Today I am attending the conference that is taking place in Brussels – Education in Digital Era.
I have been looking forward to attend this and I must say that if the opening session is anything to go by for today’s presentations, then this promises to be a very inspiring conference. The opening session saw a line up of Stefania GIANNINI as the Italian Minister of Education, Tibor NAVRACSICS, the Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport, Silvia COSTA the Chair of the European Parliament’s Committee on Culture and Education, Lord David PUTTNAM – Chair of Atticus Education. I must say that all of the speakers, gave us some thought-provoking challenges in their discussion, though I believe that Lord David Puttnam’s presentation was not only inspiring – it was a reflection of what we are doing and discussing here.
Some of the thoughts I grasped from what these speakers told us included the emphasis on skills more than just the technology fazes. Stefania Giannini spoke about the need for competitiveness achieved though collaboration. She shared a vision of a Europe seen as a singular campus, where all teachers, students and researchers are free and able to share their experiences, their expertise and their education. Tibor Navracsics spoke about the need of going beyond being connected to being competent. From my own experience with teachers, they are overwhelmed by their notions that young people ‘know’ how to manipulate technology. However we also know that accessing technology, or being able to tamper with the technology, does not make one competent in the skills that are needed for today’s digital practices. Silvia Costa spoke about some statistics…. she made a reference to a study, that shows that whilst 70% of teachers recognise the importance of digital learning, only 20% are taught by digitally competent teachers. Teachers play a fundamental role not only in facilitating online materials but also to impart digital skills. This brings us to an important aspect of education in and for the digital era: we need to invest heavily in high quality teacher education – that would impart the right digital skills to these people who will be facing young people.
Lord David Puttnam made reference to the challenges that are faced by these very young people today – the challenges of the world and the society they are growing up in. One of the strongest emphasis Lord Puttnam makes is on the need for direction, to give focus to the young people about who they are, who they want to become. In another interesting, yet potentially dangerous statistic Lord Puttnam brings to light a recent study in higher education, where 96% of college principals believe that their institutions are successfully preparing young people for the world of work. In comparison, only 14% of recent college graduals agree whilst even lower, 12% of employers agree! This is, according to Lord Puttnam, not a gap, but a gulf that we need to close. One other inspiring thought coming from Lord Puttnam is the need for resilience – a life skill to be taught. Talent and imagination, commitment and belief are some of the factors that contribute to this resilience. Lord Puttnam described 5 different mind sets that influence the attitudes in Education (I only managed to get the first four!) : early adopters, open but constrained, struggling skeptics, passionate traditionalists. This really made me strike a comparison with some of the teachers and even colleagues I know who I would also classify with these categories. I think the ones who scare me the most, and who i feel I would need to work with the most are the passionate traditionalists who feel that the way they are teaching and the way they have been teaching for the last 20 years or so, is good, and has produced some good teachers or learners, and therefore they don’t feel the need for change. This is dangerous and scary. Lord Puttnam also reminded us about what happens when teachers start to talk, when they overcome the barrier they themselves erect when it comes to sharing their teaching – experience and expertise. As an example TES Connect boasts some 300million downloads with 2 million registered users and with a collection of shared TES resources of which 47% are created by teachers. As a final note to this short blog post I would like to include a wonderful reference of one example of a product of digital technology, and the power of the crowds… and sharing….this is Eric Whitaker’s virtual choir.