On Monday of last week, I went to the OII for the The future of e-learning. I'd wanted to post a few thoughts about this session before now, but in some ways I might be drawing more from the discussion for having left it this long.
Monday 16 October 2006 16:00 - 17:30
- Andrew Pinder, Chairman of the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency (Becta)
Location: Oxford Internet Institute, 1 St Giles, Oxford, OX1 3JS.
Andrew Pinder will discuss his vision of the future of e-learning. What are the key challenges for building a technological and institutional infrastructure for education in the 21st century?
Dame Stephanie Shirley spoke first, giving some context for the discussion. She remarked on how, over a number of years, education has become preoccupied with the development of skills over the transmission of information (from 'didactic' to 'conductive'). Andrew Pinder then took the floor. The webcast will be available soon from the OII (at this site). He was candid about not being an educationalist and the tension some of his words created springs, I am sure, from this difference of background, knowledge and experience:
Between October 2000 and August 2004, Andrew was the UK's E-Envoy, responsible directly to the Prime Minister for co-ordinating the development of the knowledge economy in the UK. … During that time Andrew had significant involvement with the education sector, especially in relation to the large investment that has been made over the last few years in technology. Before becoming E-envoy, Andrew had a long career in both the public and private sector. He was a civil servant in the Inland Revenue for 18 years, working in a wide range of senior jobs, including Director of IT. He then moved to Prudential, where he ran operations and technology for almost five years, before having a stint at Citibank, initially as European Director of Operations and technology, before moving to the US to take up a global role with the Bank. He left Citibank in 1999, and became involved with venture capital, as well as carrying out some consultancy assignments within Government, including leading the first ever 'Gateway Review'. During this period, he was also Chairman of the Shropshire Learning and Skills Council, during its set up period.
Andrew left the E-Envoy role in August 2004. He now runs a small management consultancy, and has advised a number of other Governments in Asia, North America and Eastern Europe on how to develop the use of technology in their countries. Becta Board
Earlier this year, Becta published its annual report which has been summed up as saying that much money has been spent on IT in UK education with little discernible return. The report itself puts it somewhat more optimistically:
There is a growing body of evidence that the use of ICT in education has a positive, if small, impact on learner attainment as measured in national tests.
Andrew told us Becta research concludes that about 15% of the UK's 25,000 schools have shown some gains in performance as a result of the technology that's been poured into them. Faced with such modest benefit, one has to ask, he said, was the technology wrong or was it just not used well? The core of his answer is that schools have lacked a business model, a comprehension of themselves as businesses — something that is required if they are to be able to discern how to put the technology to effective use. With respect to technological investment in particular, 'what is not happening is the industrialisation of education'.
Andrew was, as he said, trying to be provocative in his choice of language. I'd noted back in May that he was linking industry and education, talking directly of the 'education industry'. Here's a BBC piece from then that I quoted when I spoke at Reboot 8 (see here):
As Andrew Pinder, chair of the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency (Becta), told a conference this week schools are "one of a relatively small number of industries that do not look as if they have changed much over the past 30 years".
'The education industry': it is, I believe, an unfortunate turn of phrase. Amongst my notes from what Andrew said during last Monday's OII session: the education industry doesn't see itself as an industry; teaching is still a cottage industry, whereas in the wider world processes have been devised to implement technology and effect change; teaching is still conducted as something that works from the ground up (professionals often pride themselves on their own, separate expertise) — 'what's not happening is the industrialisation of education'; the supply side is 'hopelessly disorganised — tens of thousands of little "garage software" firms'; schools are rigid in nature, not exposed to dynamic pressures or to consumer demand … (That last took my breath away. My experience in the private sector doesn't square with that, but I was really thinking of a good friend who teaches in a state primary school and who faces, daily, 'dynamic pressures' and 'consumer demand' — ceaselessly revised demands made via management and LEA and DfES, a very large number of statemented children, with all that that means, and parents who are not slow in coming forward with their take on things.)
Unsurprisingly, Andrew faced some strong reaction from the floor. I was impressed with how quickly he read the mood and came to feel that some of his language had not helped him advance his case. I was heartened by this because there is a great deal that we agree on and in the work that's to be done to implement technology in schools we don't want to be side-tracked by fighting each other. (I quite agree that schools are resistant to change — schools are, almost always, it seems, inherently conservative institutions — and I know from my own experience that collaborative work on projects with business teaches teachers to open their eyes much more, to consider both their own institution's development/business plan, or lack of it, and how organisations in general think of and organise themselves.)
Professor John Furlong, Director of Educational Studies at Oxford, did a great job, I thought, in responding to some of the issues raised by Andrew. Homing in on things he mentioned which really interest me here: the great gap between the confident, skilful ways in which children handle technology at home and out of school — and the ways schools then expect them to handle it; how school authorities still often see themselves as owners of the knowledge they impart; how IT is profoundly disruptive to schools, teaching and teachers — so schools find IT very hard to work with. (Tony Hart, Commercial Director, Handheld Learning, later remarked that the real challenge of the new technologies in schools is to the role and nature of the teacher.) Andrew, John said, is asking the right questions but starts from the wrong place in his attempt to find the answers.
I'm with Andrew when he came back after these points to say that, in order to change things, you need to change the whole institution. Agreed — but this certainly doesn't mean that we need an imposed, top-down solution. What we need (and we could also agree on this!) is two kinds of pioneer: the inspiring, individual teacher (Andrew was fulsome in his praise of such) and the organisational pioneer.
I was struck that no-one used the term 'digital divide' — Prensky's digital natives and digital immigrants — but it is precisely this that makes for a significant, added difficulty in the use of the new technologies in schools. I read this in yesterday's Guardian:
This week Schmidt warned an audience in Washington of the struggle Google faced with politicians. "The average person in government is not of the age of people who are using all this stuff," he told a public symposium hosted by the National Academies' Computer Science and Telecommunications Board. "There is a generational gap, and it's very, very real."