4 min read

The School of the Future isn't brought to you by Sun Microsystems

Or Dell. Or Yahoo. Or Facebook. Or Google.

I wrote most of this post last November, but I was reminded of it today, after reading this article The Future of Education? First 'Samsung School' in Canada Opens. I joked about opening a Yates school, but maybe it's not a joke anymore. How long before the naming rights of schools determine how a school operates and how students are taught.

I had the privilege of attending the NZOS Awards this week. Hosted by the erudite and engagingly droll Toby Manhire, and brought to you mainly by the word "bats hit". I was there as part of the group eqnz group, who were nominated in two categories: People's Choice and Open Source in Social Services. The award in Social Services went to the SoupHub  and WCC's Housing Computer Hubs, both worthy winners.

There was also a special award for "Promoting Open Culture" that went to Warrington School. This award got the loudest cheer of the night from the audience, especially as Warrington was announced as NZ's first FOSS school.

I must admit to grinding my teeth a little, and at the risk of being shot at, here are the reasons I did so.

  1. We don't hail schools that are running Microsoft software, or Apple software, or rebuilding BBC Micros to service their students learning needs. We don't promote a green footprint school as the first to use Yates products do we?

We hail schools that are places of safety that provide learning environments that meet the needs of their students. We don't hail the tools that are used to achieve those environments. When I say, "We don't..." - what I mean is, "We shouldn't."

It's easy to hail a tool. Because a tool is obvious.

But we don't see Juilliard as prestigious because all of the pianos are Steinways. We need to stop holding up the tools that are in schools as the evidence of "21st Century Learning". At the risk of being obvious, they're evidence of being evident in the 21st Century. No more, no less.  (see also: N4L and UFB).

Learning isn't about pencils or pianos, or even a modified Ubuntu build - it's about how we connect with those tools.

To defend Warrington - I fully accept that the values of open culture that they collected the award for, are for more than just running recycled PCs with Ubuntu installations. Nathan and his people are doing a range of really powerful, engaging and sustainable learning experiences for their students. For that they should be applauded.

  1. We cannot bottle what an individual school does and scale it across our public education system and expect or demand the same results.

The three poster schools for FOSS in this country are Warrington, Albany Senior High School, and the Manaiakalani project.

Each of these has a particular set of circumstances and needs that lead to their success for their place. Each of them have identifiable individuals behind them, Nathan at Warrington, Mark at Albany, (Mark has since January 2013 worked at CORE) and Russell and Dorothy Burt at Manaiakalani.

Warrington is a 3 classroom school in a small community, led by a passionate principal who can manage the pressures and expectations of his community, and guide change relatively quickly, when compared to larger schools in our education system.

Albany was a completely brand new school built from the ground up. The design of the curriculum and vision at Albany was in place first, and it was what led them to using FOSS software and hardware. While Mark is often promoted as the point of vision, I'd suggest that the dedication of the staff at ASHS are directly responsible for the awesome place that it is. Regardless of the usage of FOSS.

Manaikalani is an area based project, linking up a number of schools, that has a huge level of financial and community support to achieve the really positive student results it's now seeing. Nevyn alluded to this in his acceptance speech, and his voluntary support has been hugely critical to the success of that project.

All of these schools are successes in their own right. But each of them are individual sites. With a unique set of circumstances, in which they have chosen to make use FOSS tools. The people therein have worked for long periods, with a range of failures and revisions to get their places working as they are.

I believe you will find that same reflective, critical process in any effective school in this country, regardless of the software or the tools they are using.
In those schools, those reflective learning processes will work for the majority of students.
In those schools, those same processes may fail to work for some students.

Some may view that as unacceptable collateral, but that is the reality of public education.

  1. Bottom line - we want our schools to be hailed as places of great learning and experiences.

We want our people, teachers and students, in those places to be be great learners and capable of creating great experiences.

_That's all of our schools.  _

In all of our communities.

We need to keep searching for the ways to create these experiences.

By challenging the status quo, but delivering the promises and aspirations of the NZ Curriculum.
By tapping into our communities.
By understanding how to deliver the core knowledge and strategies that our children and young people need to be a part of society.
By holding each other in the sector, and in society to account.
By being bold enough to have crucial conversations that foster and engender critical thinking.
By creating a national culture of critical thinking that realizes schools reflect their communities and the society that they are a part of.

If we want our schools to be great, we need to demand our society be great also.

Greatness isn't in the tool. Greatness is in us.

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Continue by Tim Kong is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.