Mobile Technologies vs New Victorian Architecture PDF Print E-mail
Written by Graham Brown-Martin on Friday, 10 March 2006
/vic2.jpgThe British Government, under the “Building Schools for the Future” (BSF) scheme, has pledged circa £40B to renovate and rebuild schools that are over 50 years old. According to the launch document “BSF will drive innovation and transformation in education: each wave of BSF will comprise projects where innovation can have greatest impact on standards. Not just innovation of an individual school, but innovation across the whole estate of an area”

No one could argue against these laudable objectives but as many a cynic might point out the devil is in the execution. Once the management fees have been taken, the architects resumes enhanced, builders bills balanced and peerages honoured, what might our future generations be looking forward to?

ICT and the provision of the Personalised Learning Agenda that bridges digital divides is at the core of the BSF strategy so what kind of schools are we “building” and is “school” a building at all?

Judging from early architectural illustrations and the construction of new style “smart schools” there doesn’t seem to be much that’s smart about them. Yes, heating systems that automatically open and close windows must be very exciting as is the construction of dreaming spires from glass and metal. Until, of course, you realise that the metal used to construct 21st Century classrooms creates the equivalent of a Faraday Cage that is more effective at blocking wireless communications than old Victorian walls.

Add to this an Orwellian paranoia of ensuring that nothing can get in or out of what pretty much shaped late 20th Century culture, i.e. the Internet, without careful monitoring and you have a scheme to build new schools that are entirely Victorian in their execution. One of the well known PFI partners in a BSF scheme confided in me that his credentials for BSF was that “he’d been to school himself”. So that’s all right then.

Some of these BSF designs even have ICT suites and all include that hopeless technology for the chronologically displaced, the “Interactive Whiteboard”. Yes we can appear to be forward thinking without actually changing anything because we have some computers “Look even the old black board is now digital! ”. The notion that perhaps some learning might take place outside of a four-wall classroom replete with digital whiteboard managed by a teacher at the front is, for some, an alien concept.

If we are serious about bridging digital divides and meeting a Personalised Learning Agenda then we’ll have to accept that personalised mobile technologies such as handheld computers, gaming consoles and smart-phones are a part of that future. These devices are often as powerful as desktop computers, have batteries that last all day, can surf the web and with a bit of imagination and investment be used as a vital and truly ubiquitous method of providing accessible learning materials for all. By providing citywide free-to-access wireless learning networks using technologies such as WiMAX we can actually deliver the promise that so many European funded VLE projects have failed to provide, learning at the point of accessibility. Which isn’t always inside a building or a classroom.

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This article was originally published in "the assignment" (ISSN 1748-2402) a subscription newsletter for those interested in the business of education published by MediaTaylor.

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Comments from the forum:
Mobile Technologies vs New Victorian Architecture
bobharrisonset    March 13th, 2006 - 6:58 PM
I think we can agree Graham(at last!) I am heavily involved with BSF with Toshiba and I think you are right. BSF is in danger of building schools of the past for the future!

To add to this issue I am pleased to see the handeld conference will have BSF as a theme. There is an interesting artcle " Adios to the 'old Skool' " in the nestafuturelab publication "vision" issue 02 2006  www.futurelab.org.uk

The danger is the BSF project is driven by the construction industry and, despite what it says on the P4S website,the transformative potential of ICT is not at the core of the planning process.

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