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The following text is one of a series of texts written about the Future of Education in preparation for European Schoolnet's International Round Table held in Bruges in December 2006. See also "Three approaches to the future of education".

In search of lost values

One of the most striking things when reading a large number of people's visions of the future of education is the relative absence of any mention of underlying values or beliefs. For example, someone might write "learning will no longer be dependant on time and place". This ubiquitous learning vision is shared by a considerable number of people. But why should learning become ubiquitous? What pedagogical project or design for society requires people to learn where ever they like, whenever they like? I am not saying it is a good or a bad thing, only that the proposition exists for itself, as an end in itself, without any direct reference to a framework of values.

A few people did explicitly mention values or pointed to them in the images they gave. Here is an example of how the values behind a vision can be expressed in down to earth terms: "a world where someone out there is happy to share the answer to each of your questions, and someone out there will share your enthusiasm, comment and build on your opinions, photos, videos and ideas - and you can do the same for them." Or this other example: "…create a school where people want to be, where they want to learn and which they leave enriched and happy, a school open to all and to all paths of learning, a place of learning …"

It is true that we asked people to express visions and not values or beliefs. But visions without the associated values appear somehow disincarnated. They lack substance. You don't know where they are coming from or where they are going. Why should one assess "both process and end product", for example, as one person suggested? Is such a statement a question of values or beliefs? Or is it the consequence of a scientific hypothesis or law? As it stands, the statement takes something for granted that maybe should be looked at more closely.

As we move from vision to the associated project, the values sometimes become more evident, if not explicit. It is not always in the vision that the values or beliefs or underlying hypotheses are most apparent. For example, the project proposition that a study be made on how technologies are used in sectors other than education suggests that innovation in education could come from such a juxtaposition of activities and contexts that don't normally go together. Such a juxtaposition is a central technique to creativity.

If the values or beliefs are not made explicit in talking of future visions, the projects based on those visions run the risk of producing futures founded on quite different values than those implicitly intended. For example, starting from a vision of personalised, flexible learning and the related need for appropriate assessment, one author suggests developing a "mobile assessment / evidence capturing device for teachers". Seen in terms of potential values, the personalization and flexibility of learning could be designed to strengthen the autonomy of the learner on the belief that society will be richer, more caring and more satisfying if citizens can take control of their own learning. If these were the values expressed, then there is a risk that the proposed device could favour quite other values such as control and disempowerment of the learner. In our hypothetical interpretation, it is almost as if two levels of values co-exist. On one level there is an explicit drive to make learners autonomous and responsible for their learning. On another level, there is a dominant assessment culture that seeks to control. The vision provided is aligned with the former, but the device could well work for the latter.

Alan McCluskey, St-Blaise

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ISSN: 1664-834X Copyright © , Alan McCluskey, info@connected.org
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Created: December 6th, 2006 - Last up-dated: December 17th, 2006