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The next curve: emerging issues in education

Constellations of major policy issues generally go under a banner that acts as a call to arms: the integration of ICT in education; education for all; personalisation in education; empowering schools; innovation; life-long learning; … Such banner-phrases become the leitmotif, the driving force, if not the identity for agencies working under that banner. The means behind such a call to arms include state funding, national and regional agencies, training programmes, infrastructure, public opinion, private investment, … but also the enthusiasm of actors involved, the credibility of the programmes and the political priority granted. As the campaign advances, the political priority of such actions follows a rising curve that gradually steadies off before beginning to decline. The action is invariably not finished when falling priority leads to declining means. If the role of an agency is exclusively defined in terms of such a banner (an agency for ICT in education, for example), the falling priority and the declining means imply a serious problem.

From curve to curve

A number of indicators point to the fact that the curve of political priority for the integration of ICT in education has passed its peak and is on the decline in a number of countries. That doesn't mean that no more work needs to be done on the issue - on the contrary - but rather that there are new “banner-issues” emerging and any remaining work on the integration of ICT in education needs to be done from the perspective of those new issues. As an example of this, consider the problem of “widening the uptake of ICT in schools”. This problem cannot be addressed from within the perspective of the integration of ICT in education. A number of wider factors are concerned, like changing the curriculum or adapting the role of parents. The change of “banner-issue” is not a passing whim or a fad. Rather, the evolving situation requires a shift in perspective, a new starting point, a new, rising curve that can be the focus for renewed priorities. That the perspective of each new curve is different can be seen in the example of the shift from the introduction of ICT in education to empowering schools. The former is centred on the deployment of technology and training people to use it. The latter focuses on enabling schools to learn and develop as institutions so as to encourage equity and improve performance. Although technology continues to be used, it is seen as a tool towards an end and not a goal in itself. Any change of banner-issue with the resulting change in priorities and declining means requires a re-orientation of activities and perspectives of agencies if they are to continue using their considerable know-how and networks to contribute to the improvement in education.

Handling institutional complexity

One of the most central of currently emerging issues, from an institutional perspective, is the challenge of handling complexity in a fast-changing context. This issue relates to finding ways and means of piloting change but also to gathering evidence to do that piloting. It also has to do with the relationship between policy-making and grassroots, leading-edge innovation. Another, related issue is that of developing institutional learning such that the education system is centred on learning rather than teaching so as to best respond to or provoke change. Given the nature of banner-issues as an easily grasped containers for multiple ideas, the concept of handling of institutional complexity, might well need some work by "word-smiths" before it could catch on.

New schooling environments

In the context of learning, another emerging issue is that of handling the simultaneous modification of almost all of the major parameters which have hitherto defined the education context: relaxing the constraints of time and place in learning (no longer having a school as a privileged place of learning and a timetable to organise work in a move to what some people call "ubiquitous" learning); multiplication of the choice of paths for learning (moving away from the curriculum to self-defined, personalised learning paths); opening up the choice of people to relate to in learning (beyond the teacher as the purveyor of knowledge to peer-earning and the integration of school into the local community); moving away from external criteria as a basis for assessment towards increased self-evaluation; a move away from quantitative based assessment (marks and grades) to also include a more qualitative approach; a move away from the delivery of pre-digested knowledge (the textbook) to a much more complex, authentic knowledge field (the Internet, for example).

Alan McCluskey, Paris & Saint-Blaise

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Created: December 13th, 2005 - Last up-dated: December 13th, 2005