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The future of education

Pierfranco Ravotto
pierfranco.ravotto@sie-l.it

Premises

First of all, I want to thank the organisers for entrusting me with such an ambitious title: "The
Future of Education". But I feel I ought to put the significance of my speech into perspective.
First I am neither a scholar of scenarios nor an expert of school politics at worldly level. What I can
provide is the experience of a teacher who has been attentive for 30 years to the on-going learning
dynamics and who has been experimenting new pedagogical methods, lately often connected to the
use of ICT as an aid to enhance teaching and learning.
Secondly none of us, in front of the present dramatic crossroads, is in the position of foreseeing the
future. "We know - Barack Obama said in the Election Night Speech in Grant Park– the challenges
that tomorrow will bring are the greatest of our lifetime – two wars, a planet in peril, the worst
financial crisis in a century" [1]. The future of education too depends on how we will be able to
face these challenges. Unless we are able to stop the rush to "collapse", education itself may have
no future.
But trying to avoid the environmental collapse, the clash of cultures, trying to improve economics
by guaranteeing a more equal distribution of wealth ... well, all this also depends on schools and
universities, on how we will be able to renew, revamp education and, last but not least, if we are
able to do all this as soon as possible. It's a long time since the European Union has spoken of a
"knowledge society". On the approval of the European programme called Life Long Learning, Jàn
Fige', EU Commissioner of Education and Training programmes, has declared: "Education and
training are the foundations of society in front of economic and demographic changes" [2]. As such
they can represent the drive of change.
In my speech I'll try to focus on 5 main issues that I deem as relevant to define the future of
education.
These 5 issues address various stakeholders: public bodies, policy makers, teachers, anyone
involved in teaching/learning.
Briefly the key words of these issues are:
• Digital natives,
• Life long learning,
• Certifications,
• The role of the teachers and their competencies,
• The value of "openness" in the educational context.

Digital natives

Digital natives is a term introduced by Mark Prensky [3] referring to a generation that has grown up
plunged in digital technologies: music, videos on CD-ROM, DVD or downloadable from the net,
mobiles to talk, to send messages, to take photos and videos, computers to play, to chat, to send e-
mails, to video phone via Skype, to search for information and to socialize, to exchange
content/data/information by means of MySpace, FaceBook, YouTube, Twitter, … Such a generation
takes the prompt access to any kind of information or any people for granted, they are used to
searching for (and finding) the resources they need in the chaotic Internet, to practising peer-to-peer
and acting in a multitasking way. An example? While they are chatting by MSN, they download
music by e-mule and see a video on YouTube, with their iPod firmly set in their ears!

"Media and ICT - Ardizzone and Rivoltella write [4] - represent the culture in which the young
people live, build up and exchange meanings".
It is not just a matter of "habits". Prensky highlights how the thinking patterns of the digital natives
have changed, their brain structure has in some way changed due to the different experiences they
have been living.
Howard Gardner affirms that "intelligences significantly differ from one another depending on the
kind of culture they have developed in: if in a pre-literacy culture, or in a classical or modern one
where the text is essential, or in a post-modern culture where literacy refers to a variety of signs
that work jointly, sometimes in a synergic way, some other times in a chaotic mixture". [5]

Differently from other similar terms, such as net generation or screen generation, the term "digital
natives" is particularly meaningful for the school environment as it is opposed to the term "digital
immigrants" that is the condition, if we are lucky, of the teachers.
As immigrants, teachers need to learn how to be in tune with their learners' "habits", how to get
used to their "language", how to be able to understand "the variety of signs" that best suit their
students' intelligences.

It is no longer possible to stay stuck to the school model of the 900s, characterised by:
• a learning paradigm based on an ordered, systematic and sequential transmission of knowledge
(often with diluted time),
• the central role of the teacher and rows of desks fixedly located in front of the teacher's desk and
the blackboard,
• a learning process characterised by lesson-individual study-exercises assessment/ evaluation,
• a strict subject-based division of knowledge,
• a school timetable that beats time not only of each subject, but also of lessons and lab activities.

A Copernican revolution is needed in terms of a shift:


• from the central role played by teacher so far to the central role of the learner,
• from teaching to learning,
• from the transmission of knowledge according to behavioural or cognitive models to the
building up of knowledge according to a constructive or connectionist model,
• from a hierarchical system (teacher-learner) to a net-like system, where the contribution of peers
is worth being taken into consideration,
• from a systematic, linear and sequential order to the hypermedia "disorder",
• from time-diluted to concentrated learning time,
• from a prison-like school to a potential enjoyable environment,
• from formal learning to a mixture of formal, non-formal and informal learning,
• from a traditional model of school to the one I like defining as a school 2.0.

Lifelong learning

In my introduction I mentioned a Programme called Lifelong Learning (LLP) [6]. The European
Parliament and the Council have launched this programme on 15 November 2006. Its main aim is to
contribute through lifelong learning to the development of the Community as an advanced
knowledge society, with sustainable economic development, more and better jobs and greater social
cohesion while guaranteeing an effective protection of the environment for the future generations,
according to the development plan known as Lisbon Strategy [7].
The term lifelong learning refers to a completely new phenomenon which started in the second half
of the past century and that utterly upset the learning context of the previous centuries, when
learning occurred only in the individual's initial period of life and just on that his/her future as a
citizen and a worker was based.
The continuous acceleration of technological innovation expects a change regarding both
citizenship and professionalism. The one who is victim of digital device is cut off from active
citizenship. In the world of work new jobs have been emerging and the necessary competencies to
do "old" jobs have also changed: all this is valid for a surgeon, a nurse, an engineer as well as for a
plumber or an electrician.
The education and training system is required to answer the individuals' needs to update their own
competencies and to acquire new ones through life long learning. And this implies both initial and
continuum learning.

• Even if the "school period" is now referred to as "initial learning", this does not diminish, but on
the contrary, enlarges the tasks of education which is asked to provide not only the necessary
competencies to manage a specific job, but also that set of cross-skills allowing the individual to
face further educational paths. One of the papers of the European Union calls [8] "for Member
States to ensure the acquisition … by all by the end of initial education and training" of 8 "key
competences …
1. Communication in the mother tongue;
2. Communication in the foreign languages;
3. Mathematical competence and basic competences in science and technology;
4. Digital competence;
5. Learning to learn;
6. Interpersonal, intercultural and social competences and civic competence;
7. Entrepreneurship;
8. Cultural expression".

• As far as "continuum learning" or "adult education" is concerned, a properly defined system is


still in-progress. In Europe, Nuisii underlines that the situation varies from country to country
[9].
Federici and Ragone suggest (for Italy) that "a system of higher education and training for
Lifelong Learning must envisage:
- a socially and locally developed system that responds to very different
needs;
- a system which offers incentives to people and organizations;
- a multiplayer approach based on real partnerships between the
different training systems;
- an integrated monitored and certified approach in which people can
capitalize on competences wherever acquired;
- an innovative methodological and technological approach". [10]

Certifications

In a globalized world cooperation between companies in different countries and transnational


mobility of workers (and students) are increasing. The Internet allows opportunities that were
unthinkable till "yesterday", for example "telework" from a continent to another with software
experts or Indian call centre operators who work for American companies. In such a context the
transparency of qualifications gets great importance. The European Community has invested a lot in
this area: "One of the major obstacles for people wanting to work or learn in another EU country,
or indeed to move between different parts of the labour market, is that their qualifications and
competences may not be accepted. This is further complicated by the proliferation of qualifications
worldwide, the diversity of national qualification systems and education and training structures,
and constant changes in these systems. To tackle these obstacles, the EU has introduced several
instruments, aiming at facilitating the transfer of qualifications and competences for academic or
professional purposes. Such situation is further complicated due to the springing up of
certifications at worldly level ... In order to tackle these obstacles the European Union has devised
various tools facilitating the transfer of qualifications and academic or professional competencies,
… The network of National Academic Recognition Information Centres (NARICs) … the joint
NARIC-ENIC network … the European Credit Transfer System … a Diploma Supplement … a
'European higher education area' by 2010 in which degrees would be more readily comparable"
[11].

Let's take into consideration what I have mentioned before, that is the need of a continuous
professional training – and even more important – of continuous acquisition of new professional
knowledge. Competencies can't be certified once and for all, the process of certification must
accompany the training and working path.
Also the development of a certification system has its own place in the future of education, a system
which could allow the recognition of the three forms of learning as they have been defined in one of
the European Commission papers entitled "Memorandum on Education and Continuum" [12]:
• "Formal learning takes place in education and training institutions, leading to recognised
diplomas and qualifications.
• Non-formal learning takes place alongside the mainstream systems of education and training
and does not typically lead to formalised certificates. Non-formal learning may be provided in
the workplace and through the activities of civil society organisations and groups (such as in
youth organisations, trades unions and political parties). lt can also be provided through
organisations or services that have been set up to complement formal systems (such as arts,
music and sports classes or private tutoring to prepare for examinations).
• Informal learning is a natural accompaniment to everyday life. Unlike formal and non –
formal learning, informal learning is not necessarily intentional, and so it may well not be
recognised even by individuals themselves as contributing to their knowledge and skills.
Until now, formal learning has dominated policy thinking, shaping the ways in which education and
training are provided and colouring people‘s understandings of what counts as learning. The
continuum of lifelong learning brings non-formal and informal learning more fully into the picture.
Non-formal learning, by definition, stands outside schools, colleges, training centres and
universities. It is not usually seen as ‘real‘ learning, and nor do its outcomes have much currency
value on the labour market. Non-formal learning is therefore typically undervalued.
But informal learning is likely to be missed out of the picture altogether, although it is the oldest
form of learning and remains the mainstay of early childhood learning. The fact that
microcomputer technology has established itself in homes before it has done so in schools
underlines the importance of informal learning. Informal contexts provide an enormous learning
reservoir and could be an important source of innovation for teaching and learning methods".

Just not to stick to generalities, I will now describe a system of certification that has been spreading
in Europe, particularly in Italy. This system is called EUCIP, which is the acronym of European
Certification of Informatics Professionals and at present I am working on it on the behalf of AICA,
the Italian leading association of informatics professionals.
The EUCIP system [13] is based
• on the identification of 3.000 competencies grouped under 155 categories, which are further
sub-grouped in 18 areas,
• on a set of professional figures described by means of the above-mentioned competencies.

The image given below shows these 21+1 professional figures.

The vertex of the cone corresponds to the professional figure of IT Administrator, who is the one in
charge of supervising the ICT structures in SMEs or in decentralized offices of a big company. The
face of the cone shows the other 21 figures characterised by a set of common competencies
(internal circle) and by diversified sets of competencies (external circle).
The system provides tests to assess both the common competencies and the ones relevant to the IT
Administrator figure. The certification concerning the 21 professional figures requires:
• getting through 3 core "exams" for the following common competencies: plan, build and
operate,
• the presentation of a portfolio useful to evaluate:
- diplomas/degrees acquired
- professional certifications, i.e. issued by Microsoft, Cisco, Sun, ...
- work experiences.

The value of the EUCIP system comes from:


• the description of the professional figures on the basis of assessable competencies,
• the granular identification of competencies and their updating,
• the recognition of different forms of learning.
Furthermore, such a system represents a powerful tool – thanks to its assessment
and self- assessment procedures – both for people wishing to self-evaluate their
professional competence and build up new training paths, and for companies
and/or public bodies wishing to assess their personnel's professional
competencies, in the view of planning and running tailored learning paths or
wishing to assess their consultants and/or supplying firms’ competencies.
Teachers’ role and competencies

Teachers - both in elementary or secondary schools, or even at University - have held a powerful
position for ages: they definitely knew more and had more competencies than their learners. Their
task was to "transmit" knowledge and/or to employ more active methodologies to make students
acquire it.
These learning paths were "safe" for teachers who didn't run any risk to know less than their
students.
Today it is no more like that.
The teachers involved in adult education must interact with people that have already acquired a
series of competencies in formal, non-formal and informal learning contexts, for example
technicians with some competencies that may be superior to the teachers'.
The teachers who are in charge of initial learning will find themselves in front of students whose
knowledge, as far as the use of ICT is concerned, may be well beyond their own competencies.
That's life, like it or not.

In the future of education – that is already present – a new and richer professional profile for
teachers is being defined. They are no longer mere "distributors" or "transmitters" of knowledge,
but they are expected to be:
• Designers of learning paths able to match learners' specific needs.
This implies the ability to:
- identify the training needs of individuals' or companies' that are often
unable to make them explicit,
- choose "learning occasions" and "methodologies" (and technologies)
which may be the most suitable for any specific context (target, cultural
level, digital competencies, time and resources),
- select the most suitable resources in terms of learning material, online
environment, laboratories, …,
- interact with other persons/organisations to get further professional expertise as far as
training and technology are concerned.
• Animators/coordinators of a learning community
This implies the ability to:
- keep learners' motivation high,
- monitor the different activities intervening to solve problems and make learners
overcome difficulties that can be both of learning and technological nature,
- provide continuous feedback to the groups and the individuals,
- give value to the learners' work,
- modify, if necessary, the learning path and offer new and more personalised learning
material.
• Developers and adaptors of learning material
This requires specific subject knowledge, "instructional design"
competencies and familiarity with authoring software.

In any case, we are referring to a professional woman/man that knows how to use
digital technologies and is able to deliver activities both in a face-to-face and
online dimension.

In one of the recent Seminars of Didamatica promoted by AICA in Italy and


devoted to the use of ICT in teaching, Antonio Calvani [14] suggested: “May be,
it's time to move from teaching the technology or teaching by means of
technology to teaching within technology".

Teaching "the" technology means teaching to use it: as it happens when we teach to read, to write,
to drive a car, to use a computer. Teaching “by means of “ technology means using it as an aid to
teaching, for example when we use a tape-recorder to teach the right pronunciation of a foreign
language, or when we use a video to show a physical phenomenon.
Teaching "in" the technology means not considering it as such, but as a natural environment in
which learning occurs: this happens when technology has become mature and pervasive and as such
"natural" for students and teachers.
Our school is well plunged in the written code, in the representation by images, ... [15]. It's time
now school started being plunged in the digital and virtual dimension.

"Being plunged in the digital and virtual world" means that the teachers should be able to shift
naturally (as the students are able to) from a book to YouTube or SlideShare, from writing down
deadlines on a blackboard to writing them on FaceBook, from telling students "take notes in your
notebook" to suggesting "use your mobile to film this lesson", from saying "give me your report" to
"edit your report on Scribd", … choosing any time the most suitable tool to keep the educational
"conversation" open. Conversation is one of the most outstanding characteristics of web.2.0 and so
what else the educational process is if not a conversation?
Let's think about outstanding figures like Socrates who used to pose questions to his fellow-citizens
on Athens Agorà, Plato who lived with his pupils in the Academy and Aristotle who used to discuss
with his students strolling around in the gymnasium dedicated to Apollo.
The strict traditional organisation of classes and the clear-cut division between school time and time
outside school necessarily spoilt and restrain conversation. Out of school students do their
homework, but they can't talk with their teacher, teachers check tests, but they do not talk with
students. And the time in the classroom is often enough only for a monologue.
Joining "real" and virtual space allows promoting thousands conversations that differently were
destined to remain unspoken.
The students have already become familiar with these virtual environments, and this is a great
advantage. We need to make the teachers get used to be "naturally" present in these areas as well
[16].

This is one of the most urgent challenges for teachers as also UNESCO papers -
ICT Competency Standards for Teacher - underline:
"The goal of the … project is to improve teachers' practice. However, the Standards do not merely
focus on ICT skills. By combining ICT skills with emergent views in pedagogy, curriculum, and
school organization, the Standards are designed for the professional development of teachers who
want to use ICT skills and resources to improve their teaching, collaborate with colleagues, and
perhaps ultimately become innovation leaders in their institutions" [17].

The value of "openness" in the educational context

Two main trends - "opening up" or "closing"? - meet and clash in various fields [18].
Allowing and promoting the access to resources – earth, water, medicines, music, information,
ideas, ... – or restraining access in order to protect lawful interests, ownership, patent rights,
paternity, copyrights, privacy?

Linux and Apache are the most famous and used free/open software characterized by:
• a license that states "you are free to use, distribute (also for commercial purpose) and modify it
provided that you maintain the same license on the derivative work and that the original author
is mentioned";
• the fact that they have been designed and continuously updated in a collaborative way, by
people scattered all over the world, within a "chaotic" process that look like more as a bazaar
than the building of a cathedral, according to the happy definition by Raymond [19];
Linux and Apache have demonstrated – notwithstanding their being free and the
way in which they have been developed – to be able to be competitive both in
terms of market shares and their ability to do "business".

In the field of open content everybody knows Wikipedia – an encyclopaedia that is being developed
in a collaborative way thanks to the contribution of millions of people – and the MIT open
courseware that has been made free under a license similar to Linux's (but with the restriction "non
commercial").
Other universities have followed the MIT's example and lots of teachers have started sharing their
own learning material, it can be a whole course, i.e. on Moodle, or single learning objects. A lot of
learning material can be found both in sites that were not born with this purpose, for example on
YouTube or Slideshare, or in open repositories such as Merlot, Connexions, Wikieducator, Wiki
Video, freeLOms (this last within the European project SLOOP [20] I coordinated, during which a
model of free/open LO [21] has been developed) and many more.
This is the present and, all the more reason, it can be the future.

Students are already online, now teachers need to join them. The net can represent a new learning
environment, free from time-space boundaries, able to enlarge the traditional one that is limited,
restricted within classrooms that are closed at least 16 hours a day, on summer time, on weekends
and bank-holidays.
Virtual environments such as Moodle, FaceBook, SecondLife, Twitter, blogs and wikis, … can
become the new agorà of the educational "conversation".
But it's not enough to talk to keep such a conversation alive, it requires scaffolders such as texts,
images, audios, videos, case-studies, web quests, simulations, virtual labs, exercises and self-check
tests.
It's not enough to have our students online if they only can "connect" to their group of peers and
teachers, they also need to interact with quality "learning material", which should be as varied as
possible in order to meet different learning styles and needs.
Developing free/open learning material which could be modified to meet different targets and
contexts, sharing learning objects in free repositories, making one's own repository free, "tagging"
the material, providing free access to virtual labs and courses, …: these are not mere work
directions, but trends, here and there already in place, and that can help us outline a possible future
scenario.

Thanks to the sharing model and the "tagging" system, Web 2.0 has, as O'Really says [22],
"embraced the power of the web to harness collective intelligence". The use of the web to share
material, learning paths and didactic projects is likely to gather the collective knowledge of teachers
and students making the educational systems fly up.

It may be the future, but only if the trend to "openness" will get the better on "closing", which is
well strong and puts forward its reasons: the unwillingness of teachers to free distribute their
material either because they are jealous of it or because they fear their colleagues' judgment, the
reluctance of schools and universities feeling to have to protect their own property, the publishers'
fear of losing everything unless they keep a strict copyright.
These motivations sound "reasonable", but they are looking back, not forward.
Don Tapscott e Anthony D. Williams - in "Wikinomics. How Mass Collaboration Changes
Everything" [23] – demonstrate how a new productive model, based on sharing intellectual
property, has been emerging.
They present successful examples: from Amazoon to eBay, from the project on Human genome in
the pharmaceutical field to Mindstorm by Lego, from IBM's relationship with open source to the
spreading of GoogleMaps API, from the use of external researchers - "connect and develop" – in
Procter & Gamble R&D to the design of Boeing 777.
And then… why initiatives based on the principles of openness, sharing and cooperation within the
educational context should not be successful as well, also from the economic point of view?
Why putting on the brakes and not accelerating?

Bibliografia

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