From Age to Age – the effects of the shift in educational paradigms
- On 08-02-2011
It is currently a frustrating and challenging time in education. It seems as if teachers and educators are speaking one language and having one set of outcomes for the students they teach, and politicians, the media, and parents are speaking another.
Because they are.
It is occurring because they are standing in different paradigms. We are in the midst of the biggest paradigm shift in the human existence and we all are experiencing issues that I suggest are normal to the shifting of paradigms.
To give you a sense of this and give some context to what the education system will be going through over the next few decades let’s look back at the last global paradigm shift.
Pre-Industrial Age to Industrial Age (up to mid-1700’s)
Prior to the Industrial Revolution (1770’s) a broad (or liberal) education was limited to the wealthier middle and upper classes who could afford tuition. For the most part education was provided by religious organisations and focussed on Latin, scripture study and Aristotle’s works (logic). This was appropriate to the social and economic structures of the time as it was the wealthy middle and upper classes that controlled trade and political power. There was no need to educate the large proportion of the population as they only needed sufficient education to ply their trade (which for most people was quite local). Life for the masses was subsistence living and life expectancy and quality of life was quite low for the majority of the population.
During the 18th and 19th centuries there were several important developments that led to the creation of the current educational system.
Firstly, following the Reformation, education theory took a leap forward with Comenius (1592 – 1670), amongst others, proposing the idea of human learning as a progression from youth to maturity and from elementary to advanced knowledge. This lead to the concept of universal education covering topics and subjects that were actually useful to the life of the increasingly urbanised towns and cities where the population had grown significantly. There was resistance to this movement as “too much schooling would make the working poor discontented with their lot”. The class system saw the education of the poor as a threat.
It was really the Industrial Revolution that spurred Governments into providing national education systems because industry required workers with more than limited reading skills and a catechetic focus. As the period of the new Industrial Age progressed and democracy widened, development of public education was slow. It took many years and an extraordinary amount of investment and political will to develop the educational systems. In countries such as Australia and the USA the push was for a common model of education to reduce ignorance (and thus crime) and create good, moral and law-abiding citizens. In the UK the public school system was initially developed in-line with the entrenched class system and later theories of “intelligence” to ensure a divided public education system.
Regardless of the country, public education focussed on what could be considered a factory-model with children in “date of manufacture” groups, “one size fits all” teaching and curricula, where most learning was by rote, memorisation and instilled in students “the advantages of being orderly, clean, punctual, decent and courteous, and avoiding all things which would make them disagreeable to other people”. To ensure quality control students were tested to determine if they knew what they needed to know to work in industry. As the prosperity of the countries grew, this industrial educational model embedded into the fabric of society and the systems and structures have become entrenched in how western society functions.
During this growing Age of Industrialisation this educational approach worked well.
It allowed for the economic and social rise of people from the lower classes. In the countries that educated their populations, there has been a huge leap in the quality of life and life expectancy for the masses. It expanded trade for manufactured goods and services beyond localised villages and created opportunities worldwide. It prepared people to operate in an industrialised and urbanised society. It allowed for countries to efficiently build their infrastructure and economic output around an industrial framework (as Seth Godin points out in “Lynchpin”, most corporations and organisations still follow the factory formula). It allowed for economies of scale by being able to educate large groups of people quickly using minimal resources.
For around two hundred years worked really, really well.
What there is to note is that in the shift of paradigms during the Industrial Revolution are:
- It took a while for the infrastructure, governmental systems, and educational practices to create the public educational systems to be formulated and then mature to be effective
- It took visionary political will working over a long period time to ensure the embedding of the paradigm
- There was resistance by people and organisations in power
- Economic necessity and profitability drove the change
- Education lead to the increasing democratisation of the countries as people gained the knowledge and wherewithal to create a more equitable system for all.
- Corporate, government and educational working structures and systems began to match the new paradigm for efficiency and prosperity purposes
- People were educated and trained to fit the new industrial paradigm
Industrial Age to Information Age (1980’s ff)
With the advent of personal computing, the internet, and social networking there has been another profound paradigm shift in humanity.
No longer is information scarce and knowledge held by the few. There is a wealth of information and knowledge accessible within moments. Experts around the world are at your fingertips on any topic you wish with increasing access to live feeds, videos, lectures, blogs, podcasts, webinars, and so on. And this will become progressively richer and expansive over time with better search engines, more validated and expert voices going online, and the exponential growth in computing technology and software.
No longer is trade confined to your local suburb, state or country. Individuals and organisations can develop niche markets and create sustainable income by reaching out to individuals and marketing worldwide. Companies can compete globally online. In some domains there is no longer the need to have the same bricks and mortar investment to run a successful company. Everyone now has access to creating businesses (not just those with capital, wealth or power).
No longer is media only the purview and voices of the rich and powerful. Individuals can express their views, argue and debate, follow the news, create the news, campaign, learn about what is happening in the world … all from home. A progressively greater number of voices will be heard and interests served.
I could go on but you know many of these things and probably see much more than I. In its essence we are at the beginning of a period of human history that is rapidly changing. We cannot predict what the world will look like in 10 years let alone by the end of this century.
What you should note however is that:
- It will take a while for the infrastructure, governmental systems, and educational practices to create the new public educational systems to be formulated and then mature to be effective
This will cause much of the debate raging in countries as they compare themselves via assessments like PISA and then explore and develop structures and systems that are forward thinking and prepared for the constantly changing world. I suspect that Finland’s model of education will lead the world for many years to come.
- It will take visionary political will working over a long period time to ensure the embedding of the information age paradigm
This is one of the challenges because we have yet to see people with the political will to challenge the status quo and plan for the long term future. In fact, the system of short terms for political parties and pandering to the status quo has resulted in a democratic system that only allows small incremental changes.
- There will be resistance by people and organisations in power
We are currently witnessing this quite a lot from the poor media portrayal of schools, politicians and parents still thinking purely from an industrial age concept of the world, and businesses trying to model the education system on their industrial model
- Economic necessity and profitability will drive the change
As prosperity becomes driven by opportunities arising from the Information Age Paradigm then this will become more so. I suspect that there will be a greater diversity of blended industrial and information models arising for companies and corporations. We never lost the need for agricultural structures and systems with the shift away from a purely agricultural paradigm.
- Education will lead to the increasing democratisation of the countries as people gained the knowledge and wherewithal to create a more equitable system for all
Notice the rise of organisations such as Avaaz, GetUp in Australia and Wikileaks. As people are more informed and able to collaborate and organise over vast distances there will be a resultant increase in the rise of equitable democracy.
- Corporate, government and educational working structures and systems will begin to match the new paradigm for efficiency and prosperity purposes
See Google, Facebook, Amazon, Zappos, Intel, etc. Their workplaces are models of creativity, fun, industriousness, and innovation.
- People will be educated and trained to fit the new information age paradigm
Educational systems and approaches will change. The one size fits all teacher directed model is already experiencing challenges and digital native students are no longer satisfied with boring, content-focussed education. I can imagine that within 10-15 years the development of educational hardware and software will match to address the wide student interests and academic variance that exists within our schools. Currently we are dealing with the technological challenges that our funding and infrastructure does not allow for.
It is interesting to note that educational approaches such as inquiry learning, divergent thinking, and differentiation has been around for decades (much like Comenius educational philosophy was around for decades) and is only slowly now being implemented in schools. However, there is no throwing the baby out with the bath water. Great education has always been great learning.
The work that we (Intuyu Consulting) focus on in schools is working with them to shift their thinking, staff culture, staff planning and structures to the new information age paradigm BEFORE they necessarily have the technology in place. Technology has always been an accelerator … not the answer. We empower the staff to be the creators of what works for them and their circumstance as they stand in the bigger picture. What we have found is that they are enlivened and begin to work with each other and the students to create exceptional learning, projects and results while still operating inside of the current educational and funding paradigm.
 Gillard D (2011) Education in England: a brief history, www.educationengland.org.uk/history
 Chitty C (2004) Education Policy in Britain Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
 The Evolution of Education in Australia, http://www.historyaustralia.org.au/ifhaa/schools/evelutio.htm
 Sir Ken Robinson, Changing Education Paradigms, 2010
 Lynchpin: Are you Indispensible? Seth Godin, 2010
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