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Bernadine Oliver-Kerby: Modern learning environments are ludicrous

Bernadine Oliver-Kerby ,
Publish Date
Friday, 17 February 2017, 8:06a.m.
Bernadine Oliver-Kerby says the concepts behind modern learning environments were tried and failed in the 1970s (Getty Images)
Bernadine Oliver-Kerby says the concepts behind modern learning environments were tried and failed in the 1970s (Getty Images)

When the educator scoffed at me and said " get with the times Bernadine" coupled with a look that said you're moments away from the naughty corner, I knew we had a problem.

I was simply asking why the children at school were practising handwriting, while lying sprawled on the floor.

Now I'm no expert in the skill, but basic instinct was telling me lying in prone position to master the art of neat and tidy handwriting, was not the best option.

It was probably just as comfortable lying on the floor because most of the furniture in these new fandangled modern learning spaces don't have any back support.

At least the kids had tables, which was one better than the teacher's who didn't even have desks. And beware certain colours on the floor, you whisper unless you stand on yellow, that's when you're expected to become a total mute. No talking. It interrupts the next class.. located 10 feet away.

Catching on? Picture this. 175 odd kids, in one space, with not a wall between them.

It's your classrooms. Actually, that should be classroom, singular. Welcome to the Modern Learning Environment.

It's a Government initiative, the idea to steer away from traditional single cell classrooms with the set-up one big space that's more open and flexible. There are no walls, and kids, once in caged confines now roam free range and feral. It's a concept that was tried, and failed, in the 70's.

One can only assume the Government's future proofing for already-erupting numbers at schools and catering for quantity rather than quality. Space certainly seems at a premium when you're stepping over bodies on the floor practicing their writing.

The school buildings have "Break out spaces" areas for independent learning, or group work. Surely the name Break Out just screams an invitation for teachers to escape from what at times - resembles an airport terminal when the French are on strike. And when aren't the French on strike.

Some schools have sliding doors or movable partitions, but what happens with those is that they remain closed. For privacy, for noise control, for optimum learning - those sliding doors stay shut, thus creating the same single cell classes they have just replaced! Genius!

Self motivated and independent learning's encouraged. It's great in theory. That's like hoping your kids will do their homework without you asking. Oh they'll look busy, but I know the difference between Mathletics and Minecraft, and that is not homework Missy, put it away.

Students are usually emailed their tasks for the day. Most work is typed not written, that sadly, I know I'll have to embrace.

"Get with the times Bernadine." Perhaps I should, but while children are far more adaptable creatures than we grown beasties, what of the children who fail to adapt in these zoos with a learning space big enough for the Breakers to play full court on? 

Teachers are being forced to buckle up and take a crash course in a new way of teaching in a new environment that has some merits, but many flaws. Don't try to tell me there won't be casualties along the way.

Their challenge is to not only gain, but retain attention. Teachers are gold medallists already for attempting to tackle the utopia of nose and visual distractions, surely the two arch enemies of focus.

I don't deflect change, I'll happily embrace it, when it's for the better. But when it comes to our new "Modern Learning" open plan schools, the Emperor is wearing new clothes.

I guess like the Unitary plan, the new age learning environment will - if nothing else - prepare out kids for living on top of each other.

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