A New Cartography of Education


The rapid industrialisation of Britain throughout the 19th-century brought about a transformation in the education system: instead of a one-room schoolhouse, education adopted a factory model. Students were treated as products on an assembly line: bluntly put, they were herded into place and then stamped with the knowledge required in order to become more effective economic producers. Private education developed for the richer classes along lines that encouraged them to become the leaders of the expanding Empire, skilled in ancient languages, in ‘civilisation’ and in the skills needed to run nations. As a model of education it was effective in terms of transferring basic skills and facts to students; it suited its time.

In the 21st century, it might perhaps need an overhaul.

This is because its liability was that it treated children as objects or ‘hard drives’ upon which knowledge merely had to be inscribed. Those students who were able to absorb data and retain some degree of self-determinism and interest in it coped and performed as they were intended, for the most part; those unable to accept such arbitrary, mechanically-driven input for whatever reason fell by the wayside intellectually and socially.

Any new model of education would need to be differently centred and styled. Far from a factory model, the new century demands a World Wide Web model - an education system which links individuals and empowers them to contribute creatively as well as receive. If the factory was the template for the 19th and 20th centuries, the internet is surely the template for the future. Increasing links between students and global communities, bringing multi-media and international resources to bear on the complex social, ethical and technical decisions that all students will have to make when they join society as adults will compel a greater degree of flexibility to reflect upon and take advantage of changes in the workplace and in society as whole. Not only will the distinction between learning inside of school and outside of school blur, there may no longer be any such distinct geographical place as a ‘school’.

The word ‘school’ itself comes from the Old English scōl, scolu, via Latin from Greek skholē ‘leisure, philosophy, lecture place’, with an emphasis on ‘place’. In today’s super-geographical, technological world, ‘place’ has become far less significant.

Technology is a key transforming element in creating this new educational template, offering virtually unlimited new methods of learning, of teaching, and of running bodies of st