Please settle down – all five million of you

Disruption: Will a handful of elite cyborg universities soon control higher education? © Joe Darrow

Should every country have an Open School – a free online resource? The lockdown has inspired some brilliant experiments in teaching. Many hope that it will change education for ever.

“Good morning, everybody.” As the young woman appears on the classroom screen, the children sit up, full of anticipation: they know that the lesson is going to be fun and inspiring.

Looking at them is the International Teacher of the Year, based 200 miles away, at a very expensive private academy – but, thanks to the Open School, she is giving this lesson to them too.

This is how some education experts see the future. The lockdown has triggered all kinds of ingenious new ways of teaching because of technological advances, such as Microsoft 365 and Zoom – and organisations like the Oak National Academy and the BBC.

Now, there are calls for some changes to be made permanent.

The idea of an Open School is based on the Open University (OU). This was launched in 1971 to provide further education for those who had missed out on it. Instead of going to a physical university, students watched lectures at home on the BBC.

Advocates of the Open School are not suggesting that schools as we know them should disappear altogether. What they envisage is teachers and other resources being shared online between schools – and pupils in different parts of the country linking up to work on projects together.

Should every country have an Open School?

Who can tell me?

Some say that the Open School is badly needed. Every school has some teachers who are more inspiring than others, and it is grossly unfair that pupils have to compete for exam grades and university places against others who have been better taught.

Others argue that teaching is a two-way street. Teachers need to get to know their pupils, respond to their questions, and check that they understand what they are being taught. An online teacher with thousands of pupils would never be able to do that.

You Decide

  1. Is it easier to learn at home or at school?

Activities

  1. Create a leaflet to promote the Open School. Design a shield for it, choose a motto, and write six bullet points explaining why it is better than any other school.

Some People Say...

“The most valuable of all education is the ability to make yourself do the thing you have to do, when it has to be done, whether you like it or not.”

Aldous Huxley, (1894-1963), English novelist and philosopher

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Many people doubted the idea of the Open University when Harold Wilson, who was then prime minister, put forward plans. The chairman of the Conservative Party, Iain MacLeod, called it “blithering nonsense”, and even some of Wilson’s own Labour ministers were critical. Many people thought that it would devalue university education, seeing it as “sitting in front of the telly to get a degree”. But it soon proved a huge success, and is regarded by some as Wilson’s greatest achievement.
What do we not know?
How the lockdown will affect universities. Some believe that it might bring a major shift to online teaching, so that students would not need to leave home and pay for expensive accommodation. The top universities could take on many more students, and might join up with tech companies like Google to do so. But some think that living on campus, with other students from different backgrounds, is an equally important part of university education. Also, there is a worry that smaller universities who don’t get enough students will have to close.

Word Watch

Ingenious
Clever; original.
Oak National Academy
A free “online classroom” created by teachers in response to the lockdown.
Advocates
Supporters.
Envisage
Imagine. It comes from the French word for face, and also used to mean “face up to danger”.

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