In 2006 I proposed that we should develop an educational system of small schools, loosely joined:
- With access to the Internet a one-room school would have to reach out to the rest of the world and not be wrapped in the confines of the industrial school. Schools would have to seek out partnerships and not be isolated islands.
- Communities of learning online could be developed to link learners in several schools and even in different countries.
- No teacher would be able to ‘master’ the subject matter, so teachers would become facilitators of learning, which is what they profess to do anyway .
- Small schools would be integrated into the community and there would be a sense of ownership by the community, not the education system.
- Most children would be able to walk to school, therefore eliminating buses, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and encouraging exercise.
- Children and parents could have more than one school to choose from.
- Sales of industrial school buildings could be used as financial capital for the transition.
Perhaps with this pandemic, the time has come to reconsider this idea. Small schools make for smaller social networks and easier contact tracing. They may require less time on mass transit less exposure to larger human networks. Small schools can be pods in a larger online education network.
Why has this not been seriously considered, and instead small schools keep closing?
Large schools make for easier control and centralized use of physical assets. They also have larger hierarchies. I would assume that the Principal of a school with 2,000 students earns a higher salary than a Principal of 50 students. Hierarchies become self-replicating over time. Plus, the big schools can have big sports teams and put on big theatre productions and musicals.
So let’s follow the money. Why is it spent and where is it spent? We can now shine the Covid-19 lens on our school spending and see what is really important. What makes for a pandemic resilient school system? It has to be much more than the existing physical infrastructure with an emergency backup online plan. This pandemic gives us an opportunity to seriously look at re-schooling.
Probably the number one core skill for all citizens today in a digitally networked world is media literacy. It is the ability to discern fake news, disinformation, misinformation, and conspiracy theories. Given the viral spread of these messages in our post-truth society, the current educational system has not done a very good job. We see that the anti-vaxxer movement is growing and bots rule the pandemic conversation online.
Small schools may not address all of these issues but they will provide a diversity of thinking we have not seen in our schooling for at least 50 years. Small pieces, loosely joined enabled the incredible sharing of knowledge via the open web. Perhaps small schools, loosely joined will enable a new Renaissance in learning. Hyperlinks subvert hierarchy — let’s make it so.