About 10 days ago I came across this excellent article (in French, mind you) in Le Monde about 21st century education. The article was written by Michel Serres, one of the most influential (and interesting) philosophers in France nowadays. His main point is that formal education is completely out of synch with its time – or with the young people of its time.
This has to do with a combination of factors:
- The pupils’ bodies and minds have changed: compared with previous generations, they live overwhelmingly in the city, have a long life expectancy, have no direct experience of war, have been the result of planned pregnancies and are living in multicultural settings.
- Their attitude towards knowledge has changed: they have access to a very long history, have very short attention spans and are formatted by constant direct advertising. They are multi-taskers but use a different part of their brain (using social media) than they would reading books. They have access to a wide mobile network at all times. They write differently and speak a language that has evolved much.
- They have become individuals: their identity is no longer defined by large collective enterprises. Their couples are not working that well any more. But their realisation as individuals may be a good thing.
- And we give them artefacts of another age for their education: buildings, classrooms, libraries, laboratories…
So what can we do asks Serres? Share knowledge? There is no knowledge to share – it’s all available there on the Internet. Knowledge is virtually shared with everyone, everywhere, all the time. We are awaiting a new age similar to the paideia (a pedagogical system) that ancient Greeks invented, or to the revolution of printing brought forth by the Renaissance. This leaves a lot of uneasy reflections for the teachers.
This article reflects perhaps particularly crucially one of the gaps that France is experiencing at the moment, though it is not the only country in this situation. What Serres calls for is a radically new way to think about education – one that is not about transferring knowledge in a box to a homogeneous group that assimilates it in one place. It is about transferring perspectives about knowledge and a thirst for questions.
This brings me to another excellent piece on the web, this time a blog post by Jack Uldrich (Unlearning 101) about 10 things worthy of teaching in Kindergarten. All his points are worthwhile but I particularly love his second point: Questions are better than answers. This is also the red thread of the IKM-Emergent paper about monitoring and evaluation of knowledge for development that we are just finalising these days: the trick of the matter is not the end point, the answer; it is all about the journey, the process, through questions. If we sharpen that capacity to question, we are that much closer to understanding a rapidly changing world and to connecting with others.
For children of tomorrow, it is not a matter of good or bad education, it is probably more a matter of survival. Indeed, education is not about filling a bucket with water, it’s about lighting a fire. Time for a stock-taking post on questions?