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UNESCO – REPONSE – April 2021

What is your view on the coherence of the arguments presented in the Commission’s Progress Update Document? – Q1

A. The Update Document provides a coherent analysis of many of the issues facing the planet in the period between now and 2050 along with a view on the tasks of education as an entity in this period, but we feel that there is insufficient attention to the nature of educational systems as systems and what how those systems are governed by the politics and ethos of those interests that are active in fraying both democracy and civil/public life (p5).

We are particularly interested in learner agency and would endorse the following “The inter‐generational conversation that is education” (p 6), but would wish to see an acknowledgement and acceptance of the co-creation of learning and knowledge through, what we describe as “architectures of participation” as moving beyond conversation to engagement and action. Our exploration of those issues raised in the Update Document concurs with the idea of “the publicness of education” p6 and the need to implement and explore the following “A world where education is a common good is a place where bottom‐up, local initiatives blossom and self‐organized governance can also succeed on a large scale. When framed in this manner, educational projects and institutions need to be governed collectively in a public manner ………” (p6)

In the definition of “commoning”, it occurs to us that there are examples of such approaches already adopted that could be noted and illustrated in the final report to bring the following alive. “The action of “commoning” refers to building together—the acts of negotiation, communication, mutual support, and cooperation that further common interests and common projects. In education, commoning can be thought of in terms of the co‐construction of knowledge and pedagogical modes that foreground the relational and collective aspects of teaching and learning. What is achieved through commoning is provisional, fragile and contains disagreement and difference. But we achieve more together than we can apart.” (p7)

We are concerned to see phrases such as “a quality education for all” (p7) appearing in the text, as the word “quality” has been abused and debased by its use in managerialist and audit literatures and we feel it would be better to use phrases such as “meeting the needs of learners and their local contexts” and text further emphasising engagement and action in community and public settings and co-creation in learning.

References to lifelong learning (e.g. p8) are welcome, but these are not developed and there are no references to non-formal and informal learning opportunities that are going to be needed as mechanisms to expand access to learning opportunities beyond those currently offered within the vast majority of existing education systems.

The caution demonstrated in the text, in relation to “Digital, biotechnology and neuroscience developments” (p8) is a positive response to the current valorisation and/or fatalism regarding the outlook for humanity in the context of these developments. We would argue for a more strongly sceptical view to be taken about the marketing of developments in these areas and for the promotion and development of these technologies in a context governed by the active engagement of users and those affected by the use of these technologies in conceptualising future uses and their active governance of any such uses.

We are concerned that examples given of change in education foregrounds the “digitalization” of education rather than focusing on how digital technologies can be used to support, sustain and implement the active vision of education promoted and proposed in the document. How digital technologies are used by learners and practitioners for learning is a far more important topic than the use of digital technologies to control and monopolise content delivery e.g. in MOOCs and we argue against the inevitability of such developments and for more positive outlooks based on practice and engagement rather than marketing or disembodied research. A detailed discussion of “the hybrid school” p8 concept will bring out some of the issues outlined here, but current ideas of hybrid schools seem to us to be “e-enabled” rather than transformative, but a wider discussion is needed.

The use of the term “transformative disruptions” (p9) again seems to imply that the effects of technological changes are inevitable and pre-ordained by the developers of new digital technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and to accept the “hype” surrounding these technologies and the use of the term “disruption” itself implies an acceptance of the promotion of this term, in recent years, by leading representatives of, what has been described, as “surveillance capitalism” Zuboff (2019) or Silicon Valley, as a series of corporate entities! Later in the document, reference is made to “these emergent transformations” (p 10) although we would dispute that such predicted transformations are emergent and that any response to these transformations should be held back until emergent properties can be identified

Nigel Ecclesfield

What elements need further attention, development or are missing?

Intellectual decolonization and epistemic diversity.

We are particularly pleased that you have included “Intellectual decolonization and epistemic diversity” as a key dimension of Heutagogy, as delineated in the PAH Continuum, is epistemic cognition. However we are surprised that you have made no reference to our submission on Heutagogy and have gone for the more narrow, new and untested concept of pedagogical commoning which is an intellectual aspiration with little extant practice, unlike Heutagogy. As heutagogy is about building education around “self-determined learning” it allows for intellectual decolonization whilst promoting diverse epistemic approaches to learning. We think addressing the points we have made in our submission and elaborated further here, will help developed this further. 

Since we published the PAH Continuum in the Open Context Model of Learning (2010) we have seen this work adopted in New Zealand (Thom Cochrane), Uganda (Bernard Nkuyubatswi) and India (Vijaya Bhanu Kote) through the process of “localisation” – taking the framing concepts and applying them locally by, respectively, a) developing digital practice in university learning b) providing resources for inclusive learning c) creating self-determined learners in primary school, by working with children and parents together.

The PAH Continuum is part of the Open Context Model of Learning which has been published as; Learner-Generated Contexts: A Framework to Support the Effective Use of Technology for Learning and has been cited 180 times. It is available online here;

The idea behind the “Learner-Generated Contexts” concept is that post Web 2.0 the affordances of the new digital tools now allow for learners to design the contexts in which they learn. However teachers and educational institutions have not yet developed the skill set to support this process of self-determined learning and we are trying to build such tools. The Open Context Model of Learning takes ideas made extant in UNESCO’s OER ideas, as developed and clarified in the Paris 2012 declaration, and add in the dimension of an “open pedagogy” to the idea of “open resources“.

We can see that because our submission used the heutagogic concept of a “curated conversation” that we have developed ourselves in order to be more intellectually inclusive you might have overlooked our submission in favour of traditional research papers, such as the one submitted on pedagogical commoning.

We have included here an excerpt from Hase and Blashke’s 2015 work on heutagogy as the “pedagogy of agency” designed to enable Intellectual decolonization by promoting epistemic diversity.

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Is Heutagogy the Future of Education?

In Wired for Culture Mark Pagel points out that

 “Modern humans seem, uniquely among animals, capable of something that psychologists and anthropologists call cultural or social learning”.

Homo Sapiens rise to civilisation was based on this capability for learning but, on the many occasions that we have tried to design an education system for our species, we have invariably failed to improve on our original ability to learn socially. In Plato’s Academy 2500 years ago Socrates was already warning that the new-fangled invention of writing with symbolic language would result in something poorer than existing oral culture. We were about to become mediated by tools less flexible than our face-to-face conversational framework.

Socrates was talking during the first axial age when the settlement-based civilisations of the northern hemisphere of planet Earth switched to an underpinning metaphor of life that was based on a materialist creator God, because we were building cultures out of the crude raw materials we extracted from nature.

Universities, whether Arabic or Western, were originally built around sharing the ideas captured in the books that Socrates had warned about writing in the first place. Universities were originally built on the principle of disseminating this new monotheism (the only basis on which a Royal Charter would be granted in the UK) and when Paris and Bologna spotted that self-organised “communities of scholars” were visiting their cities with money to spend they incorporated universities in order to benefit from the cash spend of scholars; nothing new there then. Universities were built in order to take money off scholars whilst drilling them to think in a singular fashion based on a “learning by rote” copying down of rare and selected texts.

Fortunately the medieval university evolved the Liberal Arts model of Education which, at Bachelors level, involved the development of multiple skills of expression (music, rhetoric, grammar, etc) and only at Masters level was subject mastery (hence the name) the basis of education. This was eventually replace by the integrated Prussian model of a “nation-building” education during the nineteenth-century when the nation-state became fashionable as did national languages, a national curriculum and standardisation of all things.

The 7 Liberal Arts; Grammar Rhetoric Logic (Dialectic) Music Geometry Mathematics Astronomy

When, in 1970 as a school leaver, I came to choose between going to an English University, where the purpose of studying was driven by the Oxbridge model of training colonial administrators who could run the British Empire, or going to a Polytechnic to gain the skills necessary to maintain the factories of the Industrial Revolution, I was completely bemused. The British Empire had effectively collapsed in 1956 (Suez crisis) whilst British industry had been in terminal decline after Bretton Woods (1946) which ensured the loss of the closed markets that the Empire had previously guaranteed. I chose instead to enter the cultural industries (popular music) that the creative working class had spontaneously created during the 1960s using the tools made available by the Analogue Revolution. With the exception of some Art Colleges, usually seen as places for school children who had failed in the examinations of the formal education system, as John Lennon, Keith Richard Pete Townsend had (and in differing ways Mary Quant and Pauline Boty), there was no education available for the fastest-growing sector of the British Economy. Why? (more…)

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