The future of education has already arrived

01:56, Aug 12 2010
LOOK HERE: Scottish digital media expert Ewan McIntosh discusses the merits of an Apple iPad during his visit to Nelson.

Turn off the school bells, start teaching the parents, stop making excuses and get ready for the digital future of education – it is already here.

Ewan McIntosh spoke to about 80 principals and teachers yesterday as part of a $350,000 Education Ministry contract to help lead the Nelson region's schools into the next generation of teaching and learning.

The project involves 32 schools and is the first of its scale in the region.

Mr McIntosh began his professional career as a French teacher in Scotland and found the only way to engage his 15-year-old boys was to let them communicate with other French teenagers about their favourite subject – football.

"But they don't do it by letters they do it by blogging about it and skyping them."

He was hired by the Scottish government as its adviser on learning and technology before going to television to commission digital projects.


Appleby School teacher Allanah King, who is heading the contract, said it was "a real coup" to get Mr McIntosh to Nelson.

He said there was "a lot of snake oil" that was sold about the idea of "digital natives" – that the only way to engage on young people's levels was to embrace "their" technology.

"But there are more over 35-year-olds on Facebook than there are under-35s. It is the way the world goes round, it has nothing with young people's technology. We are all social beasts."

In the 1980s, a text book might have been the best way to share expertise, but now there was a whole world that let students learn and find experts at the click of a mouse.

It all came back to how we learn.

"We learn by sharing and talking, we don't learn by staying locked into classrooms with the door shut. We have to get out in the world. Now that does not always mean field trips; now it is out in the blogosphere."

But parents had to be engaged also. They had to understand the changes that had occurred in the classroom since their day. When Mr McIntosh suggested schools set aside two days a year where parents could come in and learn alongside their child, there was silence.

One teacher said: "I can cope with 11-year-olds, but please don't give me their parents."

Mr McIntosh said everyone involved with a child's learning needed to understand the ways they were engaged.

In today's world, that meant opening your mind to the possibilities of game-based learning, such as using Wii Fit and Guitar Hero, as launching pads into subjects such as maths, physics and geography.

That might raise a few eyebrows in New Zealand. But not in Scotland.

"We have been doing this sort of thing for about four years."