Mingoville Commentary

Can Schools Really Be Locked Out In Today’s Digital Age?

In the midst of the on-going schools lockout in Denmark, we received an interesting email from an inquisitive 6th grader this week, Albert Einstein, he candidly calls himself.

Little “Albert Einstein” writes: “Hej Skolemat. Jeg synes at overslag hos buller er lidt for svært. Min far og jeg var nød til at være sammen om at lave den med en lommeregner og papir. (han er ingeniør) jeg ville bare lige sige det.”
Skolemat emailWhat struck me was the commanding level of critical inquiry in his email even if his feedback remains subjective to each his own but, it reveals how a child does not take his learning journey any less serious just because it is not in a “school”.

This brings me back to the bigger questions: What exactly does a school lockout mean in today’s digital age? Can teachers – and education – really be locked out?

Schools compounds may be locked up, teachers may be denied from teaching, but in today’s digital age, “school” never closes because what is “school” is no longer clearly defined by mere human, physical compounds and boundaries.

For all the policy debate ensuing in Denmark, the irony is that, education is not locked out even as teachers are. It actually reveals a paradigm shift in motion.

Since the schools lockout, Mingoville has seen a surge in interest, downloads and purchases in our educational apps on the iPad in particular – as of today – more than 30% of the Top 20 iPad apps in the Danish Education Store belongs to us.

“It tells us that with a schools lockout, parents in Denmark are left to proactively seek out for their kids alternative learning means or should we say, alternative teachers to facilitate learning”, reveals Mingoville’s CEO, Stephan Stephensen.

At this point, it is critical to point out that a schools lockout is not uncommon elsewhere in the world, though, for very different (often unforeseen) reasons.

Just a decade ago, the SARS outbreak in Asia had forced schools to be closed, then there was the H1N1 epidemic just a few years back that had schools shutting too.

I was teaching in a pre-tertiary institution in Singapore when the H1N1 epidemic called for a school “lockout”, and the lockout had to happen in less than 24 hours.

Fortunately, I was teaching in a digital education-ready school. Instructions of e-learning plans were sent to teachers right away. For the rest of the week, lessons and assessments were conducted digitally, teachers simply “worked” from home.

In a digital education age, the role of teachers ought to have taken a big shift. And perhaps central to the debate should be about such paradigm shifts in Denmark.

Stephan said: “The lockout reveals to us that even as 30% of schools in Denmark are using our digital learning products but the role of teachers have not shifted to truly facilitate the digital age. There is a gap between rhetoric and practice.”

Instead, burden has fallen on parents to stand in the gap to work out contingency plans for kids, as we saw a massive surge in private purchases of our products.

“This intrigued us as one would expect schools in today’s digital age to be better equipped to ensure learning will not be disrupted. All it would have taken was a digital-learning contingency plan and the teachers to facilitate it,” he concluded.

While adults fight their battles, let us not undermine a child’s ability to be serious self-directed digital learners — if this should add perspective to the debate, too.

Because in today’s digital age, education never stops. The show will go on.

Then what – really – are we fighting about?

Jan Lin jl@mingoville.com