Two ways of viewing work and educational practice

There are two ways of viewing work:

  • Work is something you have to do, like it or not, to make money that will allow you not onlt to sustain yourself but also, and most importantly, do the things you really enjoy doing;
  • There are many things you really enjoy doing, and the best way to work is by getting people to pay you to do the things you would do anyway, even without pay.

Running the risk of oversimplifying the issue, I believe that there are two alternative, competing ways of viewing educational practice that are somehow analogous to these two ways of viewing work: 

  • There are many things (information, knowledge, values, attitudes, skills, competencies) that you have to learn, like it or not, and the function of the teacher is to present these things to you and (in the case of teachers considered good) to look for ways of motivating you to learn them by trying to make learning them either fun and interesting or otherwise rewarding;
  • There are many things that you are interested in doing, and the function of the teacher is to find ways to get you to learn important things (competencies, skills, information, knowledge, values, attitudes) while you are doing the things in which you are interested.

At Lumiar we opt for the second of these alternatives.

Over Great Falls, Montana (United flight 755, from Chicago to Seattle), on the 11th of March of 2008, 8:00 Pacific Daylight Time

Innovative curricula – or: What learnings are of most worth?

In one of the discussion groups of the site of the twelve schools that participate in Microsoft’s Innovative Schools Program, Allison More placed the question below and I answered with the text that comes after the question… EC

>From: Allison Moore
>Posted: Sunday, February 17, 2008 7:02 PM
>Subject: Issue 2: Innovative Curricula

>People from across the world—educators, business leaders, and other thought leaders—have expressed concern that our schools are not preparing students as best they might for the demands of the 21st century. There have been calls for changes to curricula, teaching practices and assessments that will personalize student learning, better teach students to problem solve, think critically, communicate effectively and work in teams, and will help ensure that they acquire the skills to adapt to new innovations, innovate themselves, and learn effectively in the future. <

>QUESTION: From your perspective, what innovations in curriculum, pedagogy and assessment have you made or do you think are important to make, and why? Share your current thoughts on best practices and exemplary curricula and assessment practices. What benefits and challenges have you experienced (or do you anticipate experiencing) in the process of implementing these innovations? <



Let me try my hand at answering this thought-provoking question…

Curricula are attempts to define what must be learned in a given context. Methodologies are attempts to to define how best to learn what must be learned. Evaluation is the attempt to assess whether what was to be learned was in fact learned.

It seems to me that the main issue in relation to curricula – including innovative curricula – is philosophical, not scientific, and so not approachable from a “research-based” perspective, at least if “research” is understood as “empirical research” (as it commonly is, especially in the United States). The main issue is:

What learnings are of most worth today in 21st-century post-industrial societies?

This issue is not scientific – it is not answerable by any of the academic disciplines or by a survey of specialists, for instance. This issue is clearly philosophical, since it involves an important discussion of values.

To be historically fair, this is basically the same question that Herbert Spencer asked more than 150 years ago (in 1854), when he asked “What knowledge is of most worth?” I chose to replace “knowledge” by “learnings”, because the word “knowledge” is frequently identified with typical academic – or even scientific – learning. The word “learnings” is more general, and therefore better suited to my purpose, even if it looks and sounds a bit odd in the plural.

Spencer said: “before there can be a rational curriculum, we must settle which things it most concerns us to know; . . . we must determine the relative values of knowledges" [Herbert Spencer, Education: Intellectual, Moral, and Physical (New York: Appleton and Co., 1909), p. 11]. Please observe that the word “knowledges”, in the plural, is also a bit odd…

I would like to change Spencer’s question and ask:

“Before there can be innovative curricula, we must settle which things it most concerns us to learn; . . . we must determine the relative values of distinct learnings."

Spencer’s question, and its paraphrased counterpart, make it clear that we are dealing with values, here. And, I add, values are not the sort of issues that one handles through scientific methodology or “research-based” approaches.

This being said, we are ready to suggest the lines along which we ought to look for answers to this question:

What learnings are of most worth today in 21st-century post-industrial societies?

The first thing to emphasize is the last part of the question: “today in 21st-century post-industrial societies”. Unless we intend to arrive at very general answers, applicable universally (anytime, anywhere), such as “the true, the good and the beautiful” (that which traditional philosophy called the “transcendentalia”), our search for the most worth learnings must be contextualized – in time and space.

The most worth learnings in Western Medieval society are certainly not the most worth learnings in 21st-century post-industrial societies or knowledge-based economies. To begin with, science and technology, as we know it, did not exist in the Middle Ages. To take just another example, reading and writing were a rather specialized kind of learning in the Middle Ages, best left to monks in monasteries (in the monasteries dedicated to the preservation of culture, to be more precise: there were monastic orders dedicated, for instance, to agriculture or even to war). So, changes in time do make a great difference here, even if we maintain the variable space intact.

My friend Rubem Alves, one the greatest living Brazilian educators, never tires of saying that the variable space is also very important in education. The learnings that are of most worth to a child living in a Middle Eastern desert village will not be identical to those of an indian living in the heart of the Amazon forest – even in the 21st century… To stay within the confines of the West, the learnings that are of most worth to a child living at the top of the austrian Alps will not be identical to those of a child living along the Mediterranean sea: in Monte Carlo or Marseille, or in the Algarve, in Southern Portugal – or in the Harlem, in New York… So, changes in space do make a great difference here, even if we maintain the variable time intact.

The second thing to emphasize, especially given the emphases of traditional schooling, is that there are at least two important kinds of learning, which must not be made to appear as only one kind: there is “learning that…” something is the case and there is “learning how…” to do something.

Traditional schooling has emphasized the first: that is why the academic disciplines are so central in traditional curricula. Most of the learnings that the traditional school considers of most worth are “learnings that…” something is the case. Even in my area, philosophy, if I may take it as a typical example, the traditional school tries to get the students to learn that Plato thought this or that, that Descartes is the father of modern philosophy, that Kant was influenced by the rise and the incredible early success of newtonian science, that existentialism is a revolt against the rationalism of the Enlightenment, etc. All “learnings that…”

Contemporary technology has made it quite unnecessary for the school to “deliver” this sort of “content” to the students: a quick search of the Internet answers all of these questions, or at least brings up texts and media clips that allow one to easily find the answer. “Learning that…” is basically equivalent to “finding out”, “come across a given piece of information”.

I am convinced that the learnings that are of most worth today, in the West, are “learnings how…”. To learn how to do something one did not not know how to do before is to acquire a skill – or, if the “learning how…” is to mobilize and integrate lower-order skills to perform a higher function, it is to develop a competency. These learnings are typically transdisciplinary. It is not the case that they are multidisciplinary (involve more than one academic discipline) or interdisciplinary (integrate different academic disciplines): they transcend the disciplinary model or paradigm. Most of what we call “21st-century skills” today (some of which are listed in the question) are nothing but complex competencies that mobilize and integrate lower-order skills.

To use philosophy again as an example, what students need today is to learn how to philosophize – rather than learn that this or that philosopher thought this or that over two thousand years ago.

So, to finish, one of the basic requirements for innovative curricula is that they be based on competencies and centered on the development of competencies.

At Lumiar, in São Paulo, that is the kind of curriculum that we endeavor to implement. If you are interested in these ideas, check this blog.

–Eduardo Chaves
International Advisory Board
Partners in Learning

Microsoft Corporation

In Campinas, on the 17th of February, 2008

Innovation “in” or “of” the School?

Even a conventional school can become home to some innovation. I think, however, that the expression “Innovative School” ought to refer not to schools that host one innovation or another, but to schools capable of innovating themselves – that is, of creating themselves anew.

To create itself anew a school must rethink its pedagogical vision: its view of education, of learning, and of its own role in the learning of its students.

Education

To be innovative today the school must shed the traditional notion that education is the process by which older generations transmit their culture heritage to the new ones. This process, besides being centered on the needs of society and focused on the past, neglects the fact that human beings are born incomplete (incompetent and dependent) and that education is the process by means of which they become competent and autonomous adults. Education, thus understood, is a process centered on the needs of the individual and focused on the future.

Learning

To learn is not to assimilate information: it is to become capable of doing that which one could not do before. Thus, learning aims at building competencies and expanding capacities.

The school

The school is a formal learning environment the objective of which is to help students learn what they ought to learn in order to become competent and autonomous adults. Since helping students build competencies and autonomy is essential to the school, the school must be democratic, a place where students are capable of practicing their competencies and their autonomy.

Given that we are all different from one another, the curriculum of an innovative school ought to be sufficiently rich, and its implementation sufficiently flexible, to take into account the unique talents and different interests of the students. A “one-size-fits-all” curriculum is inadmissible.

Its methodology ought to recognize that there are many ways of learning essential and important things. Letting students free to choose the projects in the course of which they will learn what they need or want is a way of respecting their freedom to learn and solving the difficult challenge of motivation. But the focus must be on the development of competencies and autonomy.

Learning assessment, finally, ought to contribute to student learning as well, and not merely bring out what students have not learned. So, learning assessment must not be a series of episodic events that take place periodically in the school: it must be integrated into the very fabric of the school and must be focused on ascertaining whether students are developing their competencies and autonomy.

Are there many schools willing to create themselves anew according to this vision?

[This article appeared in Microsoft APAC’s PIL Newsletter]

Oulu, on the 1st of November of 2007

Lumiar’s Pedagogical Proposition

What I call Lumiar’s “Pedagogical Proposition” is the set of pedagogical theses that Lumiar sustains, defends, and proposes to its clients (students and their families) and to the public in general.

A. Innovation and Change

Lumiar sees and defines itself as an Innovative School.

The expression “Innovative School” needs, of course, to be clarified.

The fact that Lumiar defines itself as a school (and not as another kind of institution) imposes upon it a certain type of institutional nature, which it cannot escape: Lumiar sees itself as a formal learning environment. This means not only that children come to it in order to learn (or, more precisely, to be helped in their learning), but also that Lumiar

· has a clear proposal about what it is that these children can and ought to learn while in a formal learning environment such as the one it offers to its students;

· assumes the responsibility of seeing to it that its students learn it.

(Lumiar of course knows that children, even while in school, also learn many things in non-formal learning situations and encounters, as they live together with others, such as their family, their acquaintances, their friends and peers, and other significant members of their communities. It also knows that children learn many things in contact with impersonal material resources available in their homes and in other environments familiar to them: books, radio, television, video, videogames, computers, the Internet, etc.

If the fact that it defines itself as school points to what it has in common with other institutions of the same kind, the fact that it defines itself as innovative points to its “specific difference”, that is, to that which makes it different from other schools.

The choice of the term “innovative”, in this context, is significant.

As David Hargreaves and several others have pointed out, institutional change comes in at least two forms:

a) Minor, gradual, incremental, piecemeal change that does not depart too far from existing practice (and that can be said to lead to institutional reformation);

b) Major, systemic, all-inclusive, comprehensive change that departs considerably from existing practice (and that can be said to lead to institutional transformation).

Not surprisingly, the vector that is responsible for this distinction is innovation. Reformative change – change that refurbishes present form without transcending it – is weak in innovation; transformative change – change that goes beyond present form or paradigm – is strongly innovative.

Lumiar has gone for transformative change of existing school practice and its conceptual and theoretical underpinnings. It wants to be a new kind of school – a school where the “novum” that is in the root of the term innovation is real.

Lumiar is convinced that Jay Allard, one of Microsoft’s vice-presidents, was right on the mark when he said in a December 2006 interview to Business Week: “The only way to really change the world is to imagine it different than the way it is today. Apply too much of the wisdom and knowledge that got us here, and you end up right where you started. Take a fresh look from a new perspective, and get a new result” [emphases added]

So Lumiar is not aiming at simply another reform of the school. It is convinced that reforming a few aspects of the present school paradigm (creating more comfortable and functional buildings, introducing state-of-the-art technology, enforcing standards, systematically testing the students, conditioning public funds to the school’s overall performance, especially to the results obtained by students in standardized tests, training teachers and administrators to implement and supervise all of this, etc.) will not do.

Lumiar wants to radically transform the school – to create a new paradigm, to reinvent schooling.

Before we see what Lumiar proposes, it is necessary to show why it opted for such radical alternative.

Education, including school education, does not happen in vacuum. It takes place in a social-historical context – that includes cultural, political, economic and technological elements (the importance of which is not necessarily reflected in the order in which the elements are presented here). When this context changes drastically, it is inevitable that education, in special school education, should also change drastically (despite the understandable resistance of its main practitioners, the teachers).

When there is drastic change in the context in which education takes place, the decision to go for minor, gradual, incremental, piecemeal changes in the school will not bring the necessary results. Reformation will not suffice: what is needed is transformation, that is, major, systemic, all-inclusive, comprehensive change.

Lumiar is a school that attempts to be radical in its curriculum, methodology and assessment. And it is able to do so because it has a different conception of education, of learning and of the role of freedom and autonomy in student learning and in the management of the school. In the process of reinventing schooling, the role of the pedagogical professionals (educators) that work in the school had to be redefined.

Let us rapidly analyze describe the main elements of Lumiar’s Pedagogical Proposition.


B. Vision of Education

Lumiar sees education as a process of human development in which the baby that is born incompetent and dependent becomes a competent and autonomous adult. This process is indispensable for the non-parasitic survival of the human being – but it goes beyond that.

Human beings are capable, in due time, of defining their life project and of transforming it into reality, thus reaching personal realization (or happiness). One’s life project specifies what one wants to do of one’s life, what one wants to become as a human being. It is evident, then, that the life of developed (i.e., educated) human beings goes much beyond their survival: it culminates in their self-realization, which, as Abraham Maslow showed, is the greatest human need.

Although they are born incompetent and dependent, human babies are born with an incredible capacity to learn. That is what makes education possible.

Education, understood as human development, is a process that takes place during one’s entire life and through one’s every interaction – with other people and with other aspects of natural and social reality. But schools, as formal learning environments, can be very important for education, if they are organized and function according to the principles here detailed.


C. Vision of Learning

To learn is not synonymous with absorbing and accumulating information. To learn is to become capable of doing that which one could not do before. This vision of learning implies that learning is something eminently active (interactive, collaborative, etc.), related above all to things one becomes capable of doing. The “doing” involved in learning is not a mechanical sort of doing, in which the body instinctively, as if by reflex, goes through some motions, but an intentional activity that results from a decision consciously made and is oriented to the accomplishment of purposes freely chosen.

According to this vision, learning, in a school context, is not a savoir teachers inculcate into their students, but a savoir faire that the students actively construct – not by themselves, it is evident, but interacting and collaborating with their teachers and their peers (and, outside the school, with their family, friends and acquaintances).


D. Curriculum

A school curriculum is the set of that which students can and should learn in school.

This formulation, containing, as it does, two verbs that are clearly not synonymous, shows that the term “curriculum” has, for Lumiar, a double meaning.

On the one hand, curriculum, in its broadest sense, is the list, organized by “megacompetences”, of the competences, with their respective skills, that the school, as a formal and structured learning environment, is committed to helping their students develop while attending the school. In this broader sense, curriculum is the set of the competences and skills that the student can develop with the help of the school. It makes no sense to expect that every student – or even some students – will learn everything that the school is committed to helping them to learn. But it makes every sense that the school should define some things that every student should learn – or that every student ought to develop some competences in every area (megacompetence) in which the competences are organized.

On the other hand, as a result of what was just said, curriculum, in a narrower sense, is the sub-set of competences and skills that each student, taking into account his interests, talents, and, in due time, his life project, and under the advice of his mentor and his parents, commits himself to learn. Given the existence of individual differences in interests and talents, given the possible and real difference among the life projects of any random group of students, and given the fact that the student has freedom of choice with respect to what he will learn, the sub-set of competences and skills that each student does learn can be unique for each of the students. This fact leads to the de-standardization and personalization of the curriculum.

E. Methodology

The learning methodology adopted by Lumiar is an active methodology: Lumiar is convinced that the best way to learn is by acting, doing, transforming projects into reality. It is this way that one learns to live – that is, to transform projects of life into lived lives. Lumiar’s methodology is, therefore, centered on the development of learning projects.

This methodology sustains itself on the principle that there are many ways of learning that which must be learned. Children learn to talk, generally before going to school and without any “classes of speaking” that teach them that sounds are produced by controlling, with one’s lips, tongue and teeth, the passage of air through one’s mouth (and, in part, through one’s nose), and that therefore there are labial, nasal, guttural sounds, etc. Children learn to talk in the process of doing other things, that is, as they involve themselves in projects for which speaking is essential or important. Children see other adults and children talking with one another, conclude that speaking must be great, and decide that they are going to learn how to do it also… They start by imitating the sounds made by others and by inventing other sounds of which only they know the meaning. They are helped, supported, corrected, they receive incentive when they learn to say new things, until they become able to say a number of things important to her – first imperfectly, requiring from those who listen to her considerable effort to “interpret” what she is saying, but, in due time, more and more in ways that reflect the accent and the habits of speech of those around whom she lives.

Project-based learning methodology sustains itself on a second principle: the best learning projects are those in which children are interested and in which they engage themselves with pleasure. This does not mean that children only learn while they are having fun. What this means is that, in order to learn, children must see and understand that what they are doing makes sense, that is, contributes to something they want to achieve, reach, do or be. They are able to focus their attention on very difficult – even painful – learning tasks if they see that they contribute to something that they consider important, value or want. Anyone who has watched children learning to ride a bicycle or a horse, swim or ice skate, play soccer or the piano, cannot but conclude that children are capable of incredible learning feats through processes and activities that are difficult and hard – if only they are convinced that those means lead to objectives that they want to reach.

Project-based learning methodology sustains itself on still another principle – the third: as we are focused on learning something, we often learn other things as well. Children are especially apt at this kind of multitasking in their learning. A child can be dedicated for some time (weeks or even months) to something quite specific, such as, for instance, finding out whether there is homosexuality among birds. To find an answer to this question she observes the behavior of several kinds of birds, checks books out from the library, does searches on the Internet, interviews biologists and veterinarians, discusses with teachers and peers, etc. In this process she collects a lot of information, some of it contradictory, a lot of it not entirely relevant to the task. She organizes this information, analyzes it, tries to find a trend, and, in due time, reaches a conclusion. At the same time that she was finding an answer to her question, the child was learning to focus on an issue, to do research to find an answer to a question the answer to which she originally did not know, to organize and analyze information, to infer answers from a lot of relatively disconnected bits of information, to reach conclusions, to present her conclusions in a persuasive manner, together with the supporting facts and arguments, to reply to objections, etc. This means that, working on a project about “Homosexuality among Birds”, or even on a more specific one, such as “Can parrots be gays?”, she is developing a number of competences and skills that are going to be extremely useful for the rest of her life – more useful, perhaps, than the answer to the question that triggered the project. And she developed them because, as she was focused on learning something, she was also capable of learning many other things as well.

Lumiar is not a libertarian, laissez-faire school that practices a type of “negative education” that leaves the students alone as they go their learning projects, only reacting when provoked by them. Lumiar is proactive and proposes a range of learning projects to the students, every month or couple of months. Each project has a specific focus and involves participation in a number of tasks and activities – some to be performed in group, others individually. The focus of one project can be to map and then create a 3-D model of the region where the school is located. Students here must learn to get to know their physical environment through observation, to measure it, to represent these measurements on a different scale, to map the region out, to represent it through a 3-D mockup, etc.

As it was mentioned before, there is more than one way of learning a given thing. Because of this there is considerable redundancy in the competences and skills that can be developed through the different learning project. It is this that allows the students to choose the projects in which they are going to take part. They choose – but they do not do it alone. They are helped in the process by their mentors and their parents. Their learning portfolio will show the gaps that still exist in their learning. On the basis of this portfolio, mentors and apparent will engage in a pedagogical dialogue with the students, showing them the importance of learning this or that, of participating in this or that learning project. But they do this perfectly aware that there are many learning projects in which the students can develop their competences and skills – and that sometimes they learn very important and lasting things doing things that, initially, did not seem likely to lead to very significant and far-reaching learning.

As in the case of the curriculum, also here there is, on the one hand, the list of learning projects that the school makes available to the students, and, on the other hand, the lists, much smaller, of the learning projects in which each student chose to participate and in fact did successfully participate until the end.


F. Assessment

Constant assessment is an essential part of the work of the school. Students are assessed when they enter the school, in the school they are assessed daily, weekly, monthly by their mentors, as they participate in the projects they are assessed by the masters who lead the project, and they have a final assessment at the end of each year.

Everything significant they do at the school is recorded. Parents receive assessment reports and a folder with the work of their children.

It is through assessment feedback that students find out how well they are progressing developing in the multiple aspects involved in their development. Assessment becomes an integral aspect of the pedagogical work of the school.


G. Pedagogical Professionals

Besides its management team, the support personnel and the trainees, Lumiar has two kinds of pedagogical professionals: the mentors and the masters.

function to coordinate and supervise the activities of the students. Each mentor is responsible for about twenty students, in relation to whom he functions as counselor and adviser – in other words, as mentor. As seen, among the functions of the mentors is to accompany the students and constantly assess their learning performance and their overall development.

Masters are responsible for the learning projects and coordinate their execution. They are the “content specialists”. But, as it is going to be made clearer later on, their specialization is not to be found in the “legacy content” of an academic discipline, but on the competences and skills required to exercise a given profession. The masters are also responsible for the articulation between the projects (the methodology) and the matrix of competences (the curriculum)

Lumiar then replaces by two different professionals the teachers of the conventional school.

H. Democratic Management

Lumiar sees itself as a democratic school.

It is necessary, in the first place, to demarcate a democratic from what could be called a libertarian school. In most of the schools that can be called libertarian (Summerhill, Sudbury Valley, etc.) the following seems to obtain:

· There is a series of rules and norms, explicitly accepted by the school community as a whole gathered in a general assembly, and these rules and norms regulate the behavior of everyone in the community: students, pedagogical staff, management, support personnel and other staff;

· These rules and norms are only approved if they are coherent with the principle that everyone’s space for discretionary decisions is as large as possible, the only actions that are forthrightly prohibited being those that cause harm to others or to their property or that violate their right to an equal share of freedom;

· Every charge that someone caused harm to third parties or violated their rights is analyzed in an assembly, general or only of the students, and the responsible party can be punished;

· With respect to learning, there is total freedom to learn, which includes the freedom not to learn;

· The pedagogical staff of the school only intervene in the learning process of the students when explicitly required to do so by the students;

· The management of the school is conducted collectively: norms and rules are chosen collectively in assemblies in which everyone participates and their application is discussed in problem-solving circles.

Lumiar sees itself as a democratic school. As a democratic school it accepts most of the principles just described. As a matter of fact, it only rejects two of them: the fourth and the fifth. It is its rejection of these two principles that makes it non-libertarian.

Lumiar believes that an institution that defines itself as a school cannot be, in relation to the learning of its students, purely reactive, determining that its pedagogical staff should only intervene in the learning process of its students if asked to do so by them. Lumiar believes that a school worthy of this denomination must have a non-negative pedagogical proposition, such as the one outlined in this chapter. As seen, it proposed to make available to its students the following substantive contribution:

· A curriculum: the “Matrix of Competences”;

· A methodology: Project-Based Learning;

· Professionals (the masters) that devise, plan and offer to the students learning projects that can help them develop the competences and skills specified in the Matrix of Competences;

· Professionals (the mentors) that actively engage the students and participate in their lives as counselors, advisors, coaches, mentors;

· Parent involvement in the counseling and advice of their children in the choice of the learning projects in which they are going to be involved;

· Mechanisms for the systematic and periodical assessment of the learning of the students by masters and mentors.

Within this context, Lumiar holds as an important principle the respect to the freedom to learn of its students. This means that if a student does not want to participate in a learning project, after being counseled to do so by his mentors and parents, his decision is respected. Also, if a student chooses to participate in a learning project, but in the middle of the project concludes that the project is not what he expected, or that he simply wants to abandon it, he is given a hearing, and if his reasons are deemed legitimate is given permission to leave the project.

With respect to discipline, Lumiar has, similar to what exists in libertarian schools, clear rules and norms that prohibit students from acting violently against other persons, from causing damage to their property or to the property of the school, or from interfering with the rights of anyone else in the community. The assembly called “The Circle”, that meets every week, deals with members of the community who are charged with violating these rules and norms. If the violation is confirmed, the violator can be punished. If a student is found guilty of a serious violation, and is suspended, The Circle chooses the members that are going to communicate to the parents of the punished party that their child was suspended. Fellow students are often requested to participate in this unpleasant task.

In other aspects (strategic planning, human resources, budgeting and finances, etc.) Lumiar’s management is in the hands of specialized personnel hired to take charge of these challenges.

Salto, on the 18th of October, 2007

The Teacher is Split in Two


The conventional school demands too much – and, paradoxically, too little — of teachers.

It can be safely assumed that teachers (whatever the name they had then) were originally supposed to help children in their learning. Period.

For thousands and thousands of years, learning was mostly done at home or within the confines of the family circle. The teacher, therefore, was the family: mother, father, grandmother, grandfather, aunt, uncle, older siblings, cousins… In the simplified context in which this took place, the older family members had, in their ensemble, all that was necessary to help the younger ones learn. Among them they mastered the content of what was to be learned:

· First, practical stuff: language (for a time only spoken language; later, and not in every family, reading and writing), rudimentary arithmetic, and the practical skills required for the family businesses: the external business (generally, farming, herding, hunting, fishing, etc.), as a rule reserved for men, and the domestic business of keeping the home (cooking, cleaning, sewing, needle work, etc.), as a rule reserved for women;

· Second, still practical things, but now placed on a “higher plane”: the “art of living”, or moral, spiritual and (perhaps on slightly lower plane) aesthetic education.

The first component was more or less taken for granted as of course, but the second one was considered really important, since it was meant to prepare children to live their lives not only in this life, but also in the next… The “art of living” generally included:

a) Moral education: help children understand the difference between (moral) right and wrong [concept], understand (or simply accept) what makes a given action (morally) right or wrong [criterion], classify different concrete actions as right, wrong or (morally) indifferent [according to the criterion], and, more importantly, do what is right and refrain from doing what is wrong;

b) Spiritual education: [generally, especially in Christian circles] help children understand that we have a body but we are a soul, that the soul survives after the death of its body, that how we behave here on earth will bring us rewards or punishments in the next life, that, therefore, it is important to read (or listen to) the scriptures, pray for divine guidance and help, go to church, etc.

c) Aesthetic education: [more directed to girls] help children develop some finer habits, such as draw, paint, sing, play an instrument and, in general, appreciate what is beautiful and shun from what is ugly.

As life became more complex, the family had to resort to external help in the task of helping their children learn all that was considered worthy of learning. It was then that figure of the tutor or mentor appeared – and it was in this context that the modern school, as (supposedly) an assembly of tutors/mentors, was invented.

Many things made these developments necessary – but one of set them is quite important (and they took place around the end of the fifteenth, the sixteenth and the seventeenth century): the invention of printing, the explosion in writing that followed (and that marks the beginning of literature in the vernacular of most modern languages), the discovery of up to then unknown parts of the world, the Protestant Reformation, and the appearance of modern science… The protestant reformers had an important role in the process, because they insisted that everyone ought to learn how to read in order to read the Scriptures and not by deceived by the catholic priests (the cost of not doing this could be eternal damnation…). The result was that schools started appearing everywhere next to most protestant churches.

One important consequence of this was that the business of educating children became more complex and a gradual “division of labor” (with its consequent creating of specialized functions) began to occur. The family, for a time, retained the practical functions of preparing boys for the external family business and girls for the business of housekeeping. Moral and spiritual education were to a large extent shared by family and church. Aesthetic education (“education of sensibility”) somehow lost importance. And tutors/mentors and/or the school (“assembly of tutors/mentors”) assumed an area that did not quite exist before, but that was destined to grow: “intellectual education”.

With the appearance of various modern languages and their accompanying literature, with the discovery of new worlds, with the creation of several protestant denominations (competing amongst themselves and not only with the Catholic Church), with the appearance of modern science, that gradually evolved from astronomy and physics to biology and chemistry, with the appearance, from the 18th century on, of the so-called “human sciences” (history, geography, psychology, sociology, anthropology, political science, etc.), the intellectual scenario – the world of ideas – grew in complexity and importance. Suddenly the family seemed quite inadequate to the task of helping children learn things that were so varied and complex. And, curiously and somehow paradoxically, this new world of ideas aroused the interest in the old world of ideas of the Greeks and Romans…

Not even one single individual tutor/mentor, usually employed by families of higher means, could be expected to master all that children, especially those of the higher and middle classes, were expected to learn… Richer families began to hire several specialized tutors/mentors. The emerging middle class (and, later one, also the rich) had to resort to the assembled tutors/mentors provided by the schools… (The poor generally were left out – until quite recently).

And this way we come to the present (conventional) school… This school is, from the beginning, and almost by definition, a specialized learning environment: it tries to deal with intellectual education alone, and even then, only with one segment of it. Moral, spiritual and aesthetic education are normally outside its scope. And professional and vocational education are generally assigned to specialized institutions and are not considered as important.

The convention school of today (and society, in general) wants teachers to be a number of things…

Above all, it wants teachers to be content specialists, that is, it wants them to know well one of the subject-matters (academic disciplines) in which the curriculum is presently divided.

With the explosion of information that characterizes our age, expectations regarding the area of specialization of the teachers were proportionally adjusted (that is, reduced). Today it is not considered reasonable that a teacher should be a specialist in the whole of biology, or physics, or even history. Teachers must choose sub-specialties: 20th-Century Brazilian History, for instance, in the case of a (Brazilian) history teacher…

But expectations became also more and more “focused”… Besides the choice of specialties within specialties, teachers started to concentrate on the specific content that is supposed to be taught to the classes under their responsibility: "I’m an eighth grade Math teacher"; “I’m a High School English teacher” (or “I’m a teacher of English as a second language”…). (So, in the latter case of the specialized English teacher, do not expect him to know how to get children to learn how to read and write, much less enjoy reading and writing… When he receives them, he expects them to be way past that stage).

But the level of specialization has an even more problematic consequence.

Each of the different areas of specialization can be divided into two parts: one that contains what we could call “the legacy content” produced by specialists in the past (even recent), and another that contains “the method of thinking or inquiry” that, when applied, can produce similar content…

This distinction is very important.

I will try to show why using as example my own area of specialization, philosophy. It is likely that human beings have been philosophizing for a long time. But philosophy, as a systematic form of inquiry into what there is, where we come from, what is the purpose of us being here, what is the right thing to do, what is the right way to organize ourselves in society, why do we consider some things pretty and attractive and others ugly and repugnant, and how do we know all that we presume to know – this form of inquiry had its birth among the Greeks during the centuries that preceded the Christian era. And it spread, far and quick. More than two thousand years later, we do have an incredible amount of written records about what past and contemporary philosophers have thought. This is what I call “the legacy content” of a given area of specialization.

To help a child to learn philosophy can, in this context, be interpreted in two different senses:

· to help the child assimilate the most important ideas (according to some criterion) of what other philosophers have thought and written;

· to help the child develop the competence and the skills needed to like in a similar manner.

Most teachers of philosophy do only the first – and often do not even know how to think philosophically for their own consumption. I have no doubt that the second is the most important. As a matter of fact, the written thought of other philosophers only becomes interesting when one begins to master the art of philosophizing yourself. Otherwise it is terribly dull.

What I have just said about philosophy can be said with the same propriety about the other academic disciplines. Most teachers in today’s conventional schools are not involved with helping children learn how to philosophize, how to think like a scientist, or an artist. They are only involved with imparting to the students what philosophers, scientists and artists have thought and done. Their business is “content delivery” – an ugly expression that, unfortunately, reflects quite well what most teachers do: their area of specialization is, for them, only a bunch of content that others have thought and that must now be delivered to students, who, almost by definition, are unfamiliar with it.

Since the content of a given area of specialization tends to grow fast, teachers are unable to keep track of the content even of their narrow specialties and so tend to narrow even more their specialization down to the point where they know almost everything about almost nothing. And that is what they transmit to their students.

Just to be clear, here is what they do not do – and are not required to do by their schools:

a) Help their students master the methods of inquiry of their specialized disciplines;

b) Help their students understand the larger context in which disciplines were defined and function;

c) Help their students understand that most interesting issues transcend the boundaries of traditional disciplines and even the boundaries of mega-areas such as philosophy, science and art;

d) Help their students deal with the practical competencies and skills required by different professions;

e) Help their students deal intelligently and honestly with moral, aesthetic and spiritual issues they will inevitably confront.

That is why I said, above, that the conventional school we have today demands too much – and, paradoxically, too little — of their teachers.

Lumiar tries to face these issues in several different ways.

Perhaps the most creative and interesting way is by splitting the teacher into two pedagogical figures: the tutor/mentor and the teacher/master.

The tutor/mentor is a full-time employee of the school. Each of them is supposed to be responsible for about fifteen to twenty students. This responsibility involves the personal development of the student in every relevant aspect (physical, social, emotional, moral, spiritual, intellectual). The tutor/mentor is supposed to get to know well the children for whose development he is responsible. He is responsible for knowing what the children already know when they enter the school, what their natural talents, inclinations, interests, hopes and expectations are (inasmuch as it is possible to discover these things with respect to small children), he is expected to help the children, with the help of their parents, to choose the learning projects in which they are going to be involved, he is responsible for overseeing the children while they are at play, he is charged with periodically assessing their learning and the overall development (with the help of his observations and of reports written by the teachers/masters), etc. And, above all, unless problems arise, he is not replaced by a different tutor/mentor as the children progress in their development: he is a constant reference to them.

The teacher/master is, in a way, the content specialist to whom the responsibility for the children’s development of specific competencies and skills is – to use an almost abusive word in the context — outsourced. They are not full-time staff. They are hired to offer specific learning projects to the children – to plan, develop, implement, execute and evaluate the project and to assess what students have learned by and after taking the project.

There are three features that are sought in the teachers/masters:

a) They must be masters of a particular content – that is why they are called masters;

b) They must be able to look at that content from the point of view of the competencies and skills required to produce it (or something similar) rather than as a content to be delivered to the students – that is why the school is reluctant to call them simply teachers;

c) They must have a genuine interest in the area and a visible love for what they do.

If these three features are present – mastery, focus on methods of inquiry, and motivation – they ought not to have problems with getting students to voluntarily offer to take part in their learning project: they do not have to be cajoled, persuaded, seduced, much less compelled, to participate.

If the tutors/mentors provide constancy and continuity, the teachers/masters provide change and diversity.

The administration of the school is responsible for guaranteeing that all the essential areas of the Matrix of Competencies that serves as curriculum are covered by learning projects offered, led and coordinated by the teachers/masters. These are responsible for guaranteeing that the students involved in their learning projects not learn the content of the project itself, but that they also develop the basic competencies and skills defined by the Matrix of Competencies. And the tutors/mentors are responsible for guaranteeing that what students learn in the different learning project contributes to their coherent development as persons – not only as the unique individuals they are, but also to their social existence as citizens and to the preparation that becoming a 21st-century professional requires.

The conventional teacher has been split in two at Lumiar – and even his mastery of a given content, in the case of the teachers/masters, is refocused to the methods of inquiry rather than to the transmission of the legacy content produced in his area of interest.

Campinas, on the 12th of October, 2007

 

Second interview in Taiwan


[At the end of 2006 and beginning of 2007 I gave two interviews to the press in Taiwan which may be useful in this context. This is the second]


Block I: On the origin and the spirit of the school of the future

Question 1:
How will the development of technology transform education? What are the advantages and disadvantages that may result from these transformations?

EC: The development of technology, by itself, will not necessarily transform education. It is undeniable that technology changes the world: the way we do things, the way we work, the way we communicate with one another, the way we access information, the way we amuse ourselves, the way we learn. By changing the world, it makes it advisable or even necessary to change education. But the decision to change how we educate is always ours. George Scharffenberger once said that educators can use technology to support what schools already do, maintaining their practice and resisting change; or to supplement what schools already do, reforming their practice piecemeal and so partially accepting change; or to subvert what schools do, so making it necessary to reinvent their practice. So technology is, at best, an inductor or a catalytic agent for change.

Question 2:
How was the idea of the school of the future originated? Why should the school of the future be promoted?

The idea of the school of the future originated from the fact that the world in which we live and educate changed – changed drastically – in the last sixty years or so. Throughout this lengthy process of change, the school, as an institution, changed very little. Things came to a point, however, in which some people concluded that the school must either change or gradually become obsolete as an organization where people learn and are educated. So these people became engaged in a process of creating a new school – and this new school received the name of “school of the future”. The name is a bit misleading, because this new school is not needed in the future: it is needed right now. The school of the future should be promoted because the school we now have is no longer doing what it ought to be doing: serving as an environment where people can effectively learn – that is, acquire the knowledge and the competencies necessary for living and being successful in the complex, changing and flexible world of the 21st century.

Question 3:
How is the school of the future defined and characterized? What can the school of the future do or provide that cannot be achieved by regular schools in general?

The school of the future is focused on the future, not on the past. It exists not to transmit knowledge, beliefs, values, customs, traditions of the past from one generation to the other, but to help people construct knowledge and mental models, develop skills and competencies, and forge values and attitudes that can make the world of the future a better place. Regular schools have not succeeded in forming people that are committed to avoiding violence, terrorism, war, fanaticism and promoting security, freedom, peace, tolerance. The school of the future must set the promotion of these values at the heart of its objectives. It is only when they have security and freedom in a peaceful and tolerant environment that people can develop to their fullest potential.

Question 4:
What are the influences the school of the future may have on functions of schools in society?

It is not going to be possible to create schools with a new profile in the required quantities fast enough. But we need to create a few to show that a new school is possible. And these new schools, these schools of the future, will serve as examples and seedbeds of change for present schools.

Question 5:
What should we be cautious about when developing and promoting the school of the future?

If we want to create a new school, a really innovative school, we cannot start from assumptions and presuppositions very similar to the ones we have today. If we do, we will end up with a school that will not be very different from what we have today. To arrive at a new, truly innovative school, we need to start with radically different assumptions and presuppositions. I give one example. Present schools assume that children learn by being taught, and that the best way to teach them is to assemble them physically in a specific place (the school classroom) and teach them together in groups during periods of equal duration (the class). The school of the future will probably assume that students learn a lot of important things by themselves, reading, watching TV, navigating through the Internet, interacting with their peers, inside and outside the school. That is: it assumes that people learn anytime and anywhere – and in several different ways. The challenge is to create a school that is a technology-rich learning environment that takes seriously how technology-empowered people learn.

Question 6:
How will the concept of education and methods of teaching as we know them be affected by the rise of the school of the future?

It is not the case that the new school will affect our concept of education and our methods of promoting learning. It is the other way around. The fact is that a new concept of education and new conceptions of how learning is best promoted will force us to create a new school – the school of the future.

Question 7:
How will the roles of teachers and students be affected in the school of the future?

For one thing, teachers will not teach (present information, transmit knowledge, deliver content) in the new school – because in a technology-rich environment information, knowledge, and content are at the fingertips of anyone. Teachers will not be content specialists, but mentors, coaches, counselors, advisers, and facilitators of learning – and learning will not be synonymous with absorbing or assimilating information, but with becoming capable of doing that which we could not do before… Students will need to focus on becoming autonomous and competent learners. And, unless they have already been corrupted by previous schooling, they normally are curious, inquiring, desirous and motivated to learn.


Block II: On the planning and the vision of the school of the future in Taiwan

Question 1:
What is the key to success in building a school of the future?

Vision, motivation (commitment), competence (planning, serach and mastery of resources, execution and persistence).

Question 2:
What approaches have been taken to promote the school of the future in Taiwan?

This I cannot tell. I know that Taiwan has been involved with this program for several years now, with a project in the city of Taipei. Now a new project is going to be launched Kaoshiung. I am convinced that both will be a success. But I do not dare answering specific questions about the implementation of the program in Taiwan.


Block III: On the current development of the school of the future in the world

Question 1:
What are the trends in the development of the schools of the future in the world?

The School of the Future program started with a pilot in Philadelphia, PA, USA. Now it is being implemented in about 20 countries all over the world. Taiwan is one of these countries. The projects are very diverse, respecting the local reality of each country.

Question 2:
What are some major features of the schools of the future that have been built around the world?

Except for the Philadelphia project, recently inaugurated, they are all beginning.

Eduardo Chaves
February 2007

Transcribed here from Salto on the 5th of October of 2007

First interview in Taiwan


[At the end of 2006 and beginning of 2007 I gave two interviews to the press in Taiwan which may be useful in this context. This is the first]

Question 1:
What is a School of the Future?
(Can we say that a school that has many computers is a School of Future? If not, what is a good School of the Future?)

Schools are social institutions: they are created to help us, human beings, perform better some of the functions that we consider important in life. There is nothing sacred about them, that should make us preserve them in their present form. There is even no guarantee that we need schools, as we presently know them, in order to educate people well. Existing to serve social functions, schools must change when society changes.

Our present schools were created in the Industrial Age to serve the needs of Industrial Civilization. But we are rapidly moving out of the Industrial Age into a Post-Industrial Age – which some call the Information Society, the Knowledge Economy, etc.

The schools that existed in the Middle Ages, that in the West were run by monks in monasteries and served only religious clerks, were not capable of performing the education that was needed in the Modern Period, introduced by the Industrial Age. So our present schools were created. That was over 200 years ago.

The present age, however, is not being adequately served by schools created for a previous age. So schools must be changed in order to perform the educational task that society expects from them.

What we call a “School of the Future” is, despite the name, a school desperately needed already in the present. But we do not have it. Our society changed much more rapidly and radically than our schools. So today we have a new age (the society that is erupting in our midst) with schools of the past. When we speak of a “School of the Future” we are referring to a school that will be fit to educate our children – and our adults! — in the Information Society and in the Knowledge Economy.

It is evident that the mere introduction of computers and other technology into present schools will not make them “Schools of the Future”. Somebody one day aptly said that if we bring computers and other technology into schools and leave their other features unchanged, the resulting institution will not be a School of the Future, but a much more expensive traditional school.

In order to have a School of the Future we need to develop first a new vision of education – the education that is needed at the present time — and then design from scratch the sort of institution that will best help us promote. It will certainly have objectives, methods, organizational structures, administrative principles, links with the community and with the larger world that are quite different from the ones that prevail in present, traditional schools. Those that we today call teachers will need to have different functions: they will not teach, as they do today, but they will help students learn. And students will learn through collaborative interactions with their peers, with the school staff and with the outside world (that will no longer be considered external to the school, because every organization in society will be invested with functions that will facilitate learning in its citizens – every organization will be a learning organization).

This sort of School of the Future will certainly not lack technology. But technology, by itself, will not bring it about. If we do want a School of the Future – and there may be more than one template, following overarching principles – we must not be afraid to open the “pedagogical black box”, as somebody one day called it. It is here that the essential changes must be made.

The School of the Future will be new not because it will have technology – but because it will be built on the basis of a new vision of education, a new understanding of learning, and novel ways of promoting learning.


Question 2:
How should school administrators, teachers and students prepare for future learning environments?

Of all these categories, the students are, perhaps, today, the ones best prepared for new learning environments – and beware that these learning environments are not in the future: they are already here today.

The reason I say that students – children and young people in general – are the ones best prepared for the new learning environments that characterize our age is that they have been born in this new age, have used its technology from the day they are born, and feel totally familiar and confident with it. Older people – and here I include school administrators and teachers that are over 25 – are “digital immigrants”, as somebody one day correctly labeled them. They may even know how to deal with digital technology, but they will “speak digital with an accent”. Young people, those born after 1980, when computers became not only “home appliances” but personal tools and toys, are, in contrast, “digital natives”: they “speak digital without any accent”. So they are already prepared for new learning environments in ways in which we, older folks, are not.

The problem is that we, the older folks, are the ones that presently have authority to decide what, how, when and where younger folks ought to learn. And most of us think that they, younger folks, ought to learn the same things we learned, in the same order, through the same teacher-centered methods, with the help of the same tools, at the same time in life, and in the same sort of institution.

Many people tell and ask me: “You studied in a traditional school, and you are doing fairly well. Why should traditional schooling not work as well for present kids?”

To answer this question it is necessary to point to the fact that the world changed in substantive ways between the time I entered primary school (1950) and today. Assuming that what I turned out to be was due to the school I attended (which is a questionable assumption), a school that was good fifty years ago will quite likely be outdated today – unless it changed with the times. The world underwent drastic change, the students changed. The student that enters school today is much better informed about the world than I was when I got out of school – and he has an incredible network of resources to keep him constantly well informed.

So our great challenge is to prepare present and future school leaders and teachers to deal with change: to perceive change and to understand it in order to manage it well. There is nothing necessarily good in change itself. But we cannot prevent it from happening. So we must understand it in order to manage it, using change to promote the educational goals we endorse – which, in my view, must be centered on the task of human development.

This challenge is great because we have millions of teachers in the field, that need to be prepared on the job, and we have hundreds of thousands of people being prepared in Schools of Education and Pedagogical Institutes in ways that are clearly inadequate.


Question 3:
What are the main critical success factors to set up a School of the Future?

It is essential that we place first things first.

And the first thing of them all is pedagogical vision. The School of the Future will not be characterized by its building or by its technological infrastructure: it will be characterized by its pedagogical vision, that includes a new view or concept of education, a new understanding of learning, and novel methods for promoting learning.

The second critical success factor – and it is closely tied with the first – is people. It is essential that we find people who are more than willing – who are eager! — to embrace this pedagogical vision and are dedicated to promoting it. And then we need to give them freedom, incentive and tools without which it is virtually impossible to reinvent schooling.

It is only after these two factors are adequately faced that issues relating to curricula, technological infrastructure and buildings ought to be raised.


Question 4:
Will the School of the Future change the way we learn now?
What sort of change can we expect and how will it happen? Will these changes be good both for students and teachers?

I have no doubt that there will be enormous changes in the way we learn in the future – and the School of the Future will have to assimilate them. These changes can be classified in the following way:

· Changes in what we learn

· Changes in how we learn

· Changes in when we learn

As we will see, these three things are interconnected.

Most of the learning that present schools try to promote involves assimilation of information. I do not even say “acquisition” of information, because acquisition is an active process – and what takes place in school is not an active process from the student point of view. What happens at school is that students are expected to assimilate – mostly in a passive way — information that teachers deliver to them.

In the School of the Future learning will not be identified with assimilation of information. Even though all learning involves the acquisition of information, that is not the most important element of learning. The most important element of learning is capacity building, the development of competencies. To learn is to become capable of doing that which one could not do before. Every learning involves a doing – even if the doing involves acquiring some information in the process. The object of learning is not a mere “knowing that” (“savoir”), but a “knowing how” (“savoir faire”).

So, the curriculum will not be a set of subject matters (academic disciplines) organized by grade: it will be a mosaic of competencies, in which each competency will be linked to the skills, to the attitudes, to the values and to the information required to develop it.

And the curriculum will not be “one size fits all”. There are, of course, some basic competencies that everyone will need to develop (communication competencies, interpersonal competencies, management competencies – including managing priorities, managing time, managing resources, managing negotiations, managing conflict…). But human beings have different talents, interests, goals in life (life projects). It makes no sense that everybody ought to develop exactly the same sort of competencies in life.

This brings us to the second set of changes I mentioned: change in how we learn. Since competencies involve “knowing how” (“savoir faire”), learning must be active, learning must basically imply doing. But this doing is not doing what other people tell us to: it must be self-generated and self-directed doing, a doing that is related to one’s interests.

This is the essence of what some people call today “project-based learning” (or “problem-based learning”, or “inquiry-based learning”). However, this approach to learning is not effective if the projects, the problems, the inquiries are determined by the teacher for the student. That is why I emphasize the need for learning to be self-generated and self-directed.

So, we, the learners, ought to choose not only what we are going to learn – what sort of competencies we will need to develop, given our talents, interests and goals in life – but also how we are going to learn – what sort of learning projects are most worthwhile.

It goes without saying that learners, or students, do not live and choose in a vacuum. They are born into a family and into a community and learn all of what they learn by interacting with others. Learning is essentially a collaborative endeavor (but collaboration can take place at a distance). Human beings are quite curious and inquisitive, and they very early develop talents and interests of their own, that must be allowed to flourish. These talents and interests will eventually be consolidated in a life project.

Some people – mostly parents and teachers – worry when they hear me defending this view. What if a child does not choose to learn something that is important for him? My answer is: if the “something” is really important for him, he will inevitably choose to learn it, and quite early – and will learn it quite effectively.

Many people are under the impression that children do not like to learn things that are difficult to learn. This is a false impression. The opposite is true: children love challenges, they love to learn things that are difficult to learn. Many times, in playing a computer or video game, they lose interest in a game once they master it!

The truth of the matter is that children do not like to learn things the learning of which does not seem to carry any point or purpose – even if they are easy to learn.

Finally, the third the second set of changes I mentioned: change in when we learn. Children – and adults, too – have not only different learning styles but also different learning rhythms. Learning is something we do during our whole life – that is the essence of “life-long learning”. There is no sense, therefore, in demanding or expecting that young folks learn everything there is to learn between the ages of 6 and 17 – or 6 and 21. Many of them do not even know with precision what their life project when they are this age. And interests change as they come across new environments and realities. And society changes – and changes very rapidly. Many of the very interesting professions that exist today did not exist twenty-five years ago – and many of the professions that will exist twenty-five years from now do not exist today! Professions that existed and even were important, no longer exist or are no longer important…

So schools in the future (that is, in the present) must take seriously the fact that we will be learning throughout our lives and be open for people of any age who are interested in learning a new competency. This means that schools in the future will not need to pack everything there is to learn into 12 years of a kid’s life. Children, young people, and adults can learn things when they realize they need or want to learn that – and this facilitates learning tremendously.

A corollary of this is that learning can be, and often ought to be, piecemeal, structured in small modules. For some of our learning needs a two hour chat with a specialist will be enough – there will be no need to take a semester-long course! In other cases, we need somebody’s help only to get us started, or to help us overcome a hurdle.

Another corollary of this is that, with technology-mediated communication, we can learn anytime, anywhere… So schools in the future may need very strong technological infrastructure, but they may not need a lot of fancy buildings…


Question 5:
What is the difference between technology-based learning and traditional learning?
Will students be different?

I think we began to touch on that in the last paragraph of the previous answer.

If learning is active and collaborative, if we learn by doing things and we learn to do things by interacting with other people, then the issue that this question raises is rather whether the doing and the collaborating that is mediated by technology is essentially different from the doing and collaborating that happens in “face-to-face” environments.

I think it is not – but I am willing to hear the arguments of those who say that it depends on what it is that is being learned.

You see, I am a philosopher by training. Socrates would probably disagree with me (he was even against the use of writing in philosophical discussion!), but I am convinced that technology-mediated interaction (discussion, collaboration) is a much more effective environment for learning philosophy than “face-to-face” environments. (But this is not the place to argue for this view). But I recognize that learning to do a heart bypass surgery may not be quite as effective without “face-to-face” contexts.

So our challenge is double: first, to help our students realize the active nature of learning and the essential collaborative nature of most of our activities; second, to help them develop the competencies necessary to communicate, interact and collaborate in virtual environments. The second challenge is, I believe, easier to meet than the first.


Question 6:
How are Schools of the Future doing in places other than Taiwan?

I would say with all confidence that no country in the world has jumped ahead in transforming their present school system into a system of Schools of the Future. Sometimes we see in a country a school that was built from scratch and labeled School of the Future. In some of these cases the school has some advanced innovative features, in other cases the innovations are purely cosmetic. It is very difficult to build a totally new school – even if we are dealing only with one.

The challenge is much greater if we try to change an entire school system, beginning with the schools we presently have. In this case we have great obstacles. People resist changing. Changing the way we work implies developing other competencies, modifying our attitudes, sometimes adopting new values – and all of this has an important counterpart: letting some old competencies fall into disuse, giving up some attitudes that were dear to us, parting with values of which we have become fond…

So, no country has jumped ahead in the undertaking of creating a system of Schools of the Future.


Question 7:
There are many Taiwan schools interested in becoming a School of the Future.
Please give them some suggestions about what to do first.

The first step is to do some strategic thinking and ask:

· Where are we today?

· Where do we want to be?

· How do we get from here to there?

This is the first step. It is not an easy one.

First problem: most schools may not be able to agree on where exactly they are – much less on where they want to be…

Second problem: some schools may analyze where they are and quickly conclude that they are fairly good and do not need to change much (only in some minor aspects)…

Third problem: some schools may conclude that they are far away from where they ought to be – but may not reach agreement on exactly where they ought to be…

Fourth problem: some schools may conclude that they are far away from where they ought to be, and may reach basic agreement on where they would like to be – but do not know how to get there…

So this exercise in strategic thinking is essential – and that is where any process of change must start.


Question 8:
What is the most important meaning of having Education?

Well, thank you for asking this question at the end. I said earlier that we need a new view or concept of education. I will try to sketch what, in my opinion, this view or concept ought to be.

There are many people that think that education is the process whereby a given generation transmits to the next the culture heritage of a given social group. Education, in this view, is something older people to do younger folks, to prepare them for their place in society.

I disagree with this view.

I think that education is a process of human development. Differently from other animal species, human beings are born quite unprepared for the task of living – even if living is understood merely as surviving. We are born totally incompetent, and, therefore, are absolutely dependent on the care of others.

But we are born two important features:

· First, an incredible capacity to learn;

· Second, with a “hardware” that requires “software” to run…

That the human beings, including very young human babies, have an incredible capacity to learn I find it unnecessary to argue here.

I will, therefore, concentrate on the second feature – apologizing for the “technological analogy”…

The young ones of most animal species are born quite ready for life. Most everything they need to know in order to survive is “wired” into their brains. Their brain is basically “programmed” by the time they are born.

This is not the case of human beings. We are born with an excellent piece of “hardware” – our brains – but it comes with minimal “programming”. The rest of the “programming” we have to do ourselves – and we do it through learning.

So, this is what education is all about: a process of human development that allows us not only to survive (become competent) but to choose a life for ourselves (become autonomous). Education is the process through which the incompetent and dependent beings that are born become competent, autonomous adults.

Technology must not be understood only in terms of high (or most recent) technology. Technology is whatever we, human beings, invent to make our life easier or more pleasurable. Sometimes life is difficult, other times it is dull. That is why we invent tools and toys – that is, technology. Art (literature, music, painting, sculpture) is technology. Its function is not utilitarian: it is to make life more pleasurable – to make life worth-living. It is a toy, not a tool. Technology is the product of our problem-solving ability. It helps us survive by making life easier – and it makes us want to survive by making life more pleasurable.

Eduardo O C Chaves

Oporto (Portugal), the 12th of November, 2006, transcribed here from Salto, on the 5th of October, 2007