School Days Are Here Again - Guest post by Alan Bruce

September 29, 2014 by Antonio Moreira Teixeira   Comments (0)

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As promised in my first post, the EDEN President's Blog is a collective voice of our network's leadership. Fulfilling that promise, I'm delighted to introduce you to our Blog's first guest writer my dear friend and EDEN Vice-President Alan Bruce. He wrote us an inspiring post sharing his vision on how innovation can contribute to shape the future of our schools. You can find more about Alan's background, interests and work here.

As you know, school innovation has a special place in EDEN's heart and next year the Open Classroom initiative will once again celebrate this close connection. In his post, Alan also expresses his vivid impressions of Brazil, our colleagues there and their work. Let me just share with you at this respect that EDEN and ABED - the Brazilian association of distance education have just decided to deepen their long and successful collaboration, by extending the areas of cooperation and increasing reciprocity of benefits and networking opportunities for our members.


September has many associations. For most of us, these center around our memories of school and the bitter-sweet experience of leaving home, meeting friends old and new, carting books point to point and even occasionally learning. School is embedded in our cultures, maturation, discovery (information, knowledge and rules) and rites of passage. School is where we learn to define our abilities and skills, or have them defined for us. And, at more invisible levels, where we learn to understand the nature of power, authority and our eventual ordained place in the social system.

Many decades ago, writers such as Illich and Freire profoundly challenged concepts around inherited schooling. Writers and practitioners like them took us on new voyages to look again at the potential of the wonder of learning. From the explosive joy of early childhood discovery to the impact of critical reflection, learning at its core is as much about learning to ‘be’ even more than learning to ‘do’.


In this intersection of hope and potential, amazing things are now happening in our school systems. Many of these things are facilitated by the ubiquitous and transformative technologies that have impacted on all the other dimensions of our lives. In a very sad way, many of our schools remain bastions of opposition to the truly emancipatory potential of human learning. Under the guise of standards or quality (including many valid concerns) many schools have deep levels of suspicion about social media, tablets, homework on Twitter, open educational resources or internet based research systems. Resistance to these technologies (from teachers and administrators, if not pupils) implies a King Knut style attempt to halt the waves. ‘Real’ study is still associated as the gold standard: where the process of learning is reduced to hard work, memorization, recall and laborious culling of facts.


Advanced ICT and e-learning do not replace the work of learning. But they can, at best, supplement it with delight. Learning is not about an arcane mystery tour where only the few survive. Rather it is a collective and communal exploration of our world based on curiosity, passion and an unbridled sense that alternatives are always possible.


My September has been framed by two images. One is my youngest daughter commencing her secondary education career in a wonderful yet traditional, slightly technophobic school. An environment where she has to tote over 20 kilos of textbooks back and forth each day, where mobile phones are confiscated if used and where the few available computers belong in a museum. When she gets home there is a rush to her iPad and an alternative universe of communication and knowledge access.


The second image is a marvelous school (EMEF Zilka Salaberry) in the northern reaches of Sao Paulo, beside a favela where young people clambered over me to show me the solar powered car they had constructed for me that morning. Where inspirational teachers guided them through the wonders of a world now accessible in their imaginations. Where technology-enhanced communication and international linkage is the norm, not exception. Where creativity does not give false hope but real potential for change. Where they can now communicate with me and give me the privilege of sharing some of their voyage to adulthood.


Photo by Alan Bruce
Photo by Alan Bruce


We need to embark on this challenge to let advanced technologies supplement and enhance schooling to become the engine of really liberating education in the coming years. To replace rote teaching with dynamic facilitated learning. Teachers re-shaped as mentors and guides. Particularly in Europe, this strategy was never more badly needed.

Alan Bruce is Vice-President of EDEN. He is the Director of Universal Learning Systems – an international consultancy firm specializing in research, education, training and project management. Dr Bruce is a sociologist who undertook his academic studies in Los Angeles, Galway, Amsterdam and Hull. He has lectured in universities in France, England and Ireland and worked in policy research for the European Commission in Brussels. Read more here.



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