The future

This post was written for the IBM 100th Anniversary website, Shaping our Future (hit the drop down under the education topic).

The future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed.

William Gibson, quoted in The Economist, December 4, 2003


‘The future is here’ and this oft (over) quoted line from the father of cyberpunk accurately relays how Australian children must often feel about their community’s approach to their schooling.

Choose any time of the school day and the majority of Australian children currently sit at desks with no access to the internet. Quite simply, this is an unnacceptable situation that can be remedied quickly, with political and community will.

Most Australians would agree that decisions designed to win short term party political advantage do not create conditions conducive for improving community learning outcomes. In fact, many of these expedient decisions have the very opposite effect, negatively impacting on learning in our schools and the wider community.

Recent ‘action’ designed to improve Australian education focuses on a new national curriculum, funding to improve teacher quality through paying bonuses, websites and standardised testing designed to improve accountability and transparency.

Unfortunately,the Digital Education Revolution, the most enlightened of government policies, has had funding slashed in the recent federal budget. This is a travesty!


What can we do?

There are some very clear policy actions that can be taken to set the scene for sustainable, sensible future directions in Australian education:

  1. Ubiquitous wireless access to the internet with each student having a mobile device
  2. New credentials based on assessment/portfolio rather than pen and paper exams
  3. Personalised learning for all students in a more flexible, less factory-like environment
  4. A ‘new’ style of ‘teaching’ that is about ‘learning’ and being a ‘learner’

A radical suggestion, to re-purpose school sites into ‘community’ spaces with completely flexible learning arrangements, that place  emphasis on the individual attaining the qualifications needed, is what could evolve if we start to think about ‘learning’ and individual responsibility rather than our current factory-models of education, with all their limitations.

In short, we equate education with schooling and learning is neglected. The abundance of resources available and people to connect with online fundamentally changes the game of learning. More self-directed and personalised learning is achievable due to this abundance.

Informally polling my colleagues reveals they overwhelmingly believe that personalising learning is the BIG IDEA for our immediate future if we are to improve learning for young people. I agree! All policy and funding decisions should be made to enable this idea!

It is essential that young people have community spaces to gather and learn, create and grow. However, we need to rethink many of our education ‘norms’.  Advocates of using video game design in education, gamification or Project Based Learning or other progressive models all believe that students need to be transliterate, not just traditionally literate. Cultural literacy, in a wider sense than what ED Hirsch suggests, is also essential, for teachers to stay ‘current’, as well as students (who need a sense of ‘the past’). Who decides what is culturally relevant? I’d suggest we all do rather than a narrow vision from a syllabus/curriculum.


Eat – Sleep – Hydrate

A very simple, yet profoundly important issue which must not be forgotten as we reform, is our community well-being. We must ensure that students are savvy digital citizens but also sleeping, eating sensibly and well-hydrated. It would shock many of our political leaders to see the percentage of students who do not eat breakfast or drink water at all. We often see statistics on teen suicide, mental health issues or family-breakdown but rarely about these basics of existence.

Distributing the future more evenly in an effort to have excellent ‘education systems’ will be less about ‘schooling’ and more about ‘learning’. That means all of us – not just the children!

cc licensed ( BY NC ) flickr photo shared by @VRider



    • Dean Groom

    • 13 years ago

    Great points, in reference to games and worlds, there are now so many games based learning project happening out of school that its hard to keep track, 5 years ago they were hard to find. I think that the idea of community is a growing on, and with that social action – not to de-school, but to provide the kind of experiences and well being that sadly finds little warmth inside policy maker’s heads.

    • Deb McPherson

    • 13 years ago

    i wish we could clone you Darcy and put you and your ideas in every school and in front of every politician.

    • Jennifer Parrett

    • 13 years ago

    Hi Darcy,

    I think that learning is as Ken Robinson says, back in the content driven stuff of the Age of Enlightenment, so the idea of knowledge is becoming defunct, yet we can see that it is still driving us all nuts that we have to teach so much content. So we become flexible, and all the benefits of school – group social interaction, etc – can still be there. Good thinking, Darcy.

    I know I don’t post as often as some, but I do read everything in this blog. I possibly have that fear of being published for all to see what I think. I need to get over that.

    • Jeanmaree Sexton

    • 13 years ago

    Stimulating and challenging discussion. Exisitng time constraints in schools are one of the major hurdles to achieving change. To unleash the potential that is there in every student, every teacher and every school there needs to be time to experiment, to think, to challenge existing practice and to develop new skills. This will take political will and money. Not likely but we should all stay positive and work for the betterments we can achieve.

    • Tony Coleman

    • 13 years ago

    I completely agree. I am really getting concerned about how disinterested students are in what we are currently offering in classes. Students are struggling to find the relevance in their learning at school when they participate in such rich learning environments outside of school. IMHO we will continue to lose them if we can’t satisfy their individual learning needs at school.

    • Ian Pattingale

    • 13 years ago

    The good use of technology is a simple reflection of good pedagogy. We have so many experienced teachers but were are the experts ones? We have had technology is our school now for near on 25 years. Where are the expert teachers? What has really changed? We type (write), we research and we present. Yes the information is more easily found but do we teach substantially different.

    I think we are just now starting to understanding the roll of technology in learning. It has nothing to do with teaching technology. It is all about learning using the underlying principles of collaboration, self assessment and higher order thinking skills. All things that technology has made easier. So it doesn’t matter what collaboration tool or what present tool we use, its about whats required to learn most effectively, and the tools required (technology tools) are learnt just-in-time not just-in-case they are needed.

    • Andrew FitzSimons

    • 13 years ago

    An intellectually challenging view with great merit. The social purposes of schools become increasingly central to our purpose, whilst much of our curriculum/pedagogy remains at a tangent. We live and work in exciting times. Onwards!

  1. Great post Darcy. Re-purposing school sites to become community learning spaces where learning isn’t siloed into narrow content-driven subject area’s and the individual learner can personalise learning so that it is culturally relevant to them. It’s an achievable idea and not as radical as complete systemic change – we can do this! It will enable our students to see that the future has relevance for them and that their contribution to it is as important as having breakfast every morning before learning begins 🙂

    It was also so heartening to see and hear ideas from teachers at the 1#1unconference this week URL: . It is when I see how they have used game-based learning, in this case it was in science, to get all students involved in scientific inquiry and competing as groups to top the leaderboard that I know we are on the right track. These students will be the innovators of the future. Thanks for the mention of PLANE Darcy. We firmly believe our approach in PLANE will support a new style of teaching that is all about learning.

    • Louise Ryan

    • 13 years ago

    Hi Darcy,
    I’ve grown despondent becausde the misuse of laptops in classrooms. Maybe I need a change of attitude and structure and recognise the broader facility than just a word-processor/surreptitious gaming device. Your comments here provide encourage to change my attitude and approach.

  2. Hi Darcy, As always, you are challenging the notion of quality teaching and the quality teaching framework for the future and how it can and could look. I feel somewhat in denial about how far we have to go in education, as you highlighted. Less about schools, more about learning. This week, too conversations have engaged my school executive. How do we surpass the need to address data targets (ie ASRs are full of data targets) and secondly, how do we measure such 21st Century qualities as creativity, collaboration and connection. As principal, this is the dilemma I face. I want my teachers to be creative, connected and collaborative learners, and convincing them that this is going to revolutionise what they are about, I find to be a daily battle. Do you know the biggest excuse.. i don’t have time for that! …my come back. “…if we teach today as we taught yesterday, we rob our children of tomorrow.” John Dewey

    • Barbara Bober

    • 13 years ago

    Insightful as always Darcy. It is unfortunately true that our politicians seem to be misinformed, misguided and resisitant to the notion of supporting and/or financing opportunities for individualised learning both for our students and our teachers. Schools are rarely able to sustain innovations which focus on these very areas within their organisations due to restrictive staffing and funding formulae also.
    The DERNSW has certainly been able to provide the technology and support the process whereby teachers and students can rethink and reframe their working relationships to that of co- learners. There is also a significant element of culture change required where leaders need to embed, model and expand the processes by which we all can collaborate and learn together.
    In the words of Professor Yong Zhao, Dean for Global Education University of Oregon, innovation is generally viewed as an invasion or intrusion so we might expect resistance. We can move forward in creating our ‘learning’ environments by seeing our students as ‘inventors’, not just consumers and by moving our students from the periphery into the mainstream of creativity. I believe our teachers are resourceful practitioners who can rise to this challenge.

    • Rick Bryce

    • 13 years ago

    Thanks Darcy for your valued contribution to one of the most important debates we need to have about the reformation of education in our wide brown and… I’d like to quote you in my upcoming subject in Educational Leadership @ CSU–> building hope in our schools. Cheers, and I am looking forward to yuor blog from Denmark.

    • Dianne Marshall

    • 13 years ago

    One of the lessons learned from the Digital Education Revolution program in NSW government schools was the importance of educators driving technology initiatives. So often we see the technology experts setting the agenda and determining what will be provided to schools. There is often a lack of understanding of how schools work and the technology solution provided actually blocks innovation. This will be an ongoing challenge for educators to work collaboratively with our IT colleagues to provide the best technology solutions for our staff and students.

    • Anastasia Scott

    • 12 years ago


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