George Siemens has organised another online conference, this time on the future of education. Most of the discussion so far has centred around the effect of technology on education in the future. It seems to me that before thinking about how technology can enhance education, it would first be important to reflect on what the purpose of education is. Are we happy with the direction our politicians are taking it? Only when it is clear to us where we want to go with education, can we use technology to the best possible end to serve it.
Over the past decades, the focus of adult education for instance has changed considerably. It is being used more and more widely by politicians to ensure the upskilling of the work force in developed countries to serve the discourse of global competitiveness. Of course that has not always been the main aim of adult education. In the 70s Adult Education was seen as a great force for social change. Adult education has traditinally been important for personal development and growth in human beings. Not only skills development was seen as important, but also other aspects of a person, including emotional and social development. In the Guardian newspaper an interview with a remarkable headteacher of an independent school, Anthony Seldon, suggests that our educational institutions no longer educate with an emphasis on the development of the whole person, he argues that education has been replaced by instruction. He suggest that the views by Gardner who emphasised education to develop the human beings as a whole has been marginalised in favour of views where education mainly serves to develop the linguistic and ligical-mathematical intelligence. Personal, social, artistic, physical, spiritual/moral developments have taken a backseat. Seldon has changed the curriculum in his school to include lessons in happiness and wellbeing. 'Children need an owner's manual, so they can manage themselves. Manage their minds, their bodies, their emotions, their relationships. People come out of schools with no understanding of what anger is, what depression is, what anxiety is. They don't understand the importance of silence and stillness, of seeing what is there in the mind.'
I would like to see us reflect more on these issues, and perhaps move the balance back towards education where the emphasis is not mainly on cognitive development, but also on other aspects of our being, as in the end these will be more important in us as individuals living wisely together with others and subsequently for our world to be a more livable environment for us all.
Looking at what technology has done to this end, how it is currently being used and could be used to move towards a more holistic approach to education, I would have to say that in my view technology seems to have had a detrimental effect so far. The wide use of technology in the past decades has changed our relationship with the world and not always for the better. In adult education the initial driver has been to upskill the population, and in schools as well the main focus of the ICT curriculum has been to give people ICT skills that would be of use in an office environment. Of course the explosion of creative and social applications outside education, in particular the new wave of Web2.0 technologies has made that we can communicate more effectively with a wider group of people, but it is still not clear if all the features and hype that learning technologists see as exiting developments to change education will really be of value to move forward this kind of education. It will be important to not run with what the technology has to offer, but to use technology wisely.
Dreyfus and Spinoza (2006, 268 and 270): The approaching tide of technological revolution … could so captivate, bewitch and dazzle, and beguile man that calculative thinking may someday come to be accepted and practiced as the only way of thinking. … We can affirm the unavoidable use of technical devices, and also deny them the right to dominate us, and so warp, confuse, and lay waste our nature.