Will new school be a waste of money?

A radical technology professor who is involved in the building of more than 500 schools around the globe has warned that the inclusion of corridors and other old-fashioned features in the 21st century is tantamount to wasting money on a backwards model of educating children.

Professor Stephen Heppell, a leading voice on the role of technology in learning who heads his own consultancy firm and is advising the government on the use of technology for the 2012 Olympics, is in the isles this week as part of the 2009 Global Classroom Conference. He delivered a wide-ranging talk on how to use technology to improve teaching pupils at the museum on Monday morning.

After delivering an informal one-hour presentation on “Learning and the Future”, professor Heppell said that while he did not want to be drawn on too many specific details of the proposed £49 million new Anderson High School – due to go before the SIC’s planning department later this month – he was clear that features like corridors were symptomatic of an outdated “cells and bells” notion of teaching.

Referring to the new AHS, he said: “Of course, a school has got to be agile enough to be able to cope with the 21st century – you have to look at the plans in that respect. I haven’t built a corridor for 10 years, for example. I think corridors are hateful things. Why would you waste a quarter of the budget of the school to build a corridor to move people around when they didn’t want to move?”

He said it was great that such a large sum was being spent on a school to educate Shetland’s pupils for decades to come but “what you don’t want to do is waste it on features that are of the last century. You could build something fabulous for that. A really good starting point would be: ‘Will people fly here to see how good the school is?’ If the school is just an improvement, you probably don’t need to spend £50 million”.

Fifty-two students and 14 staff members from schools across the globe are in the isles this week along with a team of Shetland students and staff, with visitors from as far afield as New Zealand, the USA and South Africa as well as the Czech Republic, Germany and Sweden.

They gathered to hear professor Heppell stress the importance of breaking out of the narrow boxes in which learning was trapped over the second half of the 20th century. Between 1950 and 2000, he said, education has been restricted to “factory schools” – using the example of manufacturing plants where people who put the wheels on the left hand side of a car never saw the right hand side.

“They tried to separate everything up,” he said. “Even to the mad point of ringing a bell and saying ‘stop doing geography now, go down the corridor and start doing technology’ or whatever. I think that was the radical thing and it clearly didn’t work, children are disengaged, results are plateau-ing. I think, actually, that what I’m saying is very conservative and cautious.”

For full story, see this Friday’s edition of The Shetland Times.


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