10 MORE things that are obsolete in 21st century schools

Here are 10 MORE things that are obsolete in 21st century schools. It is my hope that this add-on to my previous list of 14 things that are obsolete in 21st century schools will inspire lively discussions about the future of education. The first five points are on the school building/area itself and the last five are on how schools are organized.

Saying that it has always been this way doesn’t count as a legitimate justification to why it should stay that way. Teachers and administrators all over the world are doing amazing things, but I can’t believe some of the things that are still being done, despite all the new solutions, research and ideas out there.

I’m not saying we should just make the current system better… we should change it into something else.

1. Divided spaces (…and multiple entrances)
gowrie_school_entranceSchools that divide students and staff in their ‘down-time’ are obsolete.

A keyword when building a school should be democracy and that should be shown with a shared space/single entrance. If we want to create a sense of belonging and a community in the school then the staff & students should have shared spaces where they learn together and they enter and exit the school through the same door. We should be modelling the behaviour we want our students to show. If we want to promote democracy and equality in our schools we have to show it… not just say it.

2. Hallways


In most schools I’ve visited, hallways take up a lot of space. They are usually packed for 5 minutes and then empty for the next 60-80 minutes. Building schools with long underused hallway spaces is obsolete.

Designing & building schools around a shared learning space where staff & students learn together would greatly reduce this unused floorspace. If you have a hallway by your classroom, don’t hesitate to use it as a learning space for students to make their learning space bigger until the schools are designed with this in mind.

3. Big bathrooms and shared showers


Schools designed with big shared bathrooms and shared showers in the locker rooms are not made for kids (especially teenagers) and are therefore obsolete. I’ve heard of students avoiding going to the bathroom or showering after P.E. to avoid bullying. Facilities like these were built for factories, intended to be used by adults to save money. I know that having private showers and bathrooms won’t stop bullying but it certainly will help in our fight against it. (One story out of thousands: Bullies posted photos of a child using school bathroom)

4. Teacher is the only one with a whiteboard


Schools that only have one whiteboard at the front of the room are obsolete.

We should give our students more opportunities to write, create, sketch out ideas. A classroom can be turned from a quiet space to a creative place with things like IdeaPaint or Whiteboard stickers.IdeaPaintSchools should give students more creative freedom. Being given the opportunity to write, draw & share, anywhere, gives all types of learners new ways of putting their skills into practice. I believe we can change the way students learn… one wall at a time. (Read my blog post on it here)

5. Empty schoolyards

U_PS 65 south schoolyard in 1990

A school that sends kids out to recess to a schoolyard that has mostly just concrete and rocks is obsolete.

Saving money on toys, slides, swings, skipropes or activities is quickly lost when schools have to hire more people to monitor the school yard and break up fights. I’m not saying that schools need to spend big money on expensive things for the schoolyard (Although you have to check out the Danish company Monstrum to see what a perfect schoolyard should look like). There are, however, brilliant programs to help make recess an important part of a child’s social & physical growth. The Norwegian Trivselsprogrammet, where students arrange games and activities during recess, is a cheap and effective way in our fight against bullying in the schoolyard, it involves the students and gives them responsibility.

6. Isolated subjects for 40-80 minutes

timetable_finI know we have to have a schedule to go by but dividing the day into isolated subjects for 40-80 minutes each is obsolete.

Schedules (and factory bells) like this are set to fit the system better and make it harder for teachers to collaborate. We should increase choice for our students, connect subjects and give students a chance to create their own schedule and be responsible for their own learning… at least for a little bit per week. That is why I love Genius Hour (or 20 time), a method used by Google which has recently been introduced into education. It allows students to explore their own passions and encourages creativity in the classroom for 60 minutes a week. Now that is brilliant!

7. Restricting learning to the classroom

Boy looking out of the window

Schools that believe all learning should happen inside the classroom are obsolete and their students are missing out on huge learning opportunities outside the classroom. With the increased use of technology and kids spending less time playing outdoors, schools need to take action, teach outside the four walls of the classroom and use the environment. Talking about a tree is good, showing someone a tree is better, playing in the tree is best… or like Confucius said: “Tell me, and I will forget. Show me and I may remember. Involve me, and I will understand”

8. Books, paper and a lot of photocopying


I’m not saying that using books and paper is obsolete, but schools that have not dramatically decreased their use of paper/photocopying and have not looked into the possibilities of e-books & iBooks Author are.

I know books are great but e-books are books too you know…. and you can annotate and save notes much quicker & easier.

“Books are no more threatened by Kindle than stairs are by elevators.” – Stephen Fry

Each school using average approx. 74 trees per year on paper is just wrong… forget about the money you save on paper and books and the time you’ll save on photocopying when using technology… 74 trees per year, that’s just wrong.

9. Parent-teacher interviews for 30 minutes per year.


The idea of having a parent-teacher interview for 15 minutes in December and 15 minutes in May for parents to get their child’s report card and shake the teachers hand is obsolete.

Parents should be a big part of school and involved in their child’s educational process. It isn’t enough for teachers to say at the beginning of the year: “….and parents, you are always welcome to visit.” and then never give them a real chance to. One way to increase parents participation is to hold what I call ‘Wide Open Schooldays‘. Then parents get a notification that a specific day next week will be Wide Open and they are encouraged to visit the school and any class their child will attend at any given point. Each class should also have a Classblog as well and even a Twitter account for parents and families to stay on top of what their children are doing and learning.

10. Teaching to the test


Schools that teach to the test are obsolete.

Some schools are even making school days longer and recess & holidays shorter to reach the test scores achieved in countries like China & Singapore because they think that’s preparing the kids for the real world. I don’t think they are aware of the  newly released report from the Chinese ministry of education entitled ‘Ten Regulations to Lessen Academic Burden for Primary School Students‘ – calling for less time in school, less homework and less reliance on test scores as a means of evaluating schools.

Author Yong Zhao uses the common Chinese term gaofen dineng (meaning; good at tests but bad at everything else) to refer to the products of the Chinese schools system. Because of the immense test pressure students have little opportunity to be creative, discover or pursue their own passions, or develop physical and social skills. Chinese schoolchildren suffer from extraordinarily high levels of anxiety, depression and psychosomatic stress disorders, which appear to be linked to academic pressures and lack of play.

Play is a highly effective method of informal learning that requires imagination and creativity but as children get older, play starts to take a back seat to “academics”. We need students who can think creatively, get along with other people and control their own impulses and emotions. We need people who can ask and seek answers to new questions, solve new problems and anticipate obstacles before they arise. These all require the ability to think creatively because the creative mind is a playful mind.

This last point was inspired by this article by Peter Gray and this one by Sam Gliksman.


Thank you to the hundreds of people that have sent me e-mails and tweets in response to the first article. I’m truly in awe about all the feedback from educators, parents and students from all over the world.

I hope this one inspires more conversations throughout the world on the education system we want to build. An education system that isn’t based on what we needed for our past but what our children need for their future.

Ingvi Hrannar Ómarsson

Icelandic elementary teacher & Entrepreneur… passionate about the future of education.


Featured image: http://bit.ly/1gtxEsm
  1. http://bit.ly/1jmniwq
  2. http://bit.ly/1gtsSuY
  3. http://bit.ly/1m27wUL
  4. http://bit.ly/ONxu3w
  5. http://bit.ly/1dGHtNM
  6. http://bit.ly/1m285hg
  7. http://bit.ly/1eETbfz
  8. http://bit.ly/1kXxhFX
  9. http://bit.ly/1jmprID
  10. http://bit.ly/1fUhbYc
Ingvi Hrannar Ómarsson

Creator | Educator | Designer | Everything I produce is work in progress | Stanford Alumni in Learning, Design & Technology Twitter: @IngviOmarsson / @IngviHrannar

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *