Learning in 2145


By adubuquoy@image7.fr July 12, 2023

My brother and I like Alex Beard very much! And especially the way he looks at education as “work in progress”, his humility and sense of humor when he makes us think about the future of learning.

His last tryptic – a radio series on knowing, teaching and learning – won’t defraud Alex’s fans. Alex is a former teacher, a recognized specialist. But on top of it, he is a believer! He believes in meeting people, talking to them, He believes in the art of conversation. He is not the first one. Back in the fourth century Saint Augustine defined education as “a process of posing problems and seeking answers through conversation”. No doubt Alex will refuse such legacy but any way…

What will happen in 2145? Learners of all age will come together and help one another. A more solidarian and intergenerational education with a mix of AI will enable us to know, love and care each other better. His optimistic and rigorous investigation is released in times of COVID-19 where we need more than ever reasons for hope.

I met Alex for the first time in Sevilla (Spain) where he presented an article on the future of education. He compared education to bricolage and made me thought about the role of technology in our future education system.In the words of Seymour Papert, “bricolage is a way to learn and solve problems by trying, testing, playing around”.

Alex works at Teach for All and knows better than anyone that teachers are used to “working at a height above the ground” and look like high wire artists walking a tightrope in their attempt to catch their students’ attention. They set up their scaffolds in the classrooms for an academic year, just the time they are given to fix or improve education. Scaffolding is not only another word for teaching. It is also a way of teaching, Psychologist and social constructivist, Lev Vygotsky, refers to  scaffolding as  designing activities that support the students as they are led through the “zone of proximal development” (ZPD).  A learner can finalize the acquisition of a given skill through interaction with a teacher or a skilled peer.

Listening to Alex piece on Teaching, I was wondering: are teachers ready to take risks to change their practices and innovate in the classroom? Intuition often says no and research evidences seem to confirm that individuals choosing to teach are significantly more risk averse. A lot has been written about teachers’ motivation. How can we envisage teachers’ role in and outside the classroom to “develop love of learning”?

While listening to the piece on Learning where Alex designs a continuous learning space and time, I remembered the painter Barnett Newmann who wrote once that “only time can be felt in private. Space is common property. Only time is personal, a private experience”. I believe the same can be said for learning space – a common property where learners meet and experience together – and learning time – where each learner lives a private and intimate experience.

Alex Beard makes us think extensively about education changes taking place with climate change. Even if we rightly believe that education is part of the answer on climate change, we may question the efficiency of teaching in this matter. Ivan Illich criticized the “illusion on which the school system rests (assuming) that most learning is the result of teaching”. For him, “most learning happens casually”. Margaret Mead argued that fighting back the dangers facing our planet should begin by understanding “the immense and long-term consequences of what appear to be small immediate choices”. Is it the responsibility of schools and teachers? Protecting nature can’t be reduced to an educative challenge. French anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss, once argued that “protecting nature is a right of the environment in regard to man”. Enforcing this right is maybe first a matter for lawyers and not for teachers.

We wish to believe, as Alex does, that changes will take place “naturally”. Bumping into someone can in fact take place anywhere. Learning is no longer or not only about technology. Learning has to do with the way we occupy the space, with the way we live together, we engage into conversation together.

However 20 years ago, Seymour Papert argued that: “children will (no longer) sit quietly in school and listen to a teacher give them predigested knowledge. They will revolt.” Revolt may be the necessary step for changes to happen.

My friend Roger Hart, author of “Children’s Participation”, a masterpiece on environmental education, used to quote Simon Nicholson’s Theory of Loose Parts.  Nicholson writes:

“In any environment, both the degree of inventiveness and creativity, and the possibility of discovery, are directly proportional to the number and kind of variables in it”.

He adds that “it does not require much imagination to realize that most environments that do not work (i.e. do not work in terms of human interaction and involvement in the sense described) such as schools, playgrounds, hospitals, day-care centres, international airports, art galleries and museums do not do so because they do not meet the ‘loose part’ requirement; instead they are clean, static and impossible to play around with. What has happened is that adults – in the form of professional artists, architects, landscape architects and planners – have had all the fun playing with their own materials, concepts and planning alternatives (…) and thus has all the fun and creativity been stolen: children and adults and the community have been grossly cheated and the educational-cultural system makes sure that they hold the belief that this is ‘right’ ”.

Nicholson argues that “the dominant cultural elite tell us that the planning, design and building of any part of the environment is so difficult and so special that only the gifted few can properly solve environmental problems”.

The changes Alex is envisioning can’t be dissociated from a deeper change process with a political dimension that will enable local communities starting with children to take over direct responsibility on the decisions that matter for their future.

Roger Hart wrote: “Only through direct participation can children develop a genuine appreciation of democracy and a sense of their own competence and responsibility to participate.”

After listening to Alex Beard, it is certainly time to read again the Convention of the Rights of the Child and its articles 12 and 13 and be convinced that a political framework for change already exists. We just need to use it!

I hope Alex will give us soon a new piece on “Revolt in education”! Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Kailash Satyarthi could then be invited:

“Each one of us has the potential to bring about change if we channel our energies and our anger at injustices in the right way. Even a small spark can dispel darkness in a room. And each of us represents a small but critical spark if we act on the problems we see rather than just witness them”.

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