magine if we designed the 21st-century American classroom to be a place where our kids could learn to think, calculate, and invent as well as the students in the top-performing countries around the world.
What would those spaces look like? Would students plug into mini-MRI machines to record the real-time development of their brains’ executive functions? Would teachers be Nobel Prize winners, broadcasting through screens installed in the foreheads of robots that don’t have tenure?
To find out, we don’t have to travel through time. We could just travel through space. At the moment, there are thousands of schools around the world that work better than our own. They don’t have many things in common. But they do seem to share a surprising aesthetic.
Classrooms in countries with the highest-performing students contain very little tech wizardry, generally speaking. They look, in fact, a lot like American ones–circa 1989 or 1959. Children sit at rows of desks, staring up at a teacher who stands in front of a well-worn chalkboard.
“In most of the highest-performing systems, technology is remarkably absent from classrooms,” says Andreas Schleicher, a veteran education analyst for the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development who spends much of his time visiting schools around the world to find out what they are doing right (or wrong). “I have no explanation why that is the case, but it does seem that those systems place their efforts primarily on pedagogical practice rather than digital gadgets.”