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3 Rockets built for long-distance-learning


NASA’s research on the impact of living in space for long periods indicates that astronauts can expect to suffer from anxiety, insomnia and depression. And that’s just the psychological impact of it all. The amount of research and investments on how to minimise the strain on humans going in space travel is astonishing.

So what?  Well, we think that what schools have done over the last few weeks (in response to being closed) is the educational equivalent of building and launching rockets into space.  An incredible achievement. But if launching into space was all that mattered, then all would be well. However, some of these rockets are experiencing problems – they were not built for sustainable space flight.

We have seen 2 types of rockets being built by schools thus far:  Rocket 1 and Rocket 2.

Rocket 1 – The Reactor

This is a rocket hastily constructed in reaction to the immediate challenge, equipped with just enough fuel, supplies and radio apparatus to reach space and then return to earth shortly afterwards.  These rockets are designed to be operated remotely for a couple of days. However, after a couple of weeks, the crew (the students) seem to become increasingly frustrated and disengaged with their didactic learning experience.

The equipment is not able to compensate for this, and no amount of communication from Ground Control (the school) can take away the feeling that mission failure is imminent.  

Rocket 2 – The Reliant

Other schools have been thinking and experimenting with space travel for some time.  As a result, they have confidently launched rockets designed to support their crew operating in space for longer periods. These rockets have more fuel and supplies and include the latest long-range communication devices to keep students in contact (through a variety of means) with a well-resourced Ground Control.

These rockets can be operated remotely for several weeks, keeping most of the crew fairly well engaged and on-task. However, as time goes on some crew members are losing their motivation, starting to feel isolated and frustrated. Further, the resources of Ground Control are being stretched as personnel are exhausted with the effort of tracking and monitoring the performance of all their crew.  

The fact is that neither of these rockets were built to sustain long-distance space exploration, which means that they may crash back to Earth if they are not upgraded very soon. Indeed, Elon Musk recently suggested that we need a “whole new architecture” for long-distance space travel, and this means we need to look beyond technology and focus more on the well-being of the crew. And this is why we think schools need to start developing a Rocket 3.

Rocket 3 – The Disrupter

In order to improve on Rockets 1 and 2, here are our design priorities for (the as yet unseen) Rocket 3:

This is simply not going to be achieved by schools working in isolation. There is a clear call to arms for the Ed Tech industry to work hand-in-hand with schools to develop a workable solution to the problem.  Some challenges we see include:

To paraphrase JFK, the challenge for Rocket 3 is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win.


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  • Damian and Jon are Executive Principals of Neuchatel International School, Switzerland, a Candidate IBCP school for 2021. Damian is also the former Head of DP & CP at the IBO, and Jon Halligan is the former Head of Business Development and Programme Recognition at the IBO.