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The Rise and Fall of the Classroom Blackboard

Updated: Nov 12, 2021


The blackboard plays an important part in the history of education, but today’s children might not even recognise one! When they first started to be used in schools at the beginning of the 19th century, they revolutionised teaching practices. However, nowadays, the whiteboard, or even interactive screens, have taken their place.

When mass education first began, students wrote on slates or pieces of painted wood with a stylus, as paper and ink were too expensive to use. The teacher had to write each student’s work onto their slates, which was obviously a very time consuming and labour-intensive process.

In 1801, a headmaster and geography teacher named James Pillans at the Old High School in Edinburgh, came up with a brilliantly simple solution. He hung a large piece of slate on the classroom wall, where lessons could be presented to the whole class, and wiped clean ready for the next day. The method was quickly adopted in classrooms around the world.

For the next 150 years or so, generations of students learned from chalk on blackboard. During the 1960s, blackboards were gradually replaced with greenboards, also known as chalkboards, which were enamel-coated plates. They were lighter and tougher than slate, and easier to wipe clean; blackboards can leave a ‘ghost’ of the previous day’s scribblings.

Today’s classrooms now tend to have whiteboards, which can be written on with erasable marker pens. This eliminates the build-up of chalk dust in the classroom, making them cleaner and healthier environments.

In today’s high-tech era, students are more used to interacting with digital screens and projected smart boards than ever before. Although most classrooms still retain a whiteboard or even a chalkboard, for future generations, they may become an antiquated notion of the past; as old fashioned as writing your sums on a slate tablet.

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