Darren Coxon, Director of Education, Brighton College International Schools
In the National Museum of Computing at Bletchley Park they display computers from the very earliest models through to the present day. One of the rooms is set up as a classroom filled with BBC Micro computers, one of the earliest mass produced PCs and a common sight in UK schools in the early 1980s. I can remember our computing lessons, creating simple programs with a teacher who on reflection was probably only a couple of steps ahead of us, it was all so new.
How times change. In 1965, Gordon Moore estimated that computer processing power would double every year. Moore’s law has been largely proven correct: our iPhones are now thousands of times more powerful than the ‘supercomputers’ of the 1950s and 60s, and at a tiny fraction of the cost. We now have in our pockets extraordinarily powerful tools that are getting quicker, and cheaper, all the time.
Anyone born in the last 20 years or so has been raised on a diet of digital media accessed through a handheld device. It is worth remembering that Facebook did not exist before 2003, and Google before 1998. We are still in the early days of these new tools, learning how best to integrate them into our lives.
And this is the issue. Whilst we might be still finding our way, our children have grown up using these tools and can’t imagine a world without them. To them, keeping in touch through networks like Whatsapp and Snapchat is completely normal and natural, and the idea of looking in an encyclopaedia for information is just weird. How many of us have been at the receiving end of a child who refuses to give up their phone when asked; only the other week in the UK a supply teacher was stabbed for doing just that. This might be an extreme case but it highlights how ingrained these devices are into children’s lives: MRI scans of teenagers’ brains have even shown an alteration in how their brains work because of the amount of hyperlinked, visual stimulation they receive every day. This isn’t just a behavioural issue.
With this in mind, there are two approaches taken in schools. Some see mobile devices as a distraction and a cause of bullying and so ban them. Others have taken the plunge and are integrating them into lessons and allowing pupils to use them to help with homework. The problem a lot of schools have is that both teaching style and classroom layout make it hard for teachers and pupils to use these devices effectively. A lot of schools have brought in iPads only to find that no one really knows how to use them. I’ve worked with quite a few schools now as an IT leadership consultant and have seen how much everyone struggles to get it right.
This is why designing and building a new school from the very start, as we are doing in Bangkok, is such an exciting prospect, as it allows us to ensure that the spaces created enable learning to take place in lots of different ways and that the technology used truly integrates into those spaces. It’s important that there are still those formal areas where teachers can deliver high quality, inspiring teaching (as this is one of the most important parts of a Brighton College education). All our classrooms will be large and airy, with the latest projection facilities, attractive furniture and powerful wifi.
But classrooms on their own don’t address the different ways children now learn. There will also be open-plan, flexible learning spaces where they can work at their own pace and collaboratively, and a wide, linking corridor between our school buildings which will serve as a learning resource centre, with links to the outside and a combination of different learning zones. The school is designed to take into account both how children learn best and what they need in order to be successful when they are older: a combination of excellent exam results and the sorts of skills employers now look for. Like Reggio Emilia, we see these intelligently-designed spaces as the ‘third teacher’, enabling our children to learn wherever they are.
It is also important that we train our teachers to embrace these new ways of teaching and learning. Brighton College Bangkok’s teachers will need to demonstrate both the skills to maximise the potential of mobile technology and the willingness to learn and to adapt to teaching in new, more flexible spaces. One of the advantages of building a school is that we can choose teachers who understand the needs of children today and are prepared to be both teacher and guide; to inspire but also to support increasing independence.
The world of the BBC Micro, Sinclair Spectrum and Pac Man has long gone, but the core principles of excellent teaching in a safe and inspiring place are more important than ever. It is our duty as educators to create great schools, ones that enable us to do our job of helping children to learn and grow. Brighton College Bangkok will be this sort of school, and as a result is well-placed to become one of the top independent schools in South East Asia.