Introducing a 20% time concept into education.

From my experience and general ability to tell the time, it becomes obvious when in a school to see exactly how much pressure teachers and students are under to burn through all of the required material. At University, we are forced to plan our lessons down to the very minute, which for obvious reasons can be somewhat important. However, what happens if you take a heavily structured routine and add in components of a 20% time concept?

Google adopted a concept of 20% time; which means that one day a week, their engineers get to spend their day working on projects that are not always defined within their job description. They have the ability to build new applications, or fix ones they think could use some help.

In a similar programme, software company Atlassian have been trialling a 20% time experiment based upon the innovative rewards seen by Google. Atlassian are not alone however, around the globe we are seeing more companies interested in innovation attempt this as well. Nevertheless, why does it have to stop with corporate use?

What if we introduced a similar process into education? While some believe that 20% is unrealistic, why not explore what this could possibly mean for education, the benefits and the negatives, as well as the problems / questions that would have to be solved first.

One very strong argument against any concept like this is education would be that there simply is not enough time. However, I know of several schools that have a gifted and talented programme that allows 20 – 40 students, time to complete their project within class. The class they take the time in, directly matches the core concept of the project work. For example, if the project is working on a creative writing piece, then that student will be given time during English, if someone is writing a computer game then they are given time within IST / etc.

By using the exact same concept as the GATS programme, students are then made responsible for their own learning, and as such, repercussions for not performing becomes as simple as returning to their normal class work.

In a blue sky world the students in theory would be able to work on any project they so wish, but when given an inch, a lot of students will seek a kilometre (I know I used to).  To combat this several standards / expectations could be put into place, as well as some sort of monthly review. Students are given term one to come up with their idea, ready to begin term two. The problem herein lies that there are a few questions that would have to be answered first:


  • Who gets to say that the project is acceptable, or not acceptable?
  • What requirements do we place on documenting their idea?
  • How much class time is allowed?
  • What milestones or deliverables must they be able to produce?
  • How do you check journals / work diaries?


Another important question would be marking. In a standards referenced environment, tasks like this would be impossible to mark. Having said that, matching student outcomes to their desired project could just be part of the initial planning stage. This would establish in the beginning, set tasks a student would have to demonstrate whilst working on the project.

Using the idea that every student has their strengths and weaknesses, why do we not let them tell us their strengths, allow them to find and follow their interests. I think students would be self-motivated as it follows the best aspects of TAS, (larger project, more time, of their own interests), while not being restricted to the traditional wood, metal or textiles based projects.

As I stated above, this is not a ready to eat meal. This is a concept that would require significant thought and investigation, from a team of experienced teachers to effectively implement.

Seeing the benefits of a few dedicated and interested students within the GATS program, has shown me that the creativity and passion students themselves will find when given the right opportunity is amazing.

Why not, instead of inviting students to join the GATS programme, start everyone in it?

Have you implemented a similar program? Have questions or know a few answers? Let me know in the comments.


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