March 4, 2021

The Editor Speaks: No walls in the classrooms

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Colin WilsonwebEven though the Clifton Hunter High School Principal Pauline Beckford said the building of the school without classroom walls works, I still have my doubts.

She pointed to the success of the system at the school’s graduation ceremony a week ago to the number of higher level passes.

I believe that analogy should be taken with a degree of caution. The increase in the number of higher level passes might not be the system but the calibre of pupils this year. I would like to see the statistics over a number of years (at least 5) and compare that with the traditional primary schools. I find it interesting that none of the private schools have this no classroom walls system and their past grades exceed the government ones with or without classroom walls.

Beckford in her interview on CITN/Cayman27 that was televised on Tuesday 24th June used the word “overall” before making her commendation. She had also cautioned there were some challenges associated with the new system, but they had “managed to overcome them”.

This was I believe very diplomatic of her.

A few teachers who work at the school or used to work there have told me in confidence, (I have a problem with remembering people’s names anyway) that noise is the biggest problem and none of them personally liked the system.

In the USA more than half of the schools that opened with no classroom walls now have classroom walls.

The first time I had heard about the phrase “open classrooms” was in the early 1970’s.

In an article by called “The ” published in 2004 he compares the early system with the newer classrooms without walls see

Even though the article is 10 years old it still makes good reading and is an unbiased opinion.

Another article that supplements that one and published 3 years ago under the title “What’s the difference between the ‘Open Classroom’ of the 1970s and ‘Open Space’ learning today?” by starts with these answers:

“Students working in multi-age groups

Teachers as coaches

Teams of teachers worked collaboratively with one another

Spaces reconfigured for large and small group projects and individual work

Architects commissioned to design schools without walls.

Teachers given discretion to create new academic courses

Students direct their own learning.”

She then says,” This sounds like the types of learning spaces that many of us are championing for our students today, but actually, this list is a summary of the 1970 Open Classroom in an article Whatever happened to the Open Classroom, by Larry Cuban.”

More from her article:

“I was in primary school in 1966 – 1972. I remember violent anti-war protest on the evening TV news and the use of the term ‘generation gap’ to describe the vast differences between young people and their parents’ generation. There was immense change, experimentation and cultural innovation.

“The open classrooms gained momentum and 1000s of schools became home-like and children moved between activity centres, based on their own interests. There was a focus on students “learning by doing”, it was believed that formal teacher-led classrooms restricted students creativity. The guiding principle was that children would learn best when they were interested and could see the importance of what they were doing.

“Open classrooms peaked around 1974. During the mid-1970s the economy in the US stagnated and the nation was divided over . A conservative backlash against the cultural and political changes of the 1960s – early 1970s emerged, this saw a return to the traditional view of schools and the walls were rebuilt. Competency tests were used to raise academic standards. As the pendulum swung, ‘Back to the basics’ became the cry.

“So why will open space learning work today?

“Firstly, there are some similarities – we are living in an era of unprecedented change, as it was in the 1970s. We are also questioning the practices of what has gone before and reinventing many aspects of society, and this generation, like the youth-culture on the 1960s, is rewriting the rule-book.

“I believe there are a number of reasons why open space learning in 2011 is not just a passing fad, but marks a significant shift in the way we ‘do’ school in the third millennium and we are just seeing the beginning of a groundswell movement that will radically transform schools – that have children and young people it its very heart. These reasons include:

“Emergence from the industrial era

“Design and building innovation

“Brain research

But most significantly, technology is the biggest game-changer, and especially the personalised and ubiquitous nature of technology and the ability to access knowledge and connect as far as we can possibly imagine.

“This doesn’t mean that this is the way we will stay. The key is flexibility.”

Go to:’s-the-difference-between-the-‘open-classroom’-of-the-1970s-and-‘open-space’-learning-today/

Back to Larry Cuban:

“Since children differ in their motivations, interests, and backgrounds, and learn at different speeds in different subjects, there will never be a victory for either traditional or progressive teaching and learning. The fact is that no single best way for teachers to teach and for children to learn can fit all situations. Both traditional and progressive ways of teaching and learning need to be part of a school’s approach to children. Smart teachers and principals have carefully constructed hybrid classrooms and schools that reflect the diversities of children. Alas, that lesson remains to be learned by the policymakers, educators, and parents of each generation.”

I can only comment that the Clifton Hunter High School cost over CI$100M and it has no walls in its classrooms.

I hate to think how much extra it would have cost if it had had classroom walls!!!



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