Education’s “new” challenges

I’m not an education expert. I’m just very interested in how it affects core competences for people to face the challenges imposed by our current economic setting. As I see it, we live in a Learning Economy[1], rather than a knowledge economy, where we are constantly challenged to learn the useful and forget the useless. So education’s role is to build learning capabilities, and not delivering knowledge. But maybe I’m just wrong.

It reached me on Twitter a discussion by John Merrow about the role of technology in classrooms and how it is feared by many teachers and school principals. Here, I quote him:

“I think technology is a huge threat to a decent education precisely because it allows shortcuts like [the use of plot summaries on line that you can read in 30 seconds].  We know that students everywhere are downloading term papers written by others and submitting them as their own, and now they don’t even have to read the material.  We’re producing students with no deep understanding of our culture and a fundamental contempt for education”.

But what really gets me is that this is only a risk because the school model used in most countries is still based on instruction, rather than building the deep understanding he mentions! I agree that we are producing such students. But it is not the student’s fault or the technology’s fault. Can you tell me of anybody who will spend more time than needed in a task they don’t like? Will you tell me that you do not use the internet to search for needed knowledge to make your tasks easier? In the current educational setting, students are being punished for doing what we all do at our jobs! In fact, some authors argue that sorting out what you need from the numerous search results is a key competence is the Learning Economy.


Doonesbury by Garry Trudeau

It is not my intention to criticize his entire post. In fact, I believe that he gives some insights on how to better use technology in the current setting. Also he offers some good perspectives on the risks schools are running while not investing in understanding technology. But he misses a greater discussion (and for me a more important one) that is about the school model.

What is needed is to review the school model that was built based on the late 19th century understanding of how we learn. Its aim was to supply the industrial economy with its workers. Our current economy demands creative people with ability to research, solve problems, learn to use new technology, and innovate, which are crucial for people to live fulfilling lives in the new economy. And the learning sciences have already identified the principles that underlie building such abilities: customized learning; availability of diverse knowledge sources; collaborative group learning; and assessment for deeper understanding. From these, at least three can be broadly supported by technology[2].

What must be worked out fast is that the educational sector is one of the least innovatives[3] and that the adoption of technology is being made mostly for incremental change over the same foundation. It’s time to look for some radical new models. Put our minds together in exercises like Google’s initiative on Breakthrough Learning in the Digital Age to innovate education. Look for some examples already at work such as the Brazilian Instituto Lumiar who got also Microsoft’s attention as an innovative school.

If we are to discuss the use of technology in education, we might as well discuss how to educate for using technology. Knowledge is available. Perhaps we just need to teach how to find, sort, and make use of it, what makes learning skills more important than knowing. And if my logic makes any sense, it might turn out that I’m not THAT wrong.


[1] Lundvall and Johnson (1994): The Learning Economy. Journal of Industrial Studies.

[2] and [3] OECD (2008): Innovating to Learn, Learning to Innovate. Centre for Educational Research and Innovation. OECD.

EDIT: I remembered of a video that questions education as we have it that is related to school models and the discussion on this post. I decided to add it because it reinforces my point on the need for school model change.


2 Respostas to “Education’s “new” challenges”

  1. Ka Him Says:

    Dude, I feel really guilty for not help you out with your thesis, and you know I’m in the education field with a philosophical background. So here’s what I think about this article of yours.

    First of all, every time when I hear using technology in classrooms and how people reject it as if it was some kind of corporate scam by microsoft trying to steal our money, I think of how ball pens were first invented. Every one refused to use ball pens because they believe it could never replace pencils, because pencils were reversible and pens were not. Same thing happens nowadays in education technology. It’s not the technology’s fault, it’s how we use it (another analogy: guns used by good or bad guys).

    However, I must admit technology cannot completely replace chalk-and-talk (or direct teaching, or instructive teaching). Some subjects or topics are better off without the use of technology, for example, field trip or field learning (like visiting a farm), or hard knowledge where you can learn through memorization.

    As a front line teacher working with different generations of teachers, some of my older colleagues may have the skills to use things like powerpoint, playing videos or music through a computer, but their mindset hasn’t changed. Going through pedagogical shift is probably one of the biggest challenges especially for ‘experienced’ teachers. I suppose that’s why the authority (like principals) opposes it so much. What they’ve been using has been working well, so why do they have to like it?

    One thing I couldn’t agree with you more is “learning to learn”. Recently, (in 20 years or so) Britain, Australia, New Zealand, China and Hong Kong have gone through series of educational reforms, incidentally almost most of them were homing at “learning to learn” or “critical thinking”, things that could be categorized as “life skills”. You have put it really well that our society no longer needs factory workers, handcrafting skills (assembling parts, etc) is not necessary anymore. People say we’re in a knowledge society now, but that doesn’t mean we need even more knowledge, what we really need is the skill to sort out those flooding knowledge that Google offers.

    I know I’ve been babbling for like 500 words, but it’s late here and I haven’t been following your progress. I could share more if you could leave me questions that we can discuss.

    Hope that helps.

    • Marcelo Says:

      Hey there, my friend! Good to hear from you!

      First of all thanks for your visit and comment. It tells me I’m not so wrong in my thinking and my questioning of how we educate people. But that is just an area of interest and there’s hardly anything to do with my thesis now. It took a hard turn and I’m not writing about this sort of things. So don’t worry about it.

      What I’d like to ask you (and perhaps challenge you into thinking about it) is the following: how can you use technology to give students the power to seek the knowledge they are interested in, to customize learning? Can you guide them into communities of people that know about what they like and let them discover for themselves philosophy as you are teaching? Or perhaps even ask them to use the internet to find out why philosophy is important, where to apply it and things like that? I believe that technology can help students to make sense out of what they are studying (since they can’t chose what they want to learn), to realize how context matters, and how “understanding” is cross-disciplinary, rather than the closed boxes schools put them into: math, science, language, etc.

      I thank you for your input! It encourages me to say a bit more about my thoughts on education and technology (as I just did). Let me know if you can use any of these questions – if it makes any sense to think about them.

      EDIT: Just wanted to add that I agree with you that field trips are a good resource, and that some chalk and talk is needed. But the way I see it, they must be used when necessary and not as mandatory, or as the daily routine.

      I also agree that breaking the current paradigm is a challenge. Remember our discussions about the Aalborg University project-based model? I remember our agreeing that it is very loose. What reminds me that we also have to disrupt our understanding of how education works.

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