January 10, 2011

Stop sorting children by their date of manufacture

Abdul Chochan
Six years ago we got a hard time for getting our students to create little snippets of audio for each other and the wider world - using iPods for learning was seen as expensive and gimmicky. "Who has those devices? We couldn't possibly purchase devices for children. They're far too expensive for them to own them any time soon."

Six years on Abdul Chohan was getting the same feedback at his school, the Essa Academy. At the Learning Without Frontiers conference he recounts how he had seen iPod Touches, the next generation of device from our low-fi iPods of 2004, as the key to untapping new learning landscapes for his learners.

With a seamless wifi setup in the school students never lost touch with the web through their mobile devices. Polish students, recently arrived at the school, were able to decipher English-language physics lessons by backing up their learning with the Polish language version of the theme's wikipedia entry.

Above all, teachers could stop judging what students should or could be doing based "on their date of manufacture" (or, as some might add, on their sell-by date). Youngsters were able to extend or support their own learning as they saw fit, when they saw fit.

Students overnight had knowledge at their fingertips (and in their pockets) in text, on the web and in podcasts (boys in particular were amongst those downloading 900 or so GCSE Pods to revise for the examinations).

Edmodo provided a learning social network through which teachers and learners could send messages, manage their learning, set tasks, ask for help.

This film about the Essa Academy iPod Touch project from Newsround sums up more of the impact on the school:


The £40,000 ($80,000) leasing bill for printers will, as a result, be greatly reduced as the amount of paper being used is reduced significantly.

The cost of the devices themselves, even with a refresh rate of 18p/35c per day included, is therefore relatively affordable.

The results? Where, a year or two before, the school had been set for closure by the Government watchdog for having a pass rate never above 30%, examinations results coming in after this mobile investment, at Grades A*-C, were running at 99%.

When we believe that youngsters are capable of anything and, vitally, provide the human and virtual help and support to make that potential a possible, there's nothing that can hold them back.


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Hi Ewan,

I'd be interested to know how they managed this logistically. It's great that the technology is put into the hands of the students, who can then drive its use far more effectively than the teachers can (in my experience).

But, when students haven't invested anything in the devices, there's little incentive to look after them.

It's like apprentices who used to have to pay for their own toolkits. They would keep them safe, far more than current apprentices who get provided the tools for free.



I gave up reading the comments on the Daily Mail site. There should be a health warning - "may increase blood pressure"!

There is this more helpful Times piece that shows how the students pay for their insurance (and therefore have that input to their upkeep):


Hi Ewan,
maybe off-topic, but is your title "Stop sorting children by their date of manufacture" also an argument to stop labeling children as generation X, Y or Z?
Because too often the characteristics of those generations are applied to all youngsters of a certain age. See also the "Digital Native" discussion and the results of research years later.
Regards, Joël

I've never liked the labeling of 'native', especially given it's ten years old now. All too often it's taken as an excuse by those who don't WANT to learn new skills for not learning them.

Interesting research here on the fallacy of the term:

thank you so much for post

thans for all

Instead, for a school that size they should be sacking the people who are paying out £40,000.00 in leases on their printers. Similarly, £50,000.00 to create an ICT suite is comfortably over double what is necessary even factoring in expensive furniture solutions.

Those numbers are ludicrous tosh designed to make their reckless allocation of scarce resources seem more justifiable.

What's more, teachers repeatedly claim that the high volume of printing pupils do is a requirement of their exam boards to show the stages of development of their work. Fixing that cultural problem has absolutely nothing to do with handheld devices so it's a non-sequitur.

"examinations results coming in after this mobile investment, at Grades A*-C, were running at 99%" - hmmmmm..... I guess the 30% rate was for pupils achieving 5 A*-C rather than raw pass rate across all exams taken, but you don't provide any links to back up either statement so it's hard to judge. The true test will be when the results come out.

There are no links as the statements are taken verbatim from his talk. That, however, is recorded and will be published on the Learning Without Frontiers site asap:

so you can triple check the numbers over yourself.

Interesting, too, that such a virulent yet evidence-free comment from Sahmeepee eminates from the University of Bristol. Would you like to justify yourself why the numbers are "ludicrous tosh"?

Unfortunately, 99% does look difficult to justify
Essa results (DfE)

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About Ewan

Ewan McIntosh is the founder of NoTosh, the no-nonsense company that makes accessible the creative process required to innovate: to find meaningful problems and solve them.

Ewan wrote How To Come Up With Great Ideas and Actually Make Them Happen, a manual that does what is says for education leaders, innovators and people who want to be both.

What does Ewan do?

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School leaders and innovators struggle to make the most of educators' and students' potential. My team at NoTosh cut the time and cost of making significant change in physical spaces, digital and curricular innovation programmes. We work long term to help make that change last, even as educators come and go.

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