By Naima Thompson M.Ed
This is a three-part essay to explore the education of yesterday, today, and tomorrow.
What type of society is our “anticipatory mirror” to reflect in the future?
After fifteen weeks of virtual learning in this pandemic era, I sit in a social-distance regulated classroom in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC), listening to the words that spray through my learners’ mandatory, mask-covered mouths; they speak their beliefs with unapologetic candidacy. The major unanswered question for them now is “What is this education for?” Although no answer is forthcoming, it is clear to me that we need to hold policymakers and administrators accountable for our youths’ education and ask the provoking questions. For instance, what shape will education take in the near future? We, teachers, have certainly passed with flying colors in demonstrating the great potential for distance-learning. Do we truly understand the why behind it all? And if so, how does that understanding align with your own deep-rooted beliefs on education?
The consciousness of a people is the sum total of its members’ deeply held beliefs. For centuries we’ve conducted education, using a cookie-cutter approach where one size is expected to fit all. The 21st century ushered in best practices in education, and the flood gates opened with all sorts of new and innovative approaches to learning. Programs including the Wasabi’s Future Fluencies, the International Baccalaureate (IB), and Stanford’s Design Thinking, hoped to break this cookie-cutter mold of the past. And now, in today’s pandemic we are all thrown into a whirlwind of propaganda, ‘fake news’, and conspiracy theories that make our heads spin and our fears increase. Yes, there is a measure of unspeakable disarray and disconnect within all of us and we educators are championed with the task of continuing business as usual for our learners pre-k to post-grad. In these unprecedented times virtual classroom experiences take a grip on the world and our beliefs about education are brought into question with an unrelenting demand for success from policymakers and administrators. And so, with over four centuries of education provided for the global population, are we truly creating a wider gap among those who can be educated and those who simply won’t be? What is our deep-rooted belief when it comes to educating today’s learners? Can technology push education in a direction that actually takes us back to the 18th-century elitist mindset?
As distance-learning steps into the spotlight, the accessibility to education for all— in spite of the UN 2020 Sustainability Goals of equal education of all— takes the stage, front, and center for everyone to see. We can recall a time when education was only for the elite until economic structures changed and the demand for a workforce took precedence. The Industrial Revolution began in England in the middle of the 18th century and spread to the rest of Europe and the United States in the early 19th century. This era changed the way people worked and lived. With the high demand for a skilled workforce, quite exponentially and all at once, opportunities for education that were reserved for the elite were now available and even mandated to the general population. Since then, generations of student learning occurred mostly through face to face engagement with seldom any other alternative considered. As the world and societies evolve, we educators have an obligation to demand a shift in how we reach our learners.
Today the consequences of the pandemic compel us to reexamine our beliefs in the delivery of education. And, while the globe is scattered into isolation, the learners, educators, and parents are expected to simply adjust, regardless of the looming digital divide. The inevitable is on the horizon with rote learning and 21st century best practices falling off the edge and history can stand up to teach us the way forward. In his article based on the education design for the industrial revolution Audrey Watters writes, “…The inner life of the school thus became an anticipatory mirror, a perfect introduction to an industrial society.” This now begs the question, what kind of society is our 2020 “anticipatory mirror” reflecting for us?