Cooperative Learning & the Cultural Imperative

While preparing my paper on the radical education reforms in the Gulf across Arab mediaI 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.

3 thoughts on “Cooperative Learning & the Cultural Imperative

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  1. Student centred learning was a big thing back in the 60’s – 80’s, there is a whole history there which is part of the MA in philosophy of education at the IOE. Then there was a backlash against ‘loony left wing teachers and TT institutions and we went back to basics. I would be surprised if today’s authorities were any less anti-liberal than the Tories have always been, so if there is any real student centred teaching going on officially – teacher’s have always subverted the ‘system’ individually – I suspect it is not authentic and is systematically undermined by other elements of the curriculum such as the school ethos. Academies, especially, seem to be highly authoritarian. I imaginre students are just learning how to go through the motions. AS you say, no government wants truly independent thinkers coming out if its educational programming matrix


    1. In a discussion with me, a very innovative and experienced educator recently commented on collaborative learning in the curriculum as over-rated, seeing all teachers actually do it anyway, but I disagree there: as you point out the state curriculum counters the effectiveness of the individual teachers’ efforts, and a very fundamental decision needs to be made both in individual schools and at governmental level to make substantial changes. But seeing as governments are not easily swayed, thinking four years ahead max, this blog is my minor contribution to empower schools and teachers to create self-reliant students ready to tackle the tumultuous future they will be facing. The ironic aspect is that business here agrees with us; they now need creative and independent workers to compete in the knowledge economy.


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