Education: Connected, disconnected or inexistent

I haven’t written a blog post for ages now. It is not that I was off blogs. I think the main reason was that I was lost for some time in a sea of voices that were very confusing… so much so, that I felt I had nothing to say. Anyway today I am attending a thematic meeting on Connected Learning for Adults organised by the Directorate for Lifelong Learning as part of the National Lifelong Learning Strategy… big words – are they hype? Will something happen?

At the moment, in Malta there have been a number of meetings. I have attended one such conference on ‘The State of Digital Education’ (here is a Storify link to the tweets published on the day). There has also been an EU Summit organised by the Commonwealth Centre for Learning just a couple of weeks ago.

So the meetings are happening, both here locally in Malta and even more so abroad. But it seems to me now, that we are talking and meeting and we are not really doing much tangibly. Let me get to the title of this blog post and start deconstructing it bit by bit.

Let me start by Connectedness … what is connected education? I mean what is it really? The  persons who came up initially with the term Connected learning way back in 2004, were George Siemens and Stephen Downes with their essays, and writings about the connected learner, connectedness and how it happens and what really creates connected education. Their theory, which they termed as a theory for 21st century learning was much criticised. I loved it. I latched on to it and I still believe in it. In short being connected is about an individual, who is in control of the meaning he/she constructs through the connections, online & offline,  tangible & intangible, physical & virtual. The problem is that people like me hail this theory but people who actually do the teaching with the younger generation, children and youths may not only not be aware of it, they believe that it is not what education and learning is all about. Even parents do not believe that education has to be connected… they believe education is equivalent to learning what needs to be learned so that their children get a certificate. And the sadness of all of this, is that this mentality gets stronger as the children get older, in such a way that after these young people graduate, if they ever make it, they’re people with very limited skills and abilities. The only skill they have mastered is how to make it through exams. But arguably that is not what life and work is all about is it?

What about Disconnectedness? What is it and why is it happening? To my mind, disconnectedness conjures this image of schooling… disconnectedness is happening with young people and even teachers in schools. The only connection that I see happening in schools, is partly with curricular books. I say partly because as part of the strategy which young people adopt to make it through the exams, they wouldn’t even read the assigned readings or books, but read only the sections which one would predict would emerge on the exam papers based on previous ones. So what we have and what is happening is a huge disconnectedness of the youths, with knowledge because knowledge to them is incomprehensible. My 7-year old son asks me ‘Why learn, ma?’ and I answer, ‘Why indeed, it is for you to know about stuff around us’ – but for him this is completely disconnected to whatever happens in school. What happens in school is that if any one of them asks a question which is not part of the syllabus then they are either ignored or else told to concentrate on what the teacher is talking about without receiving an answer to their question. Now I don’t want to really generalise, but this is the impression I get from what I observe, and from the discussions I keep hearing around me.

So what about Education? Is it inexistent? Is it all dark and gloomy. I really don’t know. From what I see happening in Malta, I am not really that hopeful. Every time I talk with teachers, educators and students, I get this feeling of hopelessness coming from their end. There is a lot of frustration, but people keep holding on to the fact that in the end, we get people obtaining certificates, and therefore that is fine – education is happening. We desperately need a change in culture, a mind shift… so many people have been repeating this over and over again, but it is not happening. We need a shift in the mind set of parents, of employers, and of politicians – we need a shift in the way teachers and students think about education and knowledge and what learning really is… this is what I believe we need… how do we actually start? That is the million dollar question.

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