Progress would stun class of 1914

10th September 2010 at 01:00

The TES is celebrating its 100th birthday. I've been reading it for much of my career in primary education and, like the paper itself, I have witnessed huge changes in the way we educate children.

I'm constantly reminded of this by a photograph of a Comber Grove classroom in 1914 hanging in my office. The classroom looks as if it hasn't seen a lick of paint for years. Tiered rows of raggedly dressed children stare passively towards the blackboard at the front of the room. There are more than 40 of them. There is a map of the British Empire on the wall, but little else. A master, moustached and dour, stands halfway up the rows, looking stiffly at the camera.

No doubt, out of sight, there is a teacher's desk, a cane and probably a dunce's chair. And in the right-hand corner of the bottom tier sits a boy with the delightful name of Reginald Nightingale. Reg is different from the other children. He is black, and I know his name because, as an older man, he returned to the school to work as a playground sweeper.

If Reg could see his classroom now, he'd be amazed. There are just 22 children in it, only three of whom are white, and they have far more freedom to move about than Reg ever did. They sit in groups at tables, which can be moved depending on the activity taking place. Although some paint is peeling, it doesn't matter because the walls are flooded with children's art work, models, topic displays and colourful charts for improving work quality.

Reg would find the children friendly and welcoming, but he'd be shocked at their physical size, and probably think many were teenagers. He'd notice the teacher smiled at him, too, and he'd find her warm and encouraging, though he'd soon discover she was strict about work and behaviour standards. No cane exists, of course, but Reg would find her lessons so interesting he probably wouldn't want to muck about anyway. And undoubtedly he'd be impressed by the sheer range of learning that takes place, especially with the additional activities outside class time. He could make a boat, play a violin, write a play, learn to dance, do some gardening, cook a pie .

Reg would still find traces of things that have survived across the years. A board at the front of the classroom, but now a smooth white, with dry markers instead of dusty chalk. The children still write in books, but now they make attractive covers for them, using a variety of colourful writing media, and the books come in many shapes and sizes. The children still learn multiplication tables and maths rules, but now have clever apparatus to assist them. They still learn to read . but with a vast array of books readily available in their class library.

Reg would be astonished at the classroom's electronic wizardry. The interactive whiteboard, where Mount Vesuvius can be instantly shown as well as talked about. The ability to play a sequence from a famous film, in high-quality definition. The chance to enjoy music, properly, on good equipment. The opportunity to don headphones and escape into a private world of story-telling and drama. And, at the click of a button, the ability to harness vast amounts of information from the internet.

So where will education be in 50 years' time? The pace of change makes it impossible to say. With the advent of managed learning platforms and the development of the internet, the pundits predict that schools as we know them won't even need to exist.

But whatever happens, I'm sure The TES, in some form or other, will be there to record it.

Mike Kent is headteacher at Comber Grove Primary, Camberwell, south London.


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