Innovative Practice and Disruption

When European Union (EU) heads of state and government met at a summit in Lisbon in 2000, they set the goal of making Europe ‘the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world’. In a knowledge economy, formal education systems alone cannot deliver such an aspiration. Without innovative thinking about delivery methods, schools will only be able to grasp what is within their immediate reach.

Innovative practice in education is clearly linked to economic prosperity and dynamic growth and yet our schools systems remain hemmed in by bureaucratic precedent. One academic argues such precedent creates boundaries which

“… limit the possibilities of learning, because they limit the scope of inquiry, interaction and information flow, in teaching and learning activities. It results in a combination of stability and incremental change which allows the traditional model of schooling, and of bureaucratic school systems, to adapt continuously to all kinds of external change. It is thus well able to deflect the disruptive potential of almost any innovation, no matter where it is coming from.”

Bentley, OECD, 2008

This is an example of sustaining innovation: incremental improvements or tweaks. We have seen how small changes in sectors other than education can lead to system adaptation from the bottom up – what has been described as ‘disruptive’ innovation.. The Christensen Institute describes disruptive innovation’ like this;

“It’s important to remember that disruption is a positive force. Disruptive innovations are not breakthrough technologies that make good products better; rather they are innovations that transform sectors to make products affordable and convenient, thereby making them available to a much larger population.”

Frog Education’s Malaysian concept of displacing the teacher with the learner may not appear radical as a concept but the design of a simple to use technological system wrapped around the learner rather than the teacher or the teaching system and doing so across a nation surely is.

Globalism, increased population mobility, shifts in patterns of production and consumption and the prevalence of low-cost easy-access technologies create challenges for education systems. For the past two decades such changes have led to governments in industrialised countries engaging in successive waves of what look like educational reforms but which in fact are more often a series of tweaks.

“ You look at the [US] educational establishment, and if there’s any change it’s very slow. I don’t think the educational establishment has really embraced these ideas. And, to the extent they embrace them, I think a lot of times its surface rhetoric and the reality underneath hasn’t changed. Business leaders will say, ‘We need a different type of workforce in the future. We need different types of learners. We need people who are creative and collaborative.’ But then you see what they oftentimes recommend for the schools, as just a small incremental change from the way school has always been. “

Mitch Resnick, MIT Media Lab

England has delivered more educational changes which one would have expected to improve performance than any other country in the world. Constant tweaking is costly and in most instances across the globe has failed to deliver transformation: tweaking in the guise of transforming!

“ Although there was some real initial progress, these reforms have ultimately come up against a wall, or rather a ceiling, beyond which further progress seems impossible, leading increasing numbers of school administrators and educators to wonder whether schools do not need to be reformed but to be reinvented. “

Raymond Daigle, Toronto Schooling for Tomorrow Forum, 2004, OECD 2006a: 187-188

All industrialised countries recognise the transformative potential of technology. Few have positioned themselves to take full advantage of a joined-up integrative approach. The UK government have adopted a hands-off let the market decide attitude. The policy is ‘there is no policy’.


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