Mass education Systems’s achievement and limitations

I’ve have been dedicating quite some time to thinking about #edtech (Educational Technology), participating in online discussions on the topic and trying to learn as much as i could about it. I am convinced that technology (computing capabilities, ie. computers, smartphones and such, plus the network of networks aka. the Internet) has the power needed to transform educational practices.

I am also convinced that said educational practices -from the way we design the learning interaction to what the student carries in her backpack- in their current iteration do not respond to the opportunities that are present, to the potentialities of those opportunities. They merely are a rote repetition of patterns that were created in the 19th century. The fact that they are rote repetition is -unfortunately- quite appropriate, considering that rote repetition was a pillar of that system.

I feel like i must start by acknowledging that Mass Education Systems, as represented by the Education Ministries of Education of most of the world, achieved something unique in the history of the world: They managed to bring reading to the masses, inverting the amount of literate people to 85%. The following graph shows eloquently the magnitude of this transformation:


(the graph was taken from: )

We owe so much to that achievement. We can build so much of humanity’s future thanks to this achievement. The scientific and technological marvels that are constantly being built and reported day after day are the result of this massive effort that was achieved in just the last 200 years.

While every citizen of the Earth should be thankful to their teachers, education administrators and knowledge providers, we are appreciative of the result more than we are attached to the methods that were used to achieve this. The mass education systems that were rolled out in the early 20th century responded -necessarily- to the restrictions and the needs of that time. It also made the best of the technological possibilities that were available. In my next post, i will describe what i perceive were those restrictions, needs, and technological possibilities, trying to explain how they framed the design of the mass education systems.

To finish this first post, a few questions i like to ask of educators:

  • Does it make sense to do things the way they were done 200 years ago?
  • In which contexts would we be want to be caught saying “This is how we’ve been doing this for one hundred years, so there’s no need to change”?
  • How could it be acceptable to say “Well, the context might have changed quite a bit (you know those pesky computers and all), but the founders of mass education systems had already foreseen all those changes, so we’re good here.”?