The classrooms of the Global Village are not in the country

Luís Ángel Fernández Hermana - @luisangelfh
4 April, 2017
Editorial: 85
Fecha de publicación original: 16 septiembre, 1997

When the going gets tough, the tough get going

1st in a series of articles on education in cyberspace.

7.2 million pupils and 480,000 teachers are going back to school this week in Spain. The winds of change are blowing through the classrooms, but these winds are not yet digital despite promises from both central and autonomic governments. Promises so vague and wonderful that it is often not clear what they are on about. The first thing one notices is the satisfied look on the faces of those in administration when they speak of “schools connected to the Internet”, although they don’t say exactly who will be connected in each school and with what equipment. Nevertheless, the offer of connection often seems to more than fulfil the highest aspirations of officials with a bent towards digital education. Sometimes, this measure comes dressed up in “digitally correct” language. The Ministry of Education, for example, wants to start an experimental project called Global Village no less, which lives up to its name, as its objective is to connect rural schools, in other words, villages. In more well-endowed and wealthy areas of the country, the project’s name has been changed to the more civilised one of Atenea and has the invaluable support of Telefonica. In other words, educational centres will connect via Infovia (Telefonica’s own network) or not at all.

If we have learnt anything from recent history, it seems we are once again building roads but not making cars, big ones or little ones, small buses or big coaches. Consequently, we are not teaching people to drive either. All of which, when translated into the language of cyberspace, means that in this fundamental sector, strategic even, which is education, we are still not getting any clear indications from administrators as to what the content of digital education will be, nor how staff and students will be trained in a process which shows all the signs of becoming the backbone of the Information Society. Thus, we are not in the process of creating our own digital culture for this environment. It is another way of throwing that funereal sentence, “Let them innovate”, to the four winds. They will bring us the cars, they will drive them down our roads and they will tell us where, why and how we should behave. They are, of course, the usual ones: the information industry that has already spent considerable time working in the complex world of digital education in the US and is already gaining extremely valuable experience in the field, a fact which we will be able to appreciate shortly unless things change radically.

One does not have to be a genius to see that education is going to be one of the biggest battle grounds, if not the biggest,in which the fight for digital supremacy will take place. Education in cyberspace will give shape to a powerful world vision amongst those who, in a few years, will be leaving classrooms to deal with real and virtual realities assumed by their educational system with an immediacy and velocity previously unheard of.

While the authorities concern for a connected school environment is understandable, their lack of active participation in the developing of an education industry in our own language is less so. The challenge lies in empowering this enclave and not with a fascination for technology which, in general, is the message of telephone operators with vested interests in expanding their infrastructures rather than in worrying about what travels along them.

The challenge of content is not “sine die”. We are seeing how, in just two years, thousands of schools, especially in the US (but also some here), have taken over a vast corner of cyberspace and are rehearsing there what will undoubtedly make up tomorrow’s education. This movement is being given a decided helping hand by an industry that has tested its weapons in the field of leisure and entertainment and is on the point of entering the classrooms of even the youngest pupils. For this reason, the long term vision of some administrators (and in Spain that means all of them) on the timing for introducing “networked education” has suicidal overtones: the longer we take to construct the bare bones of this building, the faster we will be colonised by educational content developed elsewhere where people have different world views and other cultures, whose characteristics we are already familiar with through other media.

The critical mass needed for us to gain our place in the sun within this market exists, but so dispersed and with such a resounding lack of resources and support that it is impossible for it to act en masse and consequently it finds itself in a critical situation. If this scenario doesn’t change radically within the next few years, those “traditional” defenders of our culture against colonial invasion, always so vociferous in European forums, will have a loaded agenda: their own sons and daughters will point out the errors they committed today in the future.

Translation: Bridget King.