in Ways of Thinking

Is This the End of School as we Know It?

Are schools on the cusp of change? Will all jobs be transformed by 2030? And what is change anyway?

In the recent Google Education on Air conference, Jan Owens discovered that the biggest lesson learnt looking ahead to 2030 is that every job will be transformed. It would be easy to just add this as another Countrafabulist predictions. However, it raises wider questions associated with transformation and our role within it all.

During a discussion on the Modern Learners podcast, Bruce Dixon discussed the notion of ‘the end of school as we know it’. He shared an exercise where teachers are given three options to choose from in regards to the current state of education:

  • We are seeing the end of school as we know it
  • We are not seeing the end of school as we know it
  • We should be seeing the end of school as we know it

To me this touches on Audrey Watters’ discussion of the invented history associated with the Prussian origins of (American) education. In time we manage to bend the past into a linear narrative. One where all roads lead to innovation.

And so too we’ve invented a history of “the factory model of education” in order to justify an “upgrade” – to new software and hardware that will do much of the same thing schools have done for generations now, just (supposedly) more efficiently, with control moved out of the hands of labor (teachers) and into the hands of a new class of engineers, out of the realm of the government and into the realm of the market.
The Invented History of ‘The Factory Model of Education’

If I had to choose one response it would be that we are seeing the end of school as we know it. However, I also feel that this is that wrong question. Whether we like it or not, the world changes each and every day. For example, smartphones have had an impact on schools whether we allow them in the classroom or not.

Another way of looking at change is using Raymond Williams’ historical model where he differentiates between emergence, dominant, residual.

We can find terms which recognize not only ‘stages’ and ‘variations’ but the internal dynamic relations of any actual process. We have certainly still to speak of the ‘dominant’ and the ‘effective’, and in these senses of the hegemonic. But we find that we have also to speak, and indeed with further differentiation of each, of the ‘residual’ and the ’emergent’, which in any real process, and at any moment in the process, are significant both in themselves and in what they reveal of the characteristics of the ‘dominant’.

There is a constant flow of meanings, values, practices and relationships, where even if a certain aspect were to remain ‘dominant’, it cannot inoculate itself from new influences.

As I discussed previously, much is learnt as things are pushed to breaking point. The question is not whether we are seeing the end of school as we know it, but how do we want school (and society) to change for tomorrow? Gert Biesta uses a quote from Jacques Derrida which makes this point clear,

To live, by definition, is not something one learns.

Our focus therefore should be what education do we want and collectively work towards that.

So what about you? What is your choice? Is this the end of school as we know it? As always comments welcome, even better when they are from your own space.

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I am an Australian educator supporting the integration of technology and innovation. I have an interest in how collectively we can work to creating a better tomorrow.
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Is This the End of School as we Know It? by Aaron Davis is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.


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  1. Interesting post, I think the line about bending history into a linear narrative is very apt. I always think of Ian Hunter’s work here – the school exists as it does because it is adequate to society’s ed needs.

  2. Yes, argues that both left/conservative ‘principled positions’ of education set up idealised versions of the school that can never be achieved/attained and ignore the fact that the school is series of pragmatic ‘accidents’.

  3. Of course, technology impacts schools, but much of what schools need to be for kids is irrespective of technology. I favor a 4th option: schools adapt to new circumstances as we find out what works and what does not.


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