Banning Laptops

An article published in the SMH about Sydney Grammar Principal John Vallance and his views about technology said as much about his views of teaching and learning as it did about technology use. The principal was was pictured  in the article in front of a Latin class with students in rows sitting in front of the teacher.   This is a picture that, without the short throw projector at the front of the room, could have been taken at any time within the last century…..and certainly would have been a standard image from a classroom before the last 10 years of technological revolution.

In making a conscious decision to ban laptops from his school, Mr Vallance has chosen to ignore the advances and changes  in the world that have occurred in the  last 10 years.  In doing so, he has chosen to ignore any advantage in terms of learning opportunities for his teachers and students.  Many of these opportunities, such as online collaboration,  would provide depth and scope to the very type of learning he espouses.   

Other opportunities include but are certainly not limited to:

  • the opening up of individual lines of inquiry to students with real world applications
  • enabling students to work with teachers to become accustomed to interacting with the vast amounts of information that needs to sifted and critiqued,
  • enabling students to have options to express themselves and to create artefacts of their understanding. 
  • the powerful assistive use of technology and taking advantage of the ability it provides for the playing field to be ‘levelled’ for many students.

He names teaching as a social activity.  I agree. 

He talks about teacher quality.  I agree.  Teacher quality has never been more important and I don’t see that technology will ever replace an effective teacher who also invests time,  energy and a growth mindset towards the adaption and adoption of new technologies.

I agree with other points he makes.   The billions misguidedly invested in the Digital Education Revolution, which used taxpayer funds to buy laptops for high school students was misguided.   Instead, there should have been a significant component of this money allocated to the provision of professional learning opportunities for teachers to use technology when appropriate, across the curriculum.

The Australian Curriculum provides expectations for what all Australian students should be taught in Australia.   Schools are then responsible for the design of that learning so that the learning needs of their students are being met.   One of the key documents used to guide the design and intent of this curriculum was an agreement signed by the Federal Government in 2008.  Titled the Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians, it is a call to action and sets out to achieve the following:

Successful learners:

  • develop their capacity to learn and play an active role in their own learning
  • have the essential skills in literacy and numeracy and are creative and productive users of technology, especially ICT, as a foundation for success in all learning areas
  • are able to think deeply and logically, and obtain and evaluate evidence in a disciplined way as the result of studying fundamental disciplines
  • are creative, innovative and resourceful, and are able to solve problems in ways that draw upon a range of learning areas and disciplines
  • are able to plan activities independently, collaborate, work in teams and communicate ideas
  • are able to make sense of their world and think about how things have become the way they are
  • are on a pathway towards continued success in further education, training or employment, and acquire the skills to make informed learning and employment decisions throughout their lives
  • are motivated to reach their full potential.

Confident and creative individuals:

  • have a sense of self-worth, self-awareness and personal identity that enables them to manage their emotional, mental, spiritual and physical wellbeing
  • have a sense of optimism about their lives and the future
  • are enterprising, show initiative and use their creative abilities
  • develop personal values and attributes such as honesty, resilience, empathy and respect for others
  • have the knowledge, skills, understanding and values to establish and maintain healthy, satisfying lives
  • have the confidence and capability to pursue university or post-secondary vocational qualifications leading to rewarding and productive employment
  • relate well to others and form and maintain healthy relationships
  • are well prepared for their potential life roles as family, community and workforce members
  • embrace opportunities, make rational and informed decisions about their own lives and accept responsibility for their own actions.

Active and informed citizens:

  • act with moral and ethical integrity
  • appreciate Australia’s social, cultural, linguistic and religious diversity, and have an understanding of Australia’s system of government, history and culture
  • understand and acknowledge the value of Indigenous cultures and possess the knowledge, skills and understanding to contribute to, and benefit from, reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians
  • are committed to national values of democracy, equity and justice, and participate in Australia’s civic life
  • are able to relate to and communicate across cultures, especially the cultures and countries of Asia
  • work for the common good, in particular sustaining and improving natural and social environments
  • are responsible global and local citizens.

(Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians page 7-9)

General capabilities are a key dimension of the Australian Curriculum. They encompass knowledge, skills, behaviours and dispositions that, together with curriculum content in each learning area and the cross-curriculum priorities, will assist students to live and work successfully in the twenty-first century.  By using ICT as a general capability, students are becoming confident and creative users of ICT – to do this – they should be using ICT across and within all curriculum areas – such that it is a tool and that when it is the best tool for the job – it  is used.

I am not sure how the provision of laptops within labs, as the Principal of Sydney Grammar discusses, supports the use of ICT as a General Capability.   ACARA pinpoint the effective use of the General Capabilities as key component in the work we must all do collaboratively to prepare students for their future lives.

Michael Fullan is a worldwide authority on educational reform with a mandate of helping to achieve the moral purpose of all children learning.   When discussing the steady decline of student engagement throughout schooling, he identifies a solution:

“…….it lies in the concentration of the three forces of pedagogy, technology, and change knowledge. If you want to head off destruction, we need to make it all about learning, let technology permeate, and engage the whole system.”

Possibly we have over-estimated the potential of technology in the past.  The OECD  certainly has found that schools are yet to take advantage of the potential of technology

“School systems need to find more effective ways to integrate | technology into teaching and learning  to provide educators with learning environments that support 21st century pedagogies and provide children with the 21st century skills they need to succeed in tomorrow’s world,” said Andreas Schleicher, OECD Director for Education and Skills. “Technology is the only way to dramatically expand access to knowledge. To deliver on the promises technology holds, countries need to invest more effectively and ensure that teachers are at the forefront of designing and implementing this change.”

but by banning and removing technology we are removing from students and teachers the potential for technology to enhance learning, to make thinking visible, to remove borders and enhance collaboration, to expose students to different worlds and opinions to their own, and for students to create their own knowledge and solutions.

Written in the Government’s National Innovation and Science Agenda:

“An estimated 75 per cent of jobs in the fastest-growing industries in the next five to 10 years will need science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) skills and almost all jobs will require ICT literacy.”

So, what does all this mean for schools?  As educators we have such a huge responsibility to ensure that the part we play in preparing our students for their futures is one that

So, in a time when there are so many jostling priorities for schools, how does a community work together to ensure that we are meeting the challenge of preparing our students for an uncertain future whilst still retaining that which will always be important in teaching and learning?  I would suggest that we:

  1.  Accept that our own experiences of schooling aren’t those that we should use to judge our children’s experiences.    This is difficult but If we are unable to do this, we risk making huge mistakes. 

2.  Along with no. 1 (above), it is important to question our assumptions.  Our assumptions are based on our own experiences and the lessons learnt from our own experiences might not necessarily be those we should be applying to our children’s present and future.

3.  Understand that pedagogy is the driver in any learning.   A range of pedagogies is essential for any learning and balance is key.  The use of technology can be used to accelerate pedagogy and can play a different role depending on pedagogy.

4.   A school needs to be become a ‘learning organisation’ (Fullan, Technology and the Problem of Change) –  with teachers and the organisation itself committed to understanding and enacting improvement.   This can often mean collaborative work cultures (or professional learning networks) with teachers becoming learners and enactors of change for improvement. 

Other articles written since the first article appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald:


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