When the revolution comes

Could education have an industrial revolution?

Technology disrupts and revolutionises private industry on a cyclical basis. New technology gives businesses access to higher productivity and new markets enabling them to grow and return higher profits

Could this happen in education? There are definitely emerging technologies that can improve productivity and increase the ‘reach’ of teachers and school leaders, but (since the actual industrial revolution) there have been no instances of a technology sweeping through all schools, despatching with the old, changing things permanently and giving rise to a higher base level of productivity.

Part of this is due to inputs and outputs. Loosely speaking, in (good) businesses, you put money into the business and get more money out. This extra money then can be invested in risky new technologies that could improve the efficiency of our money in money out machine. If a really good technology is found, other businesses are forced to adopt it to maintain competitiveness, and the business that fines it can increase their market share.

So our key ingredients for a revolution are:

  • An input as an output
  • Competition
  • Desire to increase or maintain market share
  • An environment that rewards taking risks

Let’s look at education through the same lens. The input, once again is money, but the immediate output is ‘educated citizens’. Picking apart the long term outputs of education is another blog entirely — the main point is that a headteacher that discovers a new way of producing many more ‘educated citizens’ than previously thought possible cannot use these educated citizens to better their lot. Likewise, the limited choice parents have with their child’s education (4 schools if they’re lucky, and they have to send their child somewhere), means that schools have very few competitors and have a limit on the total market share they can achieve anyway.

It may look like I’m arguing here for a further application of the free market to education, on the contrary; the above proves why a free market model will never work.

The output from a school will always be educated citizens, and however the state tries to ascribe monetary value to these citizens, the incentive will be false.

Firstly, the method of determining the value of the education received will be artificial (probably through test results) and therefore open to gaming.

Secondly, while its healthy for businesses to fail and compete, when schools fail, students suffer. Failing schools require more money and support to improve, this will not happen in a free market.

So any technological changes that occur in schools are very unlikely to follow the industrial revolution pattern. Much more likely they’ll follow the way in which new technologies disrupt private life.
 E.g. I’m getting pretty fed up of having to look through the yellow pages to find an address so I can send them a letter enquiring into their opening hours and requesting directions until a friend introduces me to Google… and gmail… and smart phones… and google maps.

That’s a little ridiculous, because its clear that this process is iterative. Schools follow the same one, they evolve slowly based around the removal of pain rather than the increasing of profits.

So will there be a revolution? Probably not, but evolution is already happening.

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Originally published at edteckman.wordpress.com on January 29, 2016.

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