resources and the Digital Divide Björn Haßler,  IEEE Computer Society: “By allowing websites and OER content to grow in size not only do we provide a poor user experience for all users, but we make our sites virtually unusable with a slow Internet connection.”

[2] Children Participation, Roger Hart, Earthscan, 1997 / Spanish version published by P.A.U. Education, 2000

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