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Personalized learning: The UK-BC connection

On the UK website of “Born to Learn” there is an unusual, somewhat emotional, yet compelling article, Matters for very serious consideration, which outlines the evolution of the 21st century/ personalized learning movement in the UK.

What makes the article of particular interest to BC educators is its claim that while the concepts of 21st century/personalized learning are being ignored in the UK, they are being adopted in BC:

These are the ideas and recommendations now being taken up within British Columbia as quickly as they are apparently being ignored in England.

School District # 64, Gulf Islands, is identified as a school district where these ideas are being explored in practice.

The document recounts a fascinating history of John Abbot’s failed attempts to interest successive UK governments in his ideas since 1993. In one of the most stunning revelations, he quotes the Director of the Policy Unit at a meeting in the Prime Minister’s residence at 10 Downing Street, who, in speaking to John Abbot, said:

“Much to my surprise I can’t really fault your theory. You are probably educationally right; certainly your argument is ethically correct. But the system you are arguing for would require very good teachers. We are not convinced that there will ever be enough good teachers so, instead, we are going for a teacher-proof system of re-organising schools—that way we can get a uniform standard.”

In 2010, a 21st-century-learning initiative paper was written for a British Columbia audience, entitled “Schools” in the future: What has to change and why? It concluded by saying:

Once the entire system is redesigned on the basis of constructivist and enquiry-based practice, then student dependence on teachers at school will begin to decrease with age. This will allow a growth in student choice and responsibility so escaping from the present dilemma of squeezing out-dated systems to perform in ways which truly release human potential at hitherto unprecedented levels.

As outlined in a BCTF Research discussion paper, 21st century learning—Widening the frame of focus and debate, there is much to support in areas such as constructivist and inquiry-based practice, yet there are also many systemic support questions and issues which have yet to be addressed in BC. These include governance, accountability, technology support, teacher education, sustainability/social justice, and subject hierarchies. Other issues which have been articulated since the discussion paper was published include concerns over pressure on students to bring their own mobile phones/laptops, etc., to school, potentially creating a new “digital divide” between “have” and “have not” students, and whether personalized learning is essentially a cost-cutting measure if more students complete online courses and fewer teachers are employed in a smaller number of schools.


Matters for very serious consideration,

School District # 64, Gulf Islands, website,

“Schools” in the future: What has to change and why,

21st century learning—Widening the frame of focus and debate: A BCTF discussion paper,

Submitted by Charlie Naylor
BCTF Research,
November 22, 2011

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