Kamis, 01 Maret 2012

0 The rise of the individual learner

ICT, the demise of UK
schooling and the rise of
the individual learner
Jack Sanger
It is a capital mistake to theorise before one has data.
(Sherlock Holmes, A Scandal in Bohemia,
by Arthur Conan Doyle)
This is a chapter that deals with United Kingdom educational futures, and
as such it would be dubiously regarded by Sherlock Holmes. On the other
hand it may be regarded as a useful exploration of vital current educational
issues, and as contributing to the debate concerning the rethinking of
teaching and learning over the oncoming years. Essentially, it begins with
a critical view of what education has achieved in the British experiment in
mass schooling over the last 100 or so years. Against this backdrop, the
rise and rise of ICT, together with a view of education as a consumer
market for corporate provision, is seen to pose a threat to stagnating
educational systems. The chapter then explores briefly examples from what
is happening in the higher education sector, with threats emerging from
corporate and virtual provision, as evidence of changes that are already
under way at the higher end of the educational spectrum. This is followed
by the application of a scenario-building technique to infer four visions of
what might happen to the schooling process in the early part of the twentyfirst
century, based on present evidence. It ends with the author’s own
view of which of these, currently, is the most likely to occur.
We are coming to the end of the great experiment in mass schooling.
The Government’s continuation of the regressive crusade of its predecessors
to control the teaching and learning processes through an outdated National
Curriculum will soon seem like some stubborn but ill-conceived effort to
hold back the tide. In Canute’s case it was a deliberate attempt on his part
to demonstrate the inexorable force of nature over the powerlessness of
the human individual. In the Government’s it is a demonstration to the people of its faith in a system of mass education: a system which, on a
daily lived basis, has seen far more failure than success, has produced
generations of spectacularly unskilled workers, with absurdly high rates
of illiteracy and innumeracy and which extinguishes the desire to continue
to learn in so many, young and old. The beginning of the new millennium
will see the need to re-think the cost of schooling, the plant, the teachers,
the support systems, as ICT becomes cheap and more easily accessible to
the everyday user. How long will we support a Victorian system that tends
to produce a meritocratic elite and a mass of barely educated,
disenfranchised and uninterested also-rans?
We belong to an emerging society in which schools increasingly attune
their activities to the pursuit of ‘objectives’ or ‘outcomes’, dislocated from
the everyday lived world of their charges. The prescriptive focus of the
National Curriculum on redundant content, skills and competences is
not a dream for the future, or a survival kit for the present but, rather, a
fundamentalist nostalgia for a time when every worker had his or her
place, followed a single occupational future and when morality was
constructed by an establishment of Church and State. The exception is
the concentration on literacy and numeracy as being ‘process-oriented’
essentials in any citizen’s armoury.
Meanwhile, our students live in a world of pluralist morality, constantly
evidenced in TV talk shows, designer clothes, soaps, sex, unplanned births,
sexually transmitted disease, recreational drugs, music, computer games and
videos. They are the consumers of expensive ads and the objects they advertise
belong to the world of entertainment and edutainment. Every minute of any
day they can enter high-gloss mediated worlds that cost astronomically more
to construct than any of their experiences in the classroom. For them a PC is
a leisure window. But a cultural airlock separates the two worlds. In schools
the PC is a work tool. Schools provide no routes for young students to
understand, navigate and deconstruct media-induced experience, unless they
are taking media studies or sociology. Nor are they allowed to be creative
with it. In the main, teachers disown popular media as shallow entertainment,
likely to cause more ill than good, the source of children’s illiteracy, lack of
concentration, violence or premature sexual drive (Sanger et al. 1997).
In the world outside the classroom the young consumer is gradually
being educated in ways a school does not begin to recognise. Using
entertainment technology, the young user can develop hand-eye coordination,
spatial relations, graphical awareness, parallel reading from
non-linear scripts, multi-line plots and problem solving. They can browse
the internet to satisfy the quixotic desires of anarchism, fetishism or
consumerism. Edutainment opens immediate access to gender politics, the
bizarre and the dysfunctional, the disillusionment with work and the new
profiles of family life, the cross-cultural, the interracial, the nature of war
and suffering, abuse, poverty, famine, disease, the hypocrisy of politicians
and the lies of adults. In other words, a child has an entrée, through the
vast array of available technology, into the same Pandora’s box with which
adults have to grapple. Edutainment knows no national borders. It is a
dynamic Escher lithograph of surfaces and depths, hiding, revealing,
distorting and making constantly ambiguous.
In schools, rules and conventions constrain you in what you say and do
and think. They determine what is knowledge, what is useful, what is
moral, what is right for the child at this time, at that age. But the child
moves through an airlock into the unregulated world beyond, feeling the
sudden withdrawal of the steadying hand on the shoulder, to be left to
stumble upon, to discover, to explore the unrestricted. Young people inhabit,
more and more, media-rich bedrooms (Livingstone and Bovill 1999) with
video recorders, cable TV, games machines and PCs. The domestic market
for technology has outstripped any possibility of schools keeping up. The
marketing of domestic merchandise is now so accurate that consumers
can buy goods whose ‘lean manufacture’ is designed to individual
requirement, whereas, in schools, the basic unit of consumerism is ‘the
class’. Just as teachers do not, in their classrooms, venture into popular
culture, except in the specialist areas of sociology or media studies, in the
main, parents don’t interfere that much in their children’s lives, since all of
this is ‘since their time’ and the technology is bemusing and/or intimidating.
Given this brief scenario of the present state of technology and education,
what futures are likely to stem from it? How can we make predictions
from it? A University of Michigan website provides a possible
methodological route forward.
This University of Michigan site uses a brainstorming approach to
delineate four possible future scenarios for higher education in the USA. It
describes the rationale of creating a structured matrix from the brainstorm:
The four scenarios that grew out of this structuring matrix can be
seen as explorations of the four corners of the possible. They are
meant to provoke thought and discussion about the future of higher
education and scholarly communication.
Their original brainstorm produced the following list:
• cost containment
• productivity of the faculty (staff members)
• faculty work rules and practices
• teaching-research balance
• competitors, present and potential
• new collaborations, public and private
• the nature of knowledge work
• digital literacy/kinds of knowing
• educational technology
• digital copyright
• physical v. digital space
• certification
• student testing-quality control
• worldwide student demography
• public accountability.
The brainstorm suggests to those involved that higher education will
undoubtedly be under very significant threat from external pressures and
internal complacency:
As a result, we believe education represents the most fertile new
market for investors in many years. It has a combination of large size
(approximately the same size as health care), disgruntled users, low
utilisation of technology, and the highest strategic importance of any
activity in which this country (USA) engages…. Finally, existing
managements are sleepy after years of monopoly.
Resulting from this immersion in debate about the key forces that may
affect higher education in the early part of this new century, they produce
quadrants whose axes are competition and digital literacy. At the high
end of the competition axis, education is a market open to all-comers,
public and private. At the low end, it remains a market competed for by
present university interests.
And so they move to the development of the four scenarios. On the
website, these scenarios are written in four different formats to maximise
drama, from the anecdotal first-person ruminations on the demise of a
tradition to the third-person post hoc analysis of market change. For
example, one begins:
You are all aware of my deep regret, my personal sense of loss on
this occasion. I’ve been with this institution for 22 years, and it’s a
small enough place that I know all of you personally. So enough of
the official talk of falling enrolments and bad investments and
infrastructure debt overload…. But we underestimated both the drop
in the life span of a college degree and the price students would pay
to have that degree renewed again and again.
Another states:
Multimedia pushed Chavez and Pinsky into the new realm of faculty
stars. A select few of these digerati pulled in multimedia dollar incomes
from their digital packagings, whether CD-ROMs or online courses.
Many universities positioned themselves well in this area by taking on
the role of ‘studio’ to their stars—acting as production company and
distributor. The star system increased competition among faculty and
began to make the AAU look in some respects like the NFL—a few
superstars demanding and getting outrageous salaries and bonuses.
The narrative augmentation is stripped away, edited and summarised here,
in order to give a sense of some of the issues that underpin each scenario.
Low competition—low digital literacy in HE
Universities stand still. Shrinking student numbers result in higher fees.
Academic productivity contracts introduced. Some turn into academies
for foreign students. Some develop contracts with corporations to provide
accredited training. ‘Life-long learning contracts introduced.’ Some
technology introduced on campus but it is peripheral to the old fleshand-
blood pedagogies. Big Ten get bigger and sell their information and
resources to others—knowledge retail outlets. Mergers take place.
Corporate providers leave the education market alone. Parents begin to
look for alternatives to the high cost provision.
High competition—low digital literacy in HE
Fall in parental support for universities. New multimedia providers move
in with government support. Leaner, more responsive, faster changing,
edutainment-based training and education. Specialised providers develop
virtual courses for professional markets. Assessment and certification
online. Tied to a continuing professional development on subscription
version of life-long learning. Students stay home to study using technology.
Big Ten survive. Others quickly die.
High competition—high digital literacy in HE
Most universities can’t compete because of increasing professional
specialisation. A high proportion go to the wall. Corporate providers do it
better: onsite, at work. Universities too expensive for most of the workforce.
Digital resources introduce real-time problem solving, modelling and
complexity far more graphically than can staff in classes. The best universities
survive, offering an education for the whole person—expensively.
Low competition—high digital literacy in HE
The paperless age has dawned, as universities become virtual. They have
beaten off the competition from corporate providers. Professors become
‘stars’ as multimedia rights are protected and their work is sold globally.
They leave tenure and become educational consultants. Tenure becomes
the coinage of second-class lecturers. Borderless provision means huge
markets, particularly for United States’ super universities. Actual residency
becomes minimal or unimportant for all foreign students. Introduction
of team certification and other forms of co-operative certification to meet
industries’ needs for certification.
Looking at the four scenarios provokes, perhaps, an uncomfortable
feeling of recognition. None of them seems too extreme to be ruled out,
at least by this reader. There are many examples of private industryuniversity
collaboration. For example, Deakin University in Australia
has a collaborative project with the Coles Myer retail outlet to provide
training and qualifications for all staff. Ford has a ‘private’ university in
Valencia, Spain, that also involves collaboration with Anglia Polytechnic
University in the delivery of Masters’ courses for middle managers. The
largest development in Britain involves the siting of the Microsoft research
facility next to Cambridge University in order to secure ‘the best brains’.
However, these developments follow a traditional pattern that is about
to be ruptured by the desire of industry to move beyond collaboration
and into the market of education itself. A current collaborative project,
involving the Centre for Educational Policy and Leadership at Anglia
Polytechnic University and commissioned by the CVCP and HEFCE, is
exploring the impact of virtual and corporate universities in Europe and
the USA on UK higher education. A parallel study is being undertaken in
Australia. The UK study will provide advice to policy makers on how
higher education institutions should respond to the new global markets,
considering both the opportunities and challenges which are being created
and the potential for UK universities to compete in the new environment.
The recommendations from the work cover both national policy and the
implications for individual institutions in terms of
• the regulatory framework in which the higher education sector
• the changing demands from higher education consumers both in
domestic and international markets;
• accreditation and quality assurance issues;
• the organisation and governance of institutions;
• teaching and learning strategies;
• staffing, infrastructure and overall costs.
This enquiry into the threat of virtual and corporate competition is already
touching on many of the elements included above. It suggests that most
British universities still do not realise that ICT is not just a bolt-on tool
to traditional delivery. Nor is it just a convenient distance-learning
instrument. Eventually it will provide completely individualised learning
opportunities for every world citizen, a true multimedia learning
environment in the home and at the touch of a button.
Following the same analytical approach, what are the main issues facing
schools, as a result of technological change, in the UK during the early
part of this century? Here are some suggestions:
• The National Curriculum
• children’s rights
• multi-ethnicity and religious diversity
• cost containment
• productivity of the teachers
• national conditions of service
• teaching-professional development balance
• competitors, present and potential
• new collaborations, public and private
• the nature of knowledge for working futures
• global economy and national needs
• digital literacy/kinds of knowing
• educational technology
• digital copyright
• physical v. digital space
• qualifications
• student testing/quality control
• worldwide student demography
• public accountability
• parental involvement.
Utilising the same scenario-building techniques as were used for
Michigan’s website, let us construct four possible schooling futures for
around the year 2020. We will use the same axes—competition and digital
literacy. They are not mutually exclusive but embrace a wide range of
possibility. The point of the exercise, it is reiterated, is not to predict with
certainty but to embrace a wide range of possible eventuality and afford
ourselves time to think proactively about what actions we might take,
before events overtake us.
Governments continue to act regressively, concentrating on the 3Rs plus
bolt-on computer literacy. Class size increases to around 40–50 pupils
per teacher owing to teacher shortages. Annual teaching hours are
increased. Extra-curricular activities suspended indefinitely. Buildings and
resources deteriorate. Bigger percentage of pupils suspended and expelled.
Closed-circuit television and guards introduced into schools, thus reducing
the curriculum and staff budgets. Boys’ underachievement levels break
all records. Male proportion of the working population continues to
decrease. Proportion of male teachers in secondary schools drops below
30 per cent. Private-sector and religion-funded schooling grow again for
those of the middle classes who want safe schooling and inside track.
Schools become too expensive to be run by the State. The end of national
boundaries as multi-nationals enter education industry. Curricular focus
on the ‘Global Worker’. Governments collaborate with Disney,
Nickelodeon and other private providers for edutainment channels,
multimedia convergence education in the home, individualised curricula
with electronic continuous assessment and certification and video-link
help-lines. Pupils attend community centres for two days per week to
learn citizenship, parenting, personal care, multicultural heritage, political
awareness, media studies, finance and leisure studies. Children’s rights
result in their being respected as customers.
Successful schools get larger and larger, like mini-industrial estates, while
unsuccessful schools close and are sold off to finance and merge with
these expansions. Schools’ sole aims are to meet league table and National
Curriculum requirements. Professional development becomes highly
instrumentalised. More pupils suspended and expelled to maintain success
rates. More pupils forced to ‘leave’ rather than take exams that would
have negative effect on league tables. Highly resourced intranet with multiuser
interface run by school conglomerates. School-refuser centres spring
up, run by Group4 and other private companies but without real
resources, thus perpetuating and enlarging an illiterate, innumerate and
computer-illiterate underclass.
Free-market differentiation
Government gradually moves out of schooling, except for the no-profit
bottom 40 per cent and special education. Schools become privatised
and specialised. National resources poured into health and the ageing
population. Private industry endows and controls its own schools to
‘grow’ workers with industry-standard multi-functional skills.
Specialised science schools, arts schools and language schools develop,
supported by their own dedicated technologies. Universities set up school
contracts to take sixth-formers and provide continuous intranet-based
assessment. Bottom 40 per cent attend new ‘survival schools’.
Some early signs of the above scenarios are already emerging. Current
education policy in England seeks to establish a national ‘core’ curriculum
and a diffusion of learning into the workplace. Another example, this
one from the USA: the Cisco Networking Academy Program (CISCO
Systems Inc. 1999) is a partnership between business, governments and
communities. It provides a model for e-learning. Cisco already has 2,532
academies in 50 American states and 39 countries. At the time of writing,
the British Government is announcing the arrival of new kinds of
secondary school, outside the remit of local authorities, schools that will
be wholly or partially funded by private enterprise, religious bodies or
charities. While there are hopes that these schools will develop in what
are currently underprivileged areas, bringing much-needed resources to
these areas, the die is cast for some of the scenarios outlined above coming
to be realised. The model has already been developed in the USA, where
Ford Motors funds schools, partially to develop its staff of the future
and partially to nurture its consuming clients of the future.
The seeds of the future are more often than not perfectly visible in the
present—but irritatingly indistinguishable from the rest of the data with
which we are confronted. Only historians are capable of 20–20 vision.
The work of the author, mentioned at the beginning of this text, involved
case studies in both domestic and school settings. In it the chasm between
home and school was inescapable. The later study by Livingstone and
Bovill (1999) tends to confirm at least the domestic side of the equation.
As commercial interests look to open up domestic markets even further
and accelerate the progress of convergence, the arrival of dedicated
multimedia cable channels will find education too lucrative a market to
ignore. In a sense recent governments have increased the likelihood of
this happening by establishing the National Curriculum. They have
created a market entity that can be manipulated en masse. There is implicit
18 The cultural context
acceptance of this by the British Government. In his recent address
‘Modernising comprehensive education’, the Minister for Education David
Blunkett (2000) announced that by 2003 one in every four UK schools
will have strong support from business.
And what of the future? Which is the most likely scenario? Certainly
education will have to compete for state funds in an increasingly
competitive climate of social provision. An ageing population with
increased life spans and insecure or non-existent pension provision will
create untold havoc with national fiscal policy in the areas of health and
social services. Governments will need to raise taxes and push the cost of
education increasingly on to the private citizen. Reducing this cost will
see the demise of schools in the post-primary sector and the rise of
individualised provision through convergent technologies using
multimedia programming. Whoever may be providers managing the
transition to individualised online learning and assessment, so that they
are sensitive to learning styles and maintain motivation, will become
very wealthy indeed. They will employ a new breed of highly paid
professional educators who will be at ease with distance education and
will number their students in the hundreds. The model has begun in
higher education. The Higher Education Funding Council for England is
already establishing an e-university. This e-university will deliver online
courses. It involves a select group of institutions with overseas partners
and commercial associates.
There will still be compulsory attendance for one or two days per week
at centres that manage socialisation and citizenship as the Government
tries to keep society cohesive, but the citizenry will grow increasingly
anarchic and less compliant as they access and choose the information,
beliefs and attitudes that interest them. Education will no longer be a tool
of social control but a marketplace of competing religious and secular
ideologies, each with an imperative to create a consumerism that pays. It
will become harder for individuals to develop a critical understanding of
the bias and media manipulation of commercial interests. No sooner will
we have thrown off the shackles of one form of mass schooling and
education than the vacuum will be filled by another—more pernicious,
equally constraining and equally unlikely to enable citizens to become
critical consumers of the social forces which enmesh them.
In order that none of the various doomsday scenarios is realised will
require the British Government (along with other governments) to rethink
the notion of what constitutes a curriculum (national or otherwise) and
make the consumption of media and media technology central issues in
education. It will result in a citizenry which is even less gullible in the
face of government spin doctoring than is currently the case but one
which might withstand and influence, for the good, the curricula of
corporate interests.
Blunkett, D. (2000) ‘Modernising comprehensive education’; online (available: http:/
CISCO Systems Inc. (1999) CISCO E-Learning; online (available: http://
Livingstone, S. and Bovill, M. (1999) Young People, New Media, London:
LondonSchool of Economics and Political Science .
Sanger, J. with Willson, J., Davies, B. and Whittaker, R. (1997) Young Children,
Videos and Computer Games: Issues for Parents and Teachers, London: Falmer.

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