Time to retire the Stagecoach

One of my very favourite writers and thinkers about education is Seymour Papert. I really like his views on the ways in which schools need to change.

It cannot be incremental, it as to be revolutionary.

I get very frustrated when I hear teachers talk about the way technology can be used to “improve” teaching. It’s not about “improving” teaching. The fact is that the model of schooling which we blindly accept as a given is rooted in 19th century methodology, but the world has changed so dramatically that it’s not a matter of introducing a few computers and doing the same old things. We have to start doing new things, not old things in new ways.

One of Papert’s articles likens education to an old fashioned stagecoach, and talks about the ways in which a stagecoach could be improved. Although stagecoaches were an effective means of transportation in their day, as a means of transport they can certainly be improved upon. He muses on the idea of strapping a jet engine to a stagecoach as a way to improve its performance – in much the same way we tinker with adding technology into our outdated curriculum and thinking they will somehow magically improve things. Like the jet engine on the stagecoach, we need to do more than just add on some new technology to an old system. We need to design a whole new jet airplane, not add a jet engine to a stagecoach.

You can read the entire article here.

I particularly resonated with the notion that the early airplanes were still not as effective in their day as an old fashioned stagecoach. Some people say the same thing about education today – “we added computers to our classrooms but nothing really changed”.

But as Papert observes…

“… You have to stop trying to improve the functioning of the old system. Instead lay down the seeds for something new. Maybe this will result in decreased performance according to the traditional measures. Remember that the first airplanes were not so good as stagecoaches as means for getting around. But they were destined to revolutionize transportation…”

It’s about time for that revolution.

The Winds of Change

From an article in the Sun Herald in Australia… seems that at least one school is biting the bullet and going for a radical rethink of school…

E-volution of education

A 24-HOUR school with no traditional classrooms and where students
use mobile phones and laptops to learn is being built in Sydney.

Designers of the Catholic school for 1700 pupils say it will keep
students interested ‘and reduce truancy and behavioural problems.

Pupils from kindergarten to year 12 can attend the school- being
built at Stanhope Gardens, in Sydney’s north-west between 6am and

They can have access to their work and lesson material at anytime on
the Internet and staff will provide online tutorials from 8pm to l0pm

The traditional classroom concept will disappear, replaced
by “learning spaces”, the school will be referred to as a “learning
community” and teachers will be known as “learning advisers” said
Greg Whitby, executive director of schools in the Parramatta diocese.

“The walls of a classroom become redundant because students are able
to access real time, any-time learning.” he said.

THE SUN-HERALD October 8, 2006 p. 39

Read the full article.

Teachers, are you paying attention?

If you are a teacher in a school, this video should be required viewing.

It may just change your view of what you do, and if it doesn’t, you should get out of teaching now. If you can’t become part of the solution then you are almost certainly part of the problem.

Btw, this comes via mscofina’s blog, which is most definitely worth a look.

Burn the Boats

Found this lovely quote on the Borderland blog that really sums up what I see as a huge problem with school as it stands…

My classroom doesn’t work the way I want it to. In the Age of Accountability, I focus on process, and see product as a secondary concern. I’m an ill-fitting peg, uneasy about participating in what, for me, amounts to a charade – emulating archaic practices designed for kids from bygone eras.

Looking at the group I’m with now, thinking about them, and not the generic, bloodless beings called Students, statistical incarnations of demographically catalogued learners, I feel more strongly than ever that I owe each of them more than mere delivery of the curriculum, and concern for where they stand relative to a standard that I don’t endorse.

I have lost track of the number of times I’ve remarked that the dominant content-driven approach to the way we are told to teach is fundamentaly flawed, only to have other teachers respond with “but they have to learn that content or they won’t pass the test at the end”.

They fail to grasp that it’s the system that’s the problem. I reckon it’s about time for a good old fashioned rebellion…

Their World


I found this short movie online and thought it was bloody fantastic. I think it really hits on the issues in education that many schools don’t seem to be thinking enough about, or at least if they are thinking about them, they don’t seem to be truly committing to do something about them.

This ought to be required viewing at everybody’s next staff meeting.