Disclaimer: I have anonymised the details of the people who took part in the Facebook discussion below, and redacted some of the comments for legal reasons. However, as information about the individual school and its implementation of the scheme is published on an easily accessible public website, I have chosen not to anonymise these details.
There are currently only 21 Microsoft Showcase Schools in the UK. Microsoft describes these as “…premier schools where the school leader has a strong vision for change. These leaders have created a whole-school innovative learning environment enabled by technology, where students participate in their own learning and achievements to make learning more exciting.”
Sounds great! At least, it does until you begin to unpick the rhetoric.
Are there really whole schools in the UK, tech-enabled or not, where students have no participation in their own learning and achievements? Is this an appropriate benchmark for the definition of visionary leadership?
I recently came across the following Facebook post by an old friend from my home town in Lancashire. She was angry, because her child, due to start at the local High School in September, is required to have a Microsoft Surface 3 as part of his essential school kit. She linked to an Australian newspaper article, which can be accessed here: Computers in class ‘a scandalous waste’. The article argues for the near total rejection of computers in schools; a diametrically opposing viewpoint to that proposed by my friend’s local school. The comments below the line reflect an interesting range of views and I highly recommend reading them.
Comments on her discussion thread were derogatory about very specific details of a payment plan in which instalments didn’t add up to a promised discounted price and something about it made me want to dig a little deeper. As a Higher Education Practitioner, I know that new practices established in schools and FE could have a huge impact on my own work in the future. In the shorter term, I also have two children due to begin High School in the next few years, and, if true, this may be something that I need to prepare for as a parent.
So, I visited the website of the school in question, a High School in Lancashire’s Ribble Valley, where I found this introductory page describing the scheme. You can explore this at your leisure, although if you’re at all bothered about SPaG in school literature, you will find it very irritating. Ironic, for scheme that is sold as raising standards in literacy.
The Cost Breakdown has ruffled a lot of feathers, and it’s easy to see why. A 30% discount has been secured, parents are told, but only within a very limited time-frame, and, more importantly, only for those parents who can afford the one-off, up-front ‘donation’ (a questionable euphemism to say the least) of £479.29. Parents who must choose one of the instalment plans face an increasingly expensive tariff, apparently inversely proportionate to their disposable income. Those who opt for the £17.99/month option end up paying a total of £647.64 – £24 more than the school’s version of the undiscounted full price. That’s before the ‘New Extra’s’ [sic] of insurance coverage are added to the cost.
A quick scan of the Argos website reveals that this might not be quite the bargain that the parents are being encouraged to invest in, particularly in light of the fact that such devices are often already covered by home contents insurance policies. The lack of the pen in this package makes no significant difference; the second-hand market for such items is cheap and robust.
Subsequent Facebook comments drew the following observations between myself, two secondary teachers also from the Ribble Valley, and the parent who raised the original objection:
This turned into an extended discussion, involving a wide range of parental and professional educator views, none of which could find any benefits to the scheme. Many made points about inclusivity and safety which, while insightful, unfortunately couldn’t be edited to make them suitable for a public blog.
I then started to consider some of the pedagogic implications of such a project. If I were writing a formal critical evaluation of the scheme, it might begin like this:
A growing body of literature is emerging to contradict the notion that technology will bring about a long-awaited revolution in education. De Bruyckere et al (2015) have argued that the most recent technological device to cause a genuine educational revolution was the blackboard. They also note that, as far back as 1983, pioneering thinkers such as Richard E. Clark (cited in De Bruyckere et al, 2015) were already arguing that instructional media were “mere vehicles that deliver instruction but do not influence student achievement any more than the truck that delivers our groceries causes changes in our nutrition.”
The OECD, in a recent report on technology and learning in schools, suggests that:
- Is it fair to entertain the idea that an expensive, controversial piece of school kit is likely to serve as a convenient self-deselection policy for parents who may be less likely to co-operate in helping the school to achieve its strategic aims?
- Has any consideration been given to updating the devices during the pupils’ 5 years at the school? The Surface 3 was launched in 2014 and has already been superseded. Will children currently in Year 6, who will leave Ribblesdale in 2021, have entirely lost any motivational benefit derived from using exciting new technology and be left working on devices that are slow and dated compared to what they might own at home?
- What tangible benefits does the school receive from their ‘Microsoft Showcase School’ status?
I will be watching this project with interest, relying on contacts in the local area to provide insider information. However, if even Microsoft’s own founder can state that ‘just giving people devices has a really horrible track record’ (Gates, 2012), then I don’t envisage this scheme becoming widely established in UK schools in the long term. Sadly, I fear that the pupils and their families will be the ones who lose out if this experiment turns out to be the inevitable failure that I suspect it will.
Bita, N. (2016) Computers in schools ‘a scandalous waste’: Sydney Grammar head Online at: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/education/computers-in-class-a-scandalous-waste-sydney-grammar-head/news-story/b6de07e63157c98db9974cedd6daa503 [Accessed on: 18 April, 2016]
Chronicle of Higher Education, The (2012) An Interview with Bill Gates Online at: http://chronicle.com/article/A-Conversation-With-Bill-Gates/132591/ [Accessed on: 16, April, 2016]
Clitheroe Advertiser and Times (2016) Parents’ outcry at having to fund pupils’ tablets Online at: http://www.clitheroeadvertiser.co.uk/news/education/parents-outcry-at-having-to-fund-pupils-tablets-1-7831945 [Accessed on: 16 April, 2016]
De Bruyckere, P., Kirschner, P.A. and Hulshof, C. (2015) Urban Myths About Learning and Education London: Elsevier
Economist, The (2016) Worldwide Cost of Living Survey Online at: http://www.economist.com/blogs/graphicdetail/2016/03/daily-chart-4 [Accessed on: 18 April, 2016]
Hargreaves, A. and Fullan, M. (2012) Professional Capital: Transforming Teaching in Every School New York: Routledge
Hargreaves, A. and Fullan, M. (2013) The Power of Professional Capital Online at: http://www.michaelfullan.ca/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/JSD-Power-of-Professional-Capital.pdf [Accessed on: 16 April, 2016]
Microsoft (2016) Showcase Schools Online at: https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/education/school-leaders/showcase-schools/default.aspx [Accessed on: 18 April, 2016]
Morrison, K. and Ridley, K. (1988) Primary School Curriculum Planning London: Paul Chapman Publishing Ltd
OECD (2015) Students, Computers and Learning Online at: http://www.oecd.org/publications/students-computers-and-learning-9789264239555-en.htm [Accessed on: 16 April, 2016]
Ribblesdale High School (2016) Ribblesdale One to One Scheme Online at: http://121.ribblesdale.org/ [Accessed on: 18 April, 2016]
Roberts-Mahoney, H., Means, A.J. and Garrison, M.J. (2016) ‘Netflixing Human Capital development: personalized learning technology and the corporatization of K-12 education’ In: Journal of Education Policy DOI: http:dx.doi.org/10.1080/02680939.2015.1132774