I have always admired people who had been able to see many years further ahead than the rest of us. For me, some of them are:
- John Dewey, renowned philosopher and educator, who - nearly one hundred years ago - claimed that the only way for a society in a deep crisis to get over it, is to improve the education. He argued that children were naturally curious and that outside of school they learned through activities (Fass, 2004). They came to school with many interests, which he classified in his 1899 publication The School and Society as... the interest in conversation, or communication; in inquiry, or finding out things; in making things, or construction; and in artistic expression. However, contemporary schools treated pupils as passive learners. Progressive teachers, therefore, should construct a curriculum based on both the interests of the pupils and knowledge of the subjects that pupils should learn.
- Seymour Papert who was, most probably, the first one to come up with the idea that computers belong to children, as they would let children learn, observe – and change – the world in a different way. He said so 50 years ago (!), at the time when one single computer took several halls and was used entirely for processing large sets of statistical and strategic data;
- Alan Kay who already in 1968, when flying home from a visit of Seymour Papert at the MIT, was thinking about how a computer for children should look like. For me, the potential of computers as an aid to learning was, in itself, a validation of them... it should weigh about two pounds – any more and it would be too hard for a kid to carry... More and more, I was thinking of the computer not just as hardware and software but as a medium through which you could communicate important things;
- James Heckman, noted economist and Nobel Laureate, who argues that investing in developing children’s qualities – such as cognitive abilities, socio-cultural skills, personality, health, perseverance, risk aversion, self-esteem, self-control, conscientiousness and motivation – will provide more economic and social return than investing in social programmes or infrastructure. It is economically more efficient to prevent human development problems than to remediate them.
From them (and from my parents) I learned that education is meaningful, that education is important and powerful. Beside that I also learned that new technologies – which I was fascinated by since the very first day I was born into our family – have potential to humanize education, the process of educating, and our lives. I believed with Seymour Papert that new technologies do not necessarily force us into technocratic society.
I have learned that harnessing the potential of digital technologies which they offer to all of us equals re-thinking from the very beginning what is education and what is the process of educating good for, what kind of human beings should our students be when they graduate from the school, what are the schools’ priorities and what they should be. Letting ICT into school and trying to harness its potential for learning means accepting big change in pedagogy and big change in the learning goals. Opening “the dam gates” slightly is not possible in this case. Opening the dam gates means opening it to the needs of the young people who will work and live in the 30s and 40s of 21st century and well beyond...
Meeting the needs of students for their lives in 21st century is also the main mission of the Microsoft Partners in Learning programme. One part of the programme is its contest of the teachers’ activities, which they developed and implemented with their students as part of their school-related work. We as members of the international jury evaluate how the contestants’ activities succeeded in creating productive opportunities for students to develop their 21st century learning and skills – engaging ICTs in various innovative ways. We examine each activity along five dimensions of 21st century learning (based on the Innovative Teaching and Learning research strategy, 2011):
- Collaboration: Are students required to share responsibility and make substantive decisions with other people?
- Knowledge Building: Are students required to build knowledge? Is that knowledge interdisciplinary? Do they go beyond knowledge reproduction, generating ideas and understandings that are new to them? Are they inspired to interpret, analyze, synthesize, or evaluate ideas?
- Use of ICT for Learning: Are students using ICT to support knowledge building? Is ICT necessary to that process?
- Self-Regulation: Do students plan and assess their own work? Are students working in groups? Are they given responsibility for deciding who will do what and on what schedule?
- Real-World Problem-Solving: Does the learning activity require solving authentic, real-world problems? Are students’ solutions implemented in the real world?
Thus, if we consider it appropriate that teachers prepare and implement activities, in which digital technologies help create opportunities for their students’ 21st century learning, is it possible to preserve traditional view on education, subjects, and learning goals? Is it then competent if a teacher, his or her headmaster, a parent or a politician asks whether ICT is being used for instruction in the math classes, foreign languages, chemistry or literature?
Some time ago Seymour Papert pointed out that new technology could be used in school either as a means to protect traditional teaching/learning paradigm, or as a means to build a new one. Only if we do the latter we may harness the real learning potential offered by new technologies. However, does this new position indicate that we are not interested any more in what our students learn in the history classes, physics, or biology? Of course, it does not. And yet, the question is not wrong in itself because it makes us think about fundamental issues of education.
One possible answer is given by (Triling and Fadel, 2009) in their 21st Century Knowledge-and-Skills Rainbow model. It illustrates... the desired student outcomes most needed for our times including learning through traditional school subjects and contemporary content themes, combined with 21st century skills (categorized in the three broad sets: learning and innovation skills; information, media and technology skills; and life and career skills). But beware, such answer to our question is not straightforward. To define learning goals which will comply with the rainbow model necessarily equals re-thinking the whole education. So, if we are opening the gates of the dam with new technologies – inevitably accompanied by new teaching/learning forms, relations, and pedagogies – are we prepared to re-think the education? We have to.
Prof. Ivan KALAS, member of the UNESCO IITE Governing Board; Comenius University, Slovakia
- Fass, P.S., editor (2004). Encyclopedia of Children and Childhood in History and Society. New York and London, Macmillan
- ITL Research (2011). Innovative Teaching and Learning Research. Findings and Implications. Available at www.itlresearch.com
- The Dynabook Revisited. A Conversation with Alan Kay by “The Book & The Computer”. Available at www.squeakland.org/resources/articles/article.jsp?id=1007
- Triling, B. and Fadel, Ch. (2009). 21st Century Skills. Learning for Life in our Times. John Wiley & Sons, San Francisco