Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see – Neil Postman

Does technology challenge schools’ hegemony?

I recently read this article on The Conversation. In it, the authors question whether Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs), that are revolutionising higher education, will trickle down to compulsory education at secondary or primary school. My concern is that this argument risks technological determinist thinking. While I wonder if schools won’t have to change to accommodate the technology needs and interests of those students they will be educating in 2025, I am concerned that technology will be inserted into the old model in much the same way as an tag makes me look like I’ve inserted research and, thus, know about an issue. In addition, While I am aware that technology has been framed as both the great undoing of education (cf. Postman, 1985; 1992) at the same timed as being framed as the great panacea of education (an argument I am guilty of making cf. English & Howell, 2011 for an example), as Luke (1999) notes, it is far more complex.

The authors of the piece in The Conversation contend that the next generation of children are digital natives, a term that is both celebrated (cf. Zevenbergen & Logan, 2008) (paywall) and questioned (cf. Bennett, Maton & Kurvin, 2011) (paywall). However, distance education, a form of homeschool, has always relied on using available technology to teach where a classroom would be impractical or impossible. How is this approach, described in the article on The Conversation, any different to the old distance-ed model meets Web 2.0?

My concern is that we are falling into the old panacea mindset, trying to insert a new thing into schools to improve them and make a model, essentially designed for industrial production, fit a new generation who’s, quite frankly, not designed for that model of work. While the authors note that

The potential for educational technology as a disruptive force to the traditional models of schooling is absent.

They do not address this point, and it is conspicuously absent from their post, arguing instead that

Schools do, of course, function as more than a device for the sequential development of skills and knowledge, and social and emotional development is a critical component of their role. The state sanctioned compulsory nature of school means that even in the context of innovation and the digital economy, we still need to send our children to school.

However, in light of the rest of their piece, do we really need to send them to school?


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