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Week 8: 30 October 2011

Kieron Kirkland

Researcher in digital technologies and moonlighting magician

School's Out for Nowhereisland

School's Out...Forever?

Very few sane individuals would disagree with me if I said access to free education is of vital importance to sustaining the well being of individuals and the wider world. So it’s natural that we'll want to think very carefully about the type of education system we want to have on Nowhereisland.

On the whole, we are in the habit of ploughing a lot of money and effort into an education model that presumes institutions called 'schools' are the best way to provide education. It’s a massive investment, and I'm not convinced it’s the right one for Nowhereisland.

Here's why:

The school system we have is out-dated
Our school system is largely rooted in a model that aimed to provide basic education for individuals entering a specific, industrialised world. That world has gone. The economic, political, social and technological realities of today are vastly different from then, and our education system needs to reflect that.

Schools are divisive
Schools create a division between the working spaces for young people and the majority of adults. This creates an unhealthy division in society that stops many individuals in the adult world forming meaningful working relationships with young people. At the same time it segregates, disenfranchises and disempowers the Young. This divide also restricts the ability of different institutions, whether corporate, public, or charitable, to contribute to the education of society, depriving young people of a rich source of educational experiences.

Education is not just for the young
By 2030, over 50% of the population of western Europe will be aged over 50, and will be expected to live for a further 40 years. People do not stop learning when they leave school, and in an ever- changing world we need to offer people life-long education. We need to develop systems that people can engage with throughout their lives.

So what can we develop for Nowhereisland that could address these shortcomings? I am not suggesting that schools are without merit. For younger children they can provide a supportive environment to develop skills, integrate with a range of different people, and be economical ways of allowing many to have access to valuable resources.

However, the learning environment a six year-old needs is very different to what is required by a 12 or 14 year-old. For older children, I propose that on Nowhereisland the 'education system' will instead be a network of opportunities where young people undergo placements and meaningfully engage with a range of different institutions from the public to voluntary to corporate. Alongside these placements, where they will work with peers and older colleagues alike, young people will regularly meet and receive support from trained  professionals. This professional team will be there to give additional support where needed, whether with specific skills, or pastoral care. The support team will also be responsible for ensuring young people have a balanced placement career, and engage in different experiences.

While on placements, the nature of young people’s learning experiences will be managed by a range of staff from the host institutions. These staff will be trained with funds that would have gone towards centralised schools. The work that young people do will need to be meaningfully integrated in the overall goal of the host organisations and this will require a collaborative approach to designing and running placements. Any organisation will be able to apply for the involvement of young people, and larger organisations will be legally obliged to.

This model offers a range of benefits for young people of Nowhereisland:

Develops confidence and understanding of the modern working world
In today's world, barely anyone has a 'job for life'. Individuals move through different and varied career paths, and often work across different sectors. Our education system needs to prepare young people for that world.  They need to work in flexible ways, and develop the critical capacity to develop and take skills from one arena to another.

Technology means individuals are not limited by geography
With the increasing availability of interconnected digital systems, learners have the ability to access educational content in a variety of places. They are no longer geographically bound to one place. Equally this means that portfolio-style records mapping a learner's experiences can follow them easily from one venue to another, and that young people will be able to access information and support through online communication channels.

Knowledge is more freely available today than ever before
The rise of the internet further spreads knowledge around the world. It means that individuals can potentially have access to information anywhere, anytime. This removes the onus on schools and teachers to be transmitters of knowledge. Rather our system should focus on supporting young people to develop the critical skills to engage with information – to balance, judge, argue, analyse, assess and apply. This means that curricula become concerned with the application and interpretation of knowledge, not the absorption.

Develop applied knowledge in a range of areas and broaden horizons
Under the placement system a young person might spend several months working as a technician in a theatre, and the next placement work as a librarian. It offers young people the opportunity to meaningfully engage in, and develop a knowledge of a range of disciplines. This will support them to develop a broader outlook on life and engage with a range of practices and cultures.

Education should be integrated into young people's 'real life'
Young people have valuable knowledge, expertise, skills, energy and ideas. They have the right to have these developed in a professional environment where their work can impact on all of society.

There's obviously details we'll need to work out on the island, and we'll need to stay vigilant that placements offer a coherent and supportive learning environment for all young people. But it should result in a more integrated society where young people are not locked away in buildings, but instead as involved in influencing Nowhereisland's society as much as the rest of us.

Kieron Kirkland

Kieron Kirkland is a researcher in digital technologies, who also moonlights as a magician. He's had a long standing passion for developing and researching creative and participatory approaches to education. This has ranged from using theatre as the Practitioner-in-Residence for Shakespeare's Globe, to exploring the role of digital technologies as a learning researcher for Futurelab and presently, for the Nominet Trust.


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Nowhereisland is a Situations project led by artist Alex Hartley, one of 12 Artist Taking the Lead projects for the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad funded by Arts Council England. We also gratefully acknowledge the support of the University of the West of England, Bristol; Bloomberg; Nicky Wilson Jupiter Artland; the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs; the Royal Norwegian Embassy and Yellowbrick Tracking.

Identity designed by Fraser Muggeridge studio and Wolfram Wiedner, website by Wolfram Wiedner.