Educating the Educators

Luís Ángel Fernández Hermana - @luisangelfh
4 April, 2017
Editorial: 86
Fecha de publicación original: 22 septiembre, 1997

We don’t want to know what they taught you, but what you found out for yourself (El Roto)

2nd in a series of articles on education in cyberspace.

The school year has only just begun, but there is already the feeling that we have missed the bus. While in classrooms the traditional ritual of teachers giving and planning lessons based on material found in books, encyclopaedias and other printed sources continues, the fact is, that thousands and thousands of students already belong to a generation whose world is not really represented at school i.e. that of video games, a multimedia environment, computers connected to CD-ROMs, and an interconnected and participative society. What we are witnessing, although it is going unnoticed by many parents and educators, is a rapid transformation in the educational universe in which roles, methods, and, almost certainly, the end product of the learning process, are undergoing an enormous revision. There have seldom been occasions in history when the division between what is happening in classrooms and the real world has been so glaringly evident. In addition, the gap between the one (the education system) and the other (the real learning process) will not be bridged by throwing across a few technological lianas i.e. more computers in schools; a formula that’s so often repeated — and never fulfilled– that it is already beginning to smell a little bad.

The demand for “computers in every classroom” (which, at this rate, will soon be part of the Declaration of Human Rights and of Citizens) should not distract us from getting to the heart of the problem: training teachers and students how to work in cyberspace and, thereby, generating an appropriate methodology for education on the Net. Something which would turn the present way of doing things on its head. Also, we should never lose sight of the fact that we are dealing with a sector of strategic importance. The locomotive of the industrial revolution was always fed by an education system designed by those in power to maintain a sufficiently trained work force. When industrialisation was transferred to other countries –except for those where the protagonists of the revolution themselves emigrated– always lacked the safety net of an education system adapted to the needs which new circumstances demanded. To this day, most of the countries in the international community are still bearing the brunt of those immense gaps, so much so that their knowledge dependence on the industrialised countries has left a definite imprint on the events of this century. Now we find ourselves in a similar situation, and, although it has its own particular characteristics, the same old questions are being asked: where and how does one develop an educational system that prepares us for, in this case, the Information Society. The outcome of this process will determine to a large extent the role each person plays in the near future.

In our countries (Spain and Latin America, but to a certain extent in Europe as well) one often hears people saying something which is becoming more and more popular as daily life becomes progressively altered by a connected society : teachers don’t use computers because they are afraid of them and also because their students are so much more at ease using machines that they almost become the teachers (this problem has also arisen in the US, but there they are dealing with it in another way, a subject which I will touch on another day). There are evidently exceptions but, teacher technophobia and student technophilia patently form part of the same changing landscape, and this is not a chance factor, nor is it a sudden epidemic easily cured with big doses of digital pills. What we are dealing with here are the clear symptoms of what is really happening and of new needs which are emerging in the training process. Education in cyberspace blurs the once clear division between “teacher” and “taught” and moves this relationship onto a much more dynamic, flexible, participative and interactive plane than even the most progressive education systems could ever have imagined. In other words, the old question of power in the classroom, which has remained unquestioned for centuries except for a few worthy exceptions which made history, is now raised as the Gordian knot, which one part of the equation –the students– are beginning to untangle in the most natural way ….. with a technological sword stroke. But that is only the superficial aspect of the real question. For underlying this gesture is a whole new way of looking at education.

Students no longer learn “formal” lessons at school. New technology, the Net and electronic formats designed for knowledge packaging, project the learning process way beyond the four walls of the school. In fact, these come tumbling down and classrooms take on the dimensions of a world which is only just beginning to be charted by interconnections on the Net. At the same time, it means making the subtle and fundamental leap from “teaching” to “learning”. And, while the former takes place in the classroom, the latter does so in a kind of 24-hour shop which is open 7 days a week, with shelves filled with knowledge packed in a multitude of different ways and frequented by other students from all over the world. The primary consequence of this is that the hierarchical order which is so much a part of the educational system is called into question and becomes a conflict zone. The verticality of the “chain of command” comes up against the horizontal of the learning process. Where this happens (and there are already many examples, as was demonstrated in Callús last July), education becomes a cooperative process between students and teachers, where both, above all the former, take on more individual and collective responsibilities. Since knowledge is not to be found in one particular place (and certainly not in a book from which knowledge is extracted by someone who knows it), but is, instead, distributed fundamentally through networks, everyone has to learn to look for it, find it, work with it and put it to good use. In other words, education becomes a continuous process designed to suit the needs of each individual. All of which establishes a new line which connects schools, higher education and the training required to suit a changing labour market.

Working within this dynamic, highly flexible and efficient environment, is not easy and, in fact, will require an increased effort on the part of all concerned. Education is crying out for a change in the methodology of knowledge acquisition, a fact which the authorities hardly refer to. I suppose that the whole rigmarole of technological infrastructure clouds their decision-making process, but should they get round to solving this problem satisfactorily one day (something which is materially impossible), then they will have to face the real agenda, which pertains to the content of the education process which at present they are hardly paying any attention to. In the meantime, and perhaps this is another feature of the change that is occurring, the initiatives of some schools and non-governmental organisations are setting the pace in this area. The experiences of these collectives are beginning to shed some light on what the call for “the need to train teachers” means, a subject which I will deal with in future editorials.

Translation: Bridget King.