I’m so happy to be writing this in one of my favorite cities in the world: Barcelona!
The UOC UNESCO Chair in e-Learning VIII international seminar with the theme of teacher training has just ended today. For two days, we’ve been hearing presentations and engaged in discussion about teachers. Quite aptly, the seminar started just after the 5th Teacher’s Day. The message of the seminar is clear: the role of the teacher has to change, the old practices and methods invented for the needs of the industrial society are not working anymore. This is 21st century, knowledge society, network age, participatory economy – there are many definitions.
But of course we know this. You know this. We all know this. Anyone who has attended any education events or read any publications – scholarly or not – about the topic must have heard all this before. For a few years already, this has been the topic of keynote presentations, editorials and opening ceremonies at the beginning of the semester in different educational institutions.
I believe we’ve reached the point of awareness that leaves us with the question: now what? Yes, we know things need to change. We need to educate students for the future, not for the past. We need to cultivate innovation, creative thinking, problem solving and collaboration. It’s no longer news to us. Just tell us, how do we do it? Sometimes we get the feeling that we teachers are just supposed to teach ourselves a whole new paradigm, a bunch of new literacies and the corresponding pedagogies, just like that, on our own and preferably yesterday. It doesn’t work like that.
Ferran Ruiz Tarragó, expert in and author of books on ICT and Education and currently President of the Education Council of Catalonia, gave a great presentation at the seminar with the title “The Usual Suspects? Teachers, Their Challenges and Development“. He pointed out how teachers are the ones getting all the blame on all kinds of shortcomings, from low student performance to bad employability. Most critics don’t realize that teachers are unrealistically being required to be excellent in a totally outdated system. An education system, after all, is only as good as its managers.
The crazy thing is that “the system” is doing the wrong thing and taking a u-turn to the wrong direction instead of accelerating towards the knowledge society. Or what do you say about the incredibly ignorant trend of increasing control in the form of standardized tests, standardized curricula and standardized teaching methods when the right way would be increased flexibility, increased trust and collaboration and increased personalization? If we wish to promote 21st century skills, that is. Stephen Downes shared a post today where he discusses this, referring and linking to Joe Bower’s recent blog post, Paradoxes of the Finland Phenomenon (and no, I’m not sharing this because I’m from Finland but because Joe is making such an important point!). The standardization serves as a bad excuse for quality assurance. A friend of mine and a great innovative educator pointed out that it’s the “McDonalds quality assurance” – everything standardized to the point where there is no variation and absolutely no gourmet meals.
Julià Minguillón, Academic Director, UNESCO Chair in e-Learning and UOC listed barriers education has to overcome in his conclusion of the seminar. Among these are school and university structures and bureaucracy, assessment and testing, coping with the ongoing change, isolated and fragmented knowledge and poor transfer of education research into practice. His list did not emphasize teachers’ bad motivation, ignorance or unwillingness to change – the reasons that we often get to hear.
My feeling after the seminar – and already before it, resulting from discussions with hundreds of educators all over the world – is that the greatest obstacle on the way of education to the 21st century is that teachers are not given their well-earned status as knowledge workers. For many a system, they are unpredictable variables in the perfectly standardized “McDonalds Quality Assurance Process” and thus they need to be controlled. The culture of control is then repeated in the classroom. And we all know what control and surveillance do to innovation, don’t we.
The bright side here is that the system didn’t just fall from the sky or emerge from the ground. People created it. Therefore, people can also change it. Let’s get started with it today.