Sunday, 23 April 2017

Caveat Emptor - the perils ahead for those investing in for-profit private schools

The National 23/04/2017
It has been a tough few days for the UAE schools' market. Last week GEMS announced that their flagship ultra-premium school, GEMS Nations Academy will be 'merging' with GEMS Dubai American Academy (Education Journal Middle East 13/04/2017) and today The National has run two stories indicating that parents are shopping around because the 'High Cost of Education is the biggest challenge faced by parents.'
These stories indicate that the oversupply of schools is having an impact at every level of the UAE private schools market.
The failure of GEMS Nations is indicative that there is not a market for an ultra-Premium school in Dubai.
The effective closure of GEMS Nations Academy after only one year indicates that there is not a market for an ultra-Premium school in what is an already competitive Premium marketplace. This flagship school boasted the best teaching, small class sizes and Rolls Royce school facilities - all at an eye-watering price point that was 30% higher than most of its competitors. GEMS is a big enough organisation to absorb this loss and its merger with DAA is a useful Plan B. Its failure must serve as a warning sign not only to North London Collegiate School, Dubai who are also pitching into the market in September 2017 with ultra-premium priced product, but also to Brighton and Dwight who are coming to Dubai in 2018, and to other UK schools thinking of establishing franchise schools in the UAE.
Market forces are driving a readjustment in the private schools' market.
The National story on parents shopping around and moving children between schools represents a readjustment in the wider private schools market. It was only in the academic year 2014-15 that the number of places exceeded the number of pupils. Any under-supplied market has the potential for rich pickings for investors, this is all the more so when it is an 'essential' product that is being sold - ex-pat parents are required by law to put their child into a private school. The consequence was that schools were able to open and thrive that do not represent good value to parents. 
A market-driven schools sector is generally a good thing. Now that there is over-supply we are seeing market forces at work: parents moving children between schools, greater competition is driving up school quality, and prices are falling. However, we can also expect more school closures as 'the dark hand of the market' culls those who don't make the mark.
The challenge for school owners, governors and school leaders is to raise standards without raising prices.
The challenge for school owners, governors and school leaders is to raise standards without raising prices. This will be particularly difficult in a context of a global shortage of teachers and of rising costs due to the introduction of VAT in January 2018, and the inevitable subsequent wage-price inflation that will follow. It is likely that schools will be forced to absorb costs in order to retain market share, with the obvious consequence that returns for shareholders will fall.
These are exciting but difficult times for the private school sector. The streets of Dubai are not paved with gold - let anyone thinking of investing in the private schools sector beware - Caveat Emptor. 

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Has the time come to start replacing Secondary Teachers with Para-Teachers and the Application of Technology?

Ideal World v Reality

In an ideal world we would want every secondary school child to be taught by a suitably qualified specialist teacher, however we are far from that reality. 
  • On a global level according to UNESCO, there are an estimated 263 million children who are not in education and the world will need 5.1 million more lower Secondary teachers by 2030 to meet future demand. 
  • On a more parochial level, the UK National Audit Office report Training New Teachers (10 Feb 2016) showed that the proportion of physics classes taught by a teacher without a post A-level physics qualification rose from 21% in 2010 to 28% in 2014; Indeed the Institute of Physics in 2010 estimated that some 500 secondary schools in the UK didn't have a qualified Physics teacher.
Given that the teacher recruitment crisis is only set to get worse, has the time come to review the role of teachers and to look for new models for our schools?

In The Future of the Professions Richard and Daniel Susskind argue there needs to be new business models for education:
‘It is widely recognised that there is insufficient funding available to run high quality schools and universities if teachers and professors operate in the traditional way.’ (p.208)

Revisiting the Role of the Teacher

Susskind and Susskind  argue that professional work should be 'decomposed', that is broken down into constituent ‘tasks’ and that a 'Process Analyst' should determine if these tasks could be carried out by a less qualified Para-Professional or indeed  by the application of technology (See previous blogpost for a summary of some of their key arguments). 
So what of teaching? Can teaching can be decomposed and the tasks either delegated to a 'Para-Teacher' or performed by the application of technology?

Teaching Decomposed

It is undoubtedly possible to break down 'Teaching' into a whole range of tasks. Indeed Governments and Trade Unions around the world have a range of views of what should be (and what should not be) the tasks that teachers do. It is difficult to find either a consensus or a list that comes without a political agenda. However, the US Department of Labor Bureau of Statistics (2015) Occupational Outlook Handbook, which is fundamentally an official careers advice site, lists ten 'duties' of a high school teacher which appear in most other lists:
Screenshot of US Department of Labor Bureau of Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook entry for High School Teachers (captured 17/03/2017)

Process Analysis of the 10 teacher tasks:

We then need to determine which (if any) of these tasks could be carried out by a less qualified Para-Professional or indeed  by the application of technology.
Is doing this task not getting the most out of a qualified Physics teacher?
One way to facilitate tackling this question is to imagine a school that only has one suitably qualified Physics teacher when it really needs three. The school leader might want to maximise the impact that the one Physics teacher has on the teaching of Physics across the whole school. Which of the following tasks would the school leader be able to delegate to a lesser qualified Para-professional (or non-Physics graduate qualified teacher)? Can any of the tasks be carried out by the application of technology?
  1. Planning Physics lessons;
  2. Assessing students to evaluate their abilities, strengths, and weaknesses in Physics;
  3. Teaching students Physics in full class settings or in small groups;
  4. Adapting Physics lessons to any changes in class size;
  5. Grading students’ assignments and exams to monitor progress in Physics;
  6. Communicating with parents about students’ progress in Physics;
  7. Working with individual students to challenge them, to improve their abilities in Physics, and to work on their weaknesses;
  8. Preparing students for standardized Physics tests required by the state; 
  9. Developing and enforcing classroom rules and administrative policies; 
  10. Supervising students outside of the classroom—for example, at lunchtime or during detention;
A Process Analysis might decide that 
  1. Planning Physics lessons needs to be done by a Physics professional, However, the planning of lessons could be centralised and done by one person who ideally (but not necessarily) would be in the school.
  2. Assessing students might be done in a number of ways including by professional judgment of a Physics teacher; by tests marked by the Physics teacher or by a Para-Teacher with a mark scheme; and by online adaptive testing.
  3. Teaching students might be done in a number of ways including by a Physics teacher physically in front of a class or by video-conferencing; by online lectures; and through online courses.
  4. Adapting Physics lessons might be done most easily by a Physics professional, but can also be done by adaptive online courses.
  5. Grading students’ assignments and exams by professional judgment of a Physics teacher or by a Para-Teacher based on assessment and objective criteria; and electronically as the result of online adaptive testing.
  6. Communicating with parents about students’ progress might be done through traditional means such as written subject reports or parent-teacher meetings, but might also be done through teachers have 'live' online markbooks which are available to parents.
  7. Working with individual students is best done by a Physics professional.
  8. Preparing students for exams might be done by revision lessons run by a Physics professional, but increasingly there are online revision resources (e.g. BBC GCSE Bitesize) and online self-testing programs.
  9. Developing and enforcing classroom rules is not directly Physics related and could theoretically be carried out by a less qualified Para-Professional.
  10. Supervising students outside of the classroom  could be carried out by a less qualified Para-Professional.

Decomposition and the Question of Quality of Outcomes for Student Learning

The next step is for the Process Analyst to determine the relative quality of outcomes for student learning of these teacher tasks being performed by a qualified classroom teacher following the traditional model and the alternatives: the 'Para-Teacher' or 'Application of Technology' models. 
If we accept that Assessing Students might be done by a Para-Teacher with a mark scheme or by online adaptive testing. are these alternative models better/similar/ worse for student learning  than assessments conducted by a qualified Teacher?
Whilst the qualified professional is likely to be qualitatively better at conducting many of the teacher tasks, it is quite possible that there are circumstances where the alternative models may be better, particularly when we take the matter of scale into consideration. For example, a teacher may be able to produce personalised learning plans which address individual concerns and go at an appropriate pace for each student for a small number of students, but this level of differentiation may not be possible when teaching a large number of sets and with large class sizes. Conversely, an online adaptive course with built-in assessments might be able to provide personalised learning plans and assessments for thousands of pupils at a time.

And so . . . .?

As the statistics given at the start of this post suggest, we are already facing a challenge of recruitment of specialist teachers. Many schools are already having to explore alternative models to staff lessons in 'shortage subjects'. 
We have to recognise that the traditional model of a suitably qualified specialist teacher standing in front of a class of 30 pupils is a luxury form of education that that  most societies can no longer afford.
Although many in the profession recoil at the thought of revisiting our traditional classroom model, it is time to abandon our idealism and find a way of delivering the best possible form of schooling that is practically possible. The 'Para-Teacher' and the 'Application of Technology' are likely to have a significant part to play in the future of secondary education.

Thursday, 30 March 2017

The Future of the Professions by Richard and Daniel Susskind - Summary of some key ideas

Richard and Daniel Susskind's The Future of the Professions challenges the view that white collar jobs will be immune from the impact of technological advances into the workplace. Indeed, the authors go so far as to detail the road map 'how technology will transform the work of human experts':
'In the long run, increasingly capable machines will transform the work of professionals giving rise to new ways of sharing practical expertise in society' (p.303) 
with a consequence that
'Decades from now, today's professions will play a much less prominent role in society.' (p.271) 
They argue that reform of the professions is not only inevitable, but that it is long overdue.

The role of the professions - the Grand Bargain

At the heart of Susskind and Susskind's argument is a particular understanding of the relationship between society and the professions. 'The professions are responsible for many of the most important functions and services in society' and their fundamental role ‘is to provide access to knowledge and experience that non specialists lack’ (p.268).  Society affords the professions protection and status in return for providing these services fairly in an arrangement which they call 'the grand bargain':
'In acknowledgement of and in return for their expertise, experience, and judgement, which they are expected to apply in delivering affordable, accessible, up-to-date, reassuring, and reliable services  . . . we (society) place our trust in the professions in granting them exclusivity over a wide range of socially significant services and activities, by paying them a fair wage, by conferring upon them independence, autonomy, rights of self-determination, and by according them respect and status.' (p.23)
Thus the purpose of the professions is to provide solutions to issues which individuals within society commonly face: ill-health, disputes, lack of education, the need for news and navigating the tax system.

The authors believe that the professions are ripe for reform and should lose their privileged status because they have broken this bargain, in that they do not provide these services that are either 'affordable' or 'accessible':
'levels of access and affordability to the practical expertise that the professions provide fall short of acceptable. The combination of these two reasons - the importance of what they provide, and the current inadequacy of the provision - overwhelms the case to protect the craft.' (p.247 - also p.269)

Automation and Transformation of the Professions

The authors outline how automation is likely to come to the professions by examining some of the practices that have been adopted by those in the vanguard of change:


  • Online learning - Khan Academy etc.
  • Flipped Blended Learning
  • Learning Analytics
  • Document Assembly Systems (e.g. ContractExpress) which can generate high quality documents after interactive consultations with users.
  • Online Dispute Resolution (e.g. Modria which is behind eBay and PayPal's resolution service)

Tax and Audit

  • Online computerised tax preparation software (e.g. TurboTax in the US)
  • Online Accounting software (e.g. Quickbooks)
  • Computer-Assisted Audit Techniques (e.g. PwC's system, Aura)


  • 'Telemedicine' using video links to make diagnoses or to aid with operations from a distance;
  • Robots assisting surgeons to conduct delicate operations with greater dexterity than is possible by a human;
  • the rise of online medical platforms and 'GP intelligent monitoring', 'remote monitoring' by smart devices and apps;
  • Robotic Pharmacy (e.g. the University of California at San Francisco which has a pharmacy staffed by a single robot);

Eight Patterns and Trends

Decomposition, Process Analysts, Para-professionals and Delegation

One of the most important observations that Susskind and Susskind make is that when we are talking about the future of the professions, we need to move on from seeing the machine v human debate in binary terms. They are not talking about a robot replacing a lawyer/teacher/doctor in the way that a robot might replace a human worker on the production line of a car manufacturing plant. However when we 'decompose' or break down what lawyers/teachers/doctors do into tasks, we can see there there is scope for some of these to replaced with automated systems - or indeed by lesser qualified human beings.
We argue that professional work should be decomposed, that is broken down into constituent ‘tasks’ – identifiable, distinct, and separate modules of work that make it up. Once decomposed, the challenge then is to identify the most efficient way of executing each type of task, constituent with the quality of work needed, the level of human interaction required, and the ease with which the decomposed tasks can be managed alongside one another and pulled together into a coherent offering. (p.212)

Leading on from this, the authors argue that one of the key roles for professional organisations in the future is that of the 'process analyst' whose role is 'to identify the level of person best suited for the range of decomposed tasks (p.124).

On analysis, it is frequently becoming apparent in various disciplines that para-professional who are sufficiently trained, knowledgeable, and equipped can undertake tasks that were previously taken on by senior professionals. (p.124-5)
The delegation to para-professionals may lead to replacement by automated systems:
The features of tasks in the workplace that make them amenable to delegation and para-professionalization - that they are well bounded and can, in part, be captured in standard processes - are precisely those features that render them strong candidates in due course for the application of technology (both automation and innovation). (p.125) 

Decomposition and Para-professionalism in Schools?

This all begs the question of whether or not teaching can be decomposed and the tasks either delegated to a 'Para-Teacher' or performed by the application of technology. This is the subject of my Master's Dissertation with the Ashridge-Hult Business School and I will be discussing some of the ideas here in a subsequent blogpost.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Private School Fee Increases and the KHDA's Education Cost Index

This week the KHDA published its annual Education Cost Index (ECI) which determines the maximum amount by which private schools in Dubai can increase their fees. The ECI is set at 2.4% which means that 
  • 'Outstanding' Schools can increase their fees by 4.8%  (2.0 x the ECI)
  • 'Very Good' Schools can increase their fees by 4.2% (1.75 x the ECI)
  • 'Good' Schools can increase their fees by 3.6% (1.5 x the ECI)
  • All other schools can increase their fees by 2.4% (the ECI).
The issue of increasing school fees and making money out of educating children is an emotive one. The ECI is an important mechanism to protect parents from organisations profiteering from education. Ultimately, parents are reticent about moving children from the schools in which they are settled because of fee increases. 

ECI Theory and Practice

In theory, the ECI incentivises for-profit organisations by allowing those schools who have invested in achieving high standards to increase fees by a higher rate. However, it may argued the unintended consequence of this is that good schools have the income to get even better, whereas weaker schools are caught in a poverty trap by not having the capital to make necessary improvements. 

Where does the money go?

Much depends on where the additional income from the fee increase goes: whether it is reinvested in the school (as it is in full in the not-for-profit schools) or whether it goes to line investors' pockets. All schools should be transparent about the percentage of school fees that goes on profit to the investors so that prospective parents can make informed choice of school. 
At JESS, Dubai, we publish these data on our website and 100% of any annual surplus is reinvested in the school.

Sunday, 29 January 2017

How Virtual Reality is changing how children learn in the classroom

Virtual Reality is the latest in a long line of new technologies which can be harnessed by teachers to help them make their classrooms come alive; to improve further the learning experience of their pupils. Over the past twenty years’, teachers have used videos, DVDs, classroom projectors, interactive whiteboards, and 3D projectors and now they can call upon Virtual Reality. So, what is Virtual Reality (VR) and how it so different? 

What is Virtual Reality? 

In order to experience Virtual Reality, the user needs to put on a headset in which a 360° panoramic image is projected. The technology is simple, it works very much in the same way that enabled a previous generation of children to enjoy 3D images through a Viewmaster. The headset projects a slightly different image to each eye, which gives a 3D effect. As the viewer moves his head to the left and right, the image moves giving a strong feeling of being in situ. By turning around, the viewer can see what is behind him; by looking up he can see what’s above him-it’s ‘real’! 
Surprisingly, it is possible to create a VR experience for less than US$5 by purchasing a simple cardboard kit into which a smartphone can be inserted. The 360° panoramic images used for the ‘virtual experiences’ are produced in two ways. They can be filmed by a 360° camera, in just the same way that Google Street View is mapping cities of the world. Or, they can be computer-generated as in console action games, such as Call of Duty. There are thousands of 360° videos available free on YouTube (just search for ‘360° videos’) and this number will increase exponentially as 360° cameras become commonplace. 

What makes Virtual Reality different? 

The greatest difference between VR and, say, watching a DVD is that VR is an active rather than a passive process. It feels like the real experience. Because the viewer is controlling where he looks and what he focuses on, this inevitably leads to greater engagement. Indeed, Virtual Reality allows the user to experience what is going on in a way that feels authentic. The first time that I put on a VR headset, I went on a roller coaster ride – the experience was so immersive that I had motion sickness! This was not a passive activity it felt real – I experienced every dip and turn. It is this characteristic of creating an experience that makes VR such a versatile and powerful tool for the classroom. 

Virtual Tours 

I am sure we can all recall the experience of trips out of the classroom during our own school days. To be able to see what had been discussed in the classroom gave a clarity and strong memory association that no text book can ever hope to achieve. A huge strength of Virtual Reality in schools is that it gives almost limitless scope for teachers to take pupils on trips anywhere in the world without leaving the grounds. A class can visit China and experience what it is like to walk up and down the crumbling steps of the Great Wall, they can take a stroll along Wall Street gasp at the view from the top of the Burj Khalifa, or even to dive the Great Barrier Reef. All these ‘visits’ are available in the classroom within a matter of minutes – a further bonus for the teacher is that there’s no risk assessment, no budget and no buses! 
But Virtual Reality allows teachers to go further, for VR makes it possible for a pupils to experience the impossible. 

Time Travel 

Virtual Reality allows pupils to go back in time to experience key events in history. It is possible to be there as Martin Luther King makes a great speech; they can wade through World War I trenches, they can be in a dog-fight in the Battle of Britain, build a pyramid in Cairo witness the Execution of Mary Queen of Scots. 

Space Travel 

VR has also made Space Travel available for all. The publication by NASA on YouTube of 360° panoramas of Mars and Pluto makes it possible for teachers to take their classes to outer space. Pupils can explore the Martian landscape from atop the Mars Rover - no space suit required. 

Personalised Learning 

In the past few weeks at JESS, Dubai, Year 5 have met some ancient Egyptians, Year 4 have been to London, Foundation 2 travelled into Space and Year 6 went to Ancient Greece. The children ‘felt’ what it was like to be there and the experience helped them to develop mature responses at a significantly deeper level than would ever be possible from watching a video. Possibly the greatest strength of VR is that the experience is personalised – the child is in control of the experience, he can go at his own pace, choosing to look at what he wants, taking time to look for detail, moving on only when ready. 
Teachers should always be on the look-out for new ways to enable young people to learn, to help them understand more about the world around us and Virtual Reality can now be the latest addition to their toolbox of ways to inspire – and what an exciting addition it is!

This article was published in Emirates Airlines' Absolutely Education Issue One (Feb 2017)

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

The Future of Schooling – A view from the Middle

This article was published in The National on 20th December 2016

The Challenge 

Source: Richard F. Elmore, Harvard University,
Supporting Strong Instructional Practice Feb 2015
One of the greatest challenges for Education in the Twenty-first Century is that there is an ever-increasing divide between the demand for learning and the supply of schooling. This is seen most obviously in the global shortage of teachers, but it extends to dearth of school leaders and to the unavailability of schools themselves. According to UNESCO, there are an estimated 263 million children who are not in education and the world will need 3.3 million more primary teachers and 5.1 million more lower Secondary teachers by 2030. There is no easy solution to this problem, but I believe that lessons from how the Middle East is addressing the problem may provide a solution that will work in other parts of the world. 
You might ask, ‘Why would a solution come from the Middle East? Why not from the most developed Educational systems of Europe and North America?’ Well, I believe that the answer to that lies what Clayton M. Christensen of the Harvard University Business School, calls ‘Disruptive Innovations’ - i.e. innovations which transform the entire form of organization and management of established institutions. Christensen argues that one of the characterististics of ‘Disruptive Innovations’ is that that they ‘originate in Low-End and New-Market footholds’ (‘What is Disruptive Innovation?’ HBR December 2015). On this basis, it is more likely that a solution the Learning-Schooling problem should be found in emerging educational market of Dubai than in established settings of the the US or the UK independent sectors. 

Lessons from Dubai 

The traditional model for schooling around the world was one where education was provided by Governments or by charitable not-for-profit organisations. In the UK, the church and the independent schools, and subsequently the State provided education. No one countenanced the concept of making a money out educating children. Indeed, prior to the recent machinations by the UK Charity Commission, the provision of education was considered an inherent good for the wider benefit of society [a concept in which many of us still believe].
However, Dubai is different. Today 92% of the population are immigrants – economic migrants if you like – who can never be citizens of the UAE. In this context, the State recognizes the need for there to be good schools in order to attract workers to Dubai, but, understandably, sees no reason to provide education for the children of ex-pats free of charge. The consequence has been the growth of the Private School sector. In the early days of the UAE (the nation is only 45 years old) the first schools were founded by the companies working in the country – they were Not-For-Profit following the UK, French or US models. Today 95% of Private Schools in Dubai are For-Profit. The expansion of Dubai is so fast, that the Not-for-Profit sector is not equipped to respond – with the inevitable consequence that the For-Profit sector has filled the void. Market forces play out on the Dubai stage in a way that, I believe, will be a model around the world. So what lessons can we learn For-Profit sector in Dubai? 
The Dubai For-Profit Sector 
The For-Profit sector in Dubai, unsurprisingly is driven by the economic drivers of ‘return-on-investment’, ‘economies of scale’, scalability, differentiated markets and keeping costs down – especially of staffing. However, there are three important characteristics of the For-Profit sector that, I believe, will shape global schooling in the future: 
  1. The For-Profit groups offer education at different price points: The For-Profit groups offer Premium, Mid-range and Budget in the same way that airlines offer First Class, Business and Economy seats on their planes. The differentiators between the price points are school and class size, the range of facilities available in the school, the qualifications of teachers, and the amount of teacher-pupil contact time in the week. 
  2. The For-Profit Groups invest in central I.T. systems: Nord Anglia have developed the Nord Anglia University as a global CPD portal for teachers. GEMS have developed a share VLE for their schools and have introduced ‘blended learning’ programmes which have moved the process of teaching and learning away from the traditional model of a teacher standing in front of a class.
  3. The For-Profit Group invest in top talent for key leadership roles: GEMS have attracted top educationalists from around the world to drive their educational and IT learning strategies.

Looking into the Crystal Ball – Five Prophecies for the Future of Schooling 

So if we apply the principles of Dubai’s For-Profit sector to the global Learning-School problem, what solutions might we see? 

1. Education For-Profit will become the norm around the world. Not-for-Profit education is not equipped to meet the global demand for education, the inevitable consequence is that the For-Profit sector will fill the void. 
2. Being taught by a specialist teacher in a classroom at Secondary level will be a luxury. Technology won’t replace teachers everywhere – but it will in many places. In the future, it will only be Premium Secondary Education that will be delivered by specialist teachers in classrooms drawing on a range of real and virtual resources. Budget Secondary Education will not have subject teachers, but will be delivered totally through online courses on learning platforms. However, for many young people around the world this will be better than the present situation of receiving no education at all. Mid-Range Secondary Education will be delivered by “super-teachers” via Virtual-Reality Conferencing. The For-Profit will invest in new technologies in order to maximise the impact of teachers. 
3. Virtual Reality Teaching will be the disruptor of Secondary education. We also already have ‘Virtual Teaching’ through video conferencing which enables pupils around the world to be taught live by a remote teacher. Furthermore, ‘Virtual Reality’ already enables pupils to travel through time and space – to experience the ancient Colosseum in Rome, life in the trenches or a World-War One dog-fight with the Red Baron. Once these two technologies are combined so that we have ‘Virtual Reality Teaching’, it will be possible for a pupil can put on a headset and ‘feel’ as if they are in a real classroom with a world-class teacher, or be taken on a virtual school visit to any place in time and space. 
“After Games, we’re going to make Oculus a platform for many other experiences. Imagine enjoying a courtside seat at a game, studying in a classroom of students and teachers all over the world, or consulting a doctor face-to-face – just by putting on your goggles at home.” Mark Zuckerberg
4. There will be ‘superstar teachers’ commanding very high salaries. One of the consequences of the rise of Virtual Reality Teaching is that there will be the rise of superstar teachers. The For-Profit sector has a proven record of investing in talent where it can made wider savings. It will inevitably pay to attract top talent, particularly in shortage subjects and their global educational networks will provide a platform which will enable great Virtual Reality teachers will be able to reach millions of students. These teachers will inevitably be very well paid and, given the nature of the C21, it is likely that they will be famous and become celebrities.
Humanoid 'Nao' robots Manufactured by
Aldebaran are being trialled
in S. Australia
5. Primary Teachers will be assisted by Robots. Young children at a formative stage of development need human interaction to shape their learning, thus it is highly unlikely that it will ever be possible to replace teachers in primary schools with technological solutions. One consequence of the predictions for secondary education outlined above is that primary schooling will need to teach the skills to enable young people to access non-classroom based forms of education. It is quite possible that robots will replace Teaching Assistants, performing basic instructive tasks such as teaching basic mathematics and listening to children read. 

Final Thoughts on the Future of Schooling

Prophecy is more about reading the signs of the time and working out a likely a future position from the direction of travel, rather than predicting the future receiving some dislocated revelation from on high.  Prophets are rarely popular because they are usually delivering a message that people don't want to hear. I believe that the signs for a possible future of schooling are there for all to see.
In an ideal world every child in the world would receive the quality of education that is available at Eton, or Phillips Exeter Academy (or even at Dubai College or JESS for that matter) but that isn’t going to happen. The reality is that there is inequality of educational provision in the world and that that is very unlikely to change.  
The challenge to every true educationalist is how that we can give every child the opportunity to have at least some form of basic education. Ideally, Governments supported by the Not-for-Profit sector would provide the solution because I believe that we have to be very careful about how we make money out of something as fundamental as the provision of a child’s education. Sadly, the global political will to achieve this is absent. Thus my hope is, as Diamandis and Kotler argue in Abundance, that the combination of new technologies and billionaire philanthropy will change the world. Unless that happens the approach taken by the For-Profit Sector in the UAE is likely fill the void and that stands as a warning to us all.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

The Future of Schooling - A view from the Middle (Presentation)

A presentation given at the Digital by Design, Digital by Default – ISC Digital Strategy Group Conference 2016 held on Thursday 1st December at Microsoft, Reading, UK.


Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Empowering School Leaders to Manage and Lead I.T.

A presentation given at the Digital Education Show in Dubai on Wednesday 16th November, 2016.


Saturday, 8 October 2016

What is Digital Governance and why you need it in your school - Digital Governance Part Two

An Introduction to Governance
Corporate governance structures exist to ensure that executive management act in the best interest of the organisation/shareholders and not merely to maximise their own self interests. For example, school leaders will be familiar with the concept of Financial Governance which ensures that employees know the limits of their authority to commit the organisation’s financial resources. This usually takes the form of policy document which outlines the rules on expenditure, contracts, salary levels etc. Digital Governance works in a similar way. 
Digital Governance
An organisation’s Digital Governance document is in effect the rule-book outlining
  • why the strategy is the way it is (the principles on which the strategy is founded) 
  • who can make IS/IT decisions; 
  • how IS/IT decisions are made; 
  • what is permitted in the organisation. 
Digital Governance ensures that a year group/department/colleague can’t declare UDI and strike off in their own direction. These policies outline the rules for anyone who wants to purchase a new device/software program/app, and put in place procedures to check that the proposed development is aligned to the school’s wider strategy and compatible with the rest of the IS/IT network. 
“[It] is concerned with promoting consistent and coherent decision-making behaviour across an organisation regarding Information Systems (IS) and Information Technology (IT) in order to maximise the value the organisation derives from IS/IT” (Peppard and Ward, 2016, 368). 
The ‘Why’ of Digital Governance 
Digital Governance allows an organisation to align IS/IT developments to the wider vision and direction for the organisation. For example, Digital Governance enables organisations to standardize systems and processes, which ultimately bring greater efficiency and reduced costs. Digital Governance is a way to break down the ‘silo culture’ of some organisation as it puts structures in place which encourage alignment and collaboration. 

The ‘Who’ of Digital Governance 
There is significant debate about who should be making IS/IT decisions. There are real dangers in leaving these decisions to IT Network Managers as, too often, decisions are made from self-interest. Equally, there are dangers in allowing enthusiastic administrators/ educationalists who do not understand the technical aspects of school networks to dominate -they are fundamentally responsible for the legacy spaghetti. Instead, it is worth considering two other common models:
  1. Digital Governance Committees. These groups combine some of the senior team with teachers and the Network team. Together they can evaluate new technologies and put in place the necessary infrastructure to ensure that it is effective. Such a group is well placed to draft the initial Digital Governance Document and to revise it as necessary. Large organisations may like to differentiate between a wider digital governance group, which oversees policy, and a narrower network architecture group, which looks at the technical specification of the network required to deliver that strategy. 
  2. Digital Leadership Roles. It has become quite common for large firms in industry to appoint ‘Chief Digital Officers’ (CDOs) to drive digital change from an executive level. Some schools have appointed Assistant/Deputy Headteachers/Principals to fulfil this role. This is undoubtedly an excellent solution as it means that a single senior leader has time and authority to drive the necessary change. However, the difficulties are cost and finding a candidate with sufficient pedagogical and technical knowledge to be able to do the role effectively. 
The ‘How’ of Digital Governance 
As with all other areas of school life, there are inevitably good ideas competing for limited resources. The Digital Governance document should define the process by which IS/IT decisions are made and how competing IS and IT priorities should be managed and implemented. It is often helpful to consider these as either ‘demand’ or ‘supply’ decisions: 
  1. ‘Demand’ Decisions include deciding how much to invest in IS/IT and how these decisions are prioritised. (‘We want to be able to . . . . ‘) 
  2. ‘Supply’ Decisions include deciding on required IT capability, how projects and programmes will be managed, and IT services delivered. (‘Here’s how you can do it . . .’) After Peppard and Ward, 2016, 371 
The ‘What’ of Digital Governance A Digital Governance document should define the School’s IS/IT policies on the following areas: 
  1. Define the core Information Systems for the organisation 
    At JESS our core Management Information System is iSAMS and we are endeavouring to consolidate other systems into it. 
    At JESS, we are moving to a Teaching and Learning environment in Office365, migrating away from a locally held Intranet. 
  2. Define the compatibility requirements for new software 
    At JESS we are endeavouring to ensure that all educational software can either be run from remote desktop, or on the Cloud. o 
    We are endeavouring to ensure than all other administrative systems integrate with iSAMS. 
  3. Set out the rules for procuring Cloud-based services. There is a trend away from making a one-off purchase of a ‘software package’ to contracting for ‘software as a service’ on an annual licence. The same applies to ‘storage as a service’. In many ways these are no different from other contracted services which fall under the remit of financial governance. 
  4. Define the specification for hardware procurement outlining specification requirements and clear expectations in terms of performance. This should include the specifications for Servers, Switches, Cabling, End-user devices, and other Peripherals (especially printers!) o There is much to be said for having an agreed specification for the ‘standard classroom’ – this brings greater reliability to the system, allows for quick and easy replacement if a piece of kit fails, and aids familiarity for teachers moving between classrooms. o For example, at JESS we have a policy of replacing Interactive White Boards (IWBs) with 75” Screens. This means that we will not be replacing like-for-like when IWBs fail. (In practice, we reallocate resources to ensure that the new monitor is installed in the location in the organisation where it will be most effective, which is not necessarily the classroom where the IWB failed.) 
  5. Define BYOD and Guest User Policies. Schools need to have clear policies on Bring Your Own Device and outline the Terms and Conditions under which non-school devices might be connected to the network. 
  6. Define the School’s User Behaviour and Security Policies. It is essential that school have clear policies relating to data access and levels of security, which outline what to do if the event of a failure or breach. These should sit alongside the school’s Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) which defines the way in which all users in the organisation conduct themselves on the network and online. 
Given the fast-moving nature of IS/IT, each policy needs to be subject to regular review, at least at six month intervals, although it makes sense to review hardware specifications on a monthly basis, given the rate of change in this area.
Links, References and Further Reading: