The basic infrastructure that underpins the way we think about 'school' hasn't changed very much over the last few hundred years, and it isn't questioned nearly enough because we as a society have so much invested - socially, politically and financially - in this system. The entire structure is predicated on the idea that there are many students, but only a few educators. Therefore, classrooms have many children, but one teacher. Exams are one-size fits all, with only a minimum of variation to account for differing ability. Even learning is categorised into different subjects, which are valued, funded and supported according to perceived importance to 'the workforce' as a generality. This has been a logistical necessity until very recently.
But now, we are no longer limited by the idea of 'many learners, few educators'. Technology can leverage the expertise of a few to provide every student with their own teacher. Sometimes that teacher will be a subject expert working in the field, sometimes it will be a pedagogue, sometimes another learner, sometimes an algorithm or sometimes themselves. At its best, it will be all of these. The curriculum will be different for every learner because it will be responsive to his or her individual needs. And of course, it doesn't have to stop when they turn 18. 'School' as a construct could be a place to interact and learn from others, to advance theories and figure out how to test them, to practice leading and cooperating and working together.
Wandering the vast hall of the Excel centre in London during the Bett 2015 conference, you would be forgiven for thinking that desire for this educational utopia is not only ubiquitous, but that it is actually being implemented consistently on the ground. Smiling tykes with iPads are jamming on garage band in schools everywhere, augmented reality is transforming the way your average student is accessing course content and parents across the country are happily accessing the school's VLE to provide useful and meaningful support to their children.
The reality, of course, is quite different. In real teaching life, time that would otherwise be spent learning or developing innovative systems and resources that take advantage of new technologies is spent firefighting. Every moment is accounted for, and many moments are double booked. Not to mention that every new technological asset we acquire for use in the classroom often comes with a huge time cost: a significant learning curve, the burden of providing technical support, and the necessity of rigorous compliance with the school's e-safety and acceptable use policies.
One can not simply provision every child with an iPad and call it an innovative, technology-rich learning environment.
Some schools do genuinely have meaningful technology integrated into the fabric of the institution, but I would say that many more schools are in a transitional phase; the infrastructure of the school frequently clashing with and limiting the educational potential of new technology, but the hamster-wheel nature of the school year making it very difficult to disrupt that infrastructure.
So how do we as educators move forward? How do we provide the momentum necessary to overcome the technology inertia that plagues our schools? How do we innovate, when we struggle to keep up with the most basic directives from on high?
Well, at every level, from classroom teacher, to head teacher to policy maker, we need to do what all innovators and inventors and visionaries have done since the beginning of time. We need to risk. We need to step outside the safety net of our systems, question our structures and experiment with our future.