Disrupting the Classroom

In an issue dedicated to the rise of the high tech classroom, former diplomat, educationalist, and regular contributor Tom Fletcher expounds on the benefits of classroom disruption and power of the democratization of educational tools.

When I was a pupil, disruption was not something that schools encouraged. To be a ‘disruptive student’ was a fast track to a detention and a report that you didn’t want to take home.

But disruption has now become shorthand for challenge and change in a positive way. Silicon Valley likes to ‘move fast and break things’. As we consider the mindset our kids will need in order to thrive in a world of constant political and technological disruption, we also need those disrupting education to build, not just break.


Technology will find, without much help, the best ways to get educational content to future learners: there are a myriad of methods to do this, and the most effective ones will rise to the top. For a period, this will be a mixture of commercial and philanthropic interventions. Governments will struggle to do more than validate the best. Parents, learners and teachers will see the classroom change before their eyes.

We are for example within a decade of being able to see a digital library of the world’s most important knowledge, accessible and free. As the next billion come online, they will have better access to more knowledge not just than Einstein but Steve Jobs. This is the most significant moment ever in reducing the barriers to information.

For most people in the Tech world, the arguments over the need for more social and emotional learning are already won. Just look at the schools they are sending their kids to – problem solving, team working, critical thinking and creativity are prioritised over remembering things or passing classic exams.

But beyond a handful of pioneer schools in expat communities and elite areas, the current systems won’t change fast enough for the new job market. We face a new digital divide, where only a small percentage of the global elite can educate their children in the right ways. Businesses will invest in companies that re-train their employees for them. Rather than fixing the symptoms of the education crisis, they will pay more for the treatments. They will see the education system itself as too bureaucratic, too hard to reform.

Meanwhile, parents and learners will migrate to new content and new tools, as they see that they can achieve their educational objectives faster outside formal education. This will hit the university system first. But we are within a decade of younger people dropping out of school in order to learn faster. Migrant and refugee communities will be the trailblazers.

In this context, assessment and accreditation will become more important. People will still need to validate their learning. Will a Google Degree become more valuable than one from Cambridge? Eventually this leads to greater equality of opportunity, but there will be flux and complication. How do we ensure quality for education outcomes amid a free for all?

We all need to rediscover that we are educators. We need the tech trailblazers to co-invest in opportunity. So that our children, wherever they are born, can access the most important knowledge that humankind has built, and develop the skills and character to thrive, adapt, learn, create, invent, and coexist as global citizens. But we need them to disrupt in collaboration not competition with the education profession. And most importantly with learners themselves.


By Tom Fletcher CMG, Founder, The Foundation for Opportunity CIC

Learn more about Tom at tomfletcher.global

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