While preparing my paper on the radical education reforms in the Gulf across Arab media, I have been churning through quite a bit of background material over the past few months.
Here the biggest bone of contention seems to boil down to the relation between education and identity. These new didactic methods being brought into schools by the reforms, whether on-line or in the classroom, all have student-centredness in common, i.e. Cooperative Learning happening between students rather than Teacher Talk&Chalk. This represents a threat to a traditionally authoritarian culture, which in schools finds its logical expression in the traditional teacher-centred classrooms with “closed-source” pre-vetted information streaming downwards, in both form and content – and replaces it with “Well, little Ahmed, what do you think?”
Across blogs and forums (a vital part of today’s media landscape especially in the face of public censorship) people describe their national and religious identity, integrity and cohesion as being undermined and often relate this to Western influence – in the form of corporations such as the CfBT et al. – forced down their throats by a government essentially outsourcing the education system to meet the demands of the globalized information economy.
However, the conundrum for authoritarian governments is that the empowerment of individuals and groups afforded by this free thinking and self-management in the student-centred classroom – mixed with twitter technological savvy – actually forms a potential threat to the state itself. In fact, teaching children how to collaborate and cooperate independently of the teacher on projects of production, discovery and communication may yet prove the biggest political game-changer yet; the 2010 Arab Spring is the tip of a future iceberg.
This puts into perspective the lip service paid to real education reform by most Western governments compared to the eagerness with which supposed dictatorships – including China – take on these potentially dangerous collaborative didactic methods originally developed in the West. In the face of warnings from educators like sir Ken Robinson in the UK and Jean-Paul Brighelli in France, why is Europe so slow to make student-empowering cooperative and project-based learning the linchpin of a much-needed School 2.0? Think about it, and project that thought 20 years into the future.