Change Wars (Leading Edge)

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Lucasfilm could skip all the red tape and make a Star War whenever and wherever the heck it wanted. Even if we can't play them, I'd love to experience more stories from that era.

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Climate change, overfishing and pollution would naturally seem harmful for marine life. But one group of animals appears to be thriving: jellyfish. They build on tested ideas and are consistently being more finely tuned, probably the more so, the higher the stakes. Standards are normally proposed and defended by those especially institutions with a relatively secure position, and those, which have also successfully met the criteria used.

The standards must also be taken to be well intentioned and ambitious; they are enforced to ensure high quality work in the system. Nevertheless, they practically ensure that new things, new materials, new content will only have a very marginal space within the curriculum. The situation may, however, be more serious. This is particularly interesting as it suggests that gradually developing mistrust is understood to be largely due to a lack of information by the population, which then has to be remedied, rather than due to stagnation within the system.

Ravitch [ 13 ], in her condemnation of the current discourse on tests, suggests that the strong alliance of testing and privatisation controls the current political features of the educational system and there is no question that much of the current debate is in the throes of a PISA race, which emphasises certain literacies.

In that connection, Sahlberg [ 38 ] has suggested that much of the public and political debate falls under a framework he calls the Global Education Reform Movement GERM. This framework has six key ingredients, which may exert overwhelming control on the way education develops and consequently any decision regarding the shaping of educational content.

These are, according to Sahlberg, the emphasis on standardized teaching and learning to the detriment of innovative exploration of such practices , focus on literacy and numeracy to the detriment of other subjects, such as art, music and sports , the tendency to teach for predetermined results to the detriment of a wide range of novel areas , the inclination to borrow reform ideas to the detriment of dynamic authentic experimentation , the demand for test-based accountability with enormous effort spent on testing and preparation. And all of this results in substantial external control - building up enormous bureaucratic control to the detriment of dynamic professionalism.

There can also be found an emphasis on placing trust in the education market as well as an underlying message that the quality of modern education is determined by PISA scores based on certain globally accepted skills, in particular literacy and numeracy. All of these aspects taken together present an incredibly narrow basis on which to judge the whole modern educational edifice which stifles innovative grass-root efforts, with conomitant signs of globalised educational governance [ 39 ].

Traditional disciplines were valuable. This may imply that the structure of the curriculum is difficult to change. The current ideas, their underlying rationale, their apparent sensibility or utility and the ambition behind their introduction were all convincing and credible some time ago, even though it took considerable time for them to win their place.

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Of course it is still valuable to learn mathematics, grammar, spelling, physics, chemistry, natural history, and perhaps also Latin, or Greek and the classical texts or learn some of the modern European languages that have been the ingredients of many curricula. The question is if it is more valuable than something else? For the curricular debate, the problem arises when an attempt is made to determine the power or value of individual subjects or their detailed content only in absolute, rather than relative terms. An excellent example of this is the debate presented by different authors in Bramall and White [ 40 ] on the pros and cons of mathematics as a compulsory subject in secondary education.

The disagreement is not about whether individual subjects can be shown to have inherent absolute value, but rather if they can be shown to be more valuable than one or several alternative subjects that have recently emerged. Here we mention in particular genetics, artificial intelligence and sustainability, 9 or ancient subjects in new guises such as communication and ethics. The subjects mentioned here are not intended as a judgment of what should be the ingredients of general education, but the point is rather to underline that the discussion of what education is, i.

The emphasis on the time-honoured form of the curriculum may probably be traced to older generations in the educational debate and to a long-standing tradition, but it may also be influenced by the judgement of those outstanding young people who did so well with the traditional curriculum.

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On the basis of their continuing success, within the traditional academic or vocational environment, where they often play a leading role, there is a chance that they will attribute some causal relationship between the curriculum and their own success and therefore become champions of the traditional content and its generic value. The intrinsic strength of traditional subjects shows very clearly the dilemma for the innovative discourse. It is not a question of whether the old ideas are good; it is a question of whether there are new ideas that may be potentially better, more powerful, even if they have not been fully developed.

It is thus the comparative problem that we have to deal with, not the absolute question. There are two explicit lines of argument that make changes in and from the traditional subjects particularly difficult. People often ask if there is a need to learn mathematics, languages, science or whatever subject that comes to mind, when they are in fact asking if it would be useful, or helpful to have some mastery of them.

There are very few subjects or skills that are not valuable to know or master but very few that one individual — or even a large group — needs, i. Yet another component of the traditional subject legacy is the idea of the content basics, in particular the fundamental principles of mathematics, physics, biology, geography, etc. There are probably very few who would question that some basics must be in place, not only literacy and arithmetic, but also the basics in the natural and even social sciences, in particular history, and of course the grammar of languages.

Fox [ 43 ] forcefully argues that the sensible option might often be to skip the basics of a subject and jump right to the frontiers of powerful solid knowledge and thus bring the young students to the exciting edges of knowledge in the making. A very important defence of the subject based curriculum is presented by Young [ 44 ] who argues that well developed disciplinary knowledge should be a point of departure for education, rather than the student or the context e.

Thus he argues that powerful knowledge should not be defended on instrumental grounds, i. The line taken here is that various new subjects or those with very modern ingredients, such as those mentioned above, which all have very clear and profound technical, ethical and social dimensions, would best serve this purpose as these would help the young to connect to the world and apprehend and understand the challenges they face in the present and future world. New ideas, new content, may be fuzzy and it may be difficult to demonstrate that they provide a better education given the aims setting the course and their applicability with regard to shaping educational content.

New ideas that are meant to replace the old ones are sometimes woolly or cloudy, not well moulded and sometimes even vacuous — or even non-existent. This also applies to some of the 21st century skills programmes which have been repeatedly proposed for the last 20—30 years, not only for preparing for a new labour market, but also for personal development and will undoubtedly also apply to the new basic factors in the new EC eight key competencies [ 14 ].

To the extent that the curriculum is meant to prepare for a distant future, the real test can only be done many decades into the future.

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Even if new ideas have a solid conceptual base, are well prepared and carried out in a seemingly competent manner, there may still be lingering problems. The new curriculum had an ambitious combination of generic skills, new material and new pedagogic approaches. The issue of transfer is a huge problem for education, which seems to be neglected in much of the current discussion on the curriculum, even though it has been visible before [ 47 ]. The potential dissociation of process and content is pedagogically a serious problem, as also argued by McPeck [ 48 ] in the case of critical thinking and noted by Young, Lambert [ 6 ] in the more general case of generic skills.

Vested interests have a huge influence in all walks of life. Understandably, interests are attached to the ideas or visions that the subject experts have learned to value and want to promote. And the jobs people have may also be at stake. If the content of the curriculum is changed, perhaps beyond the existing competence of the current experts, and old material is replaced with new, or if current subjects are discontinued, job security might be at a serious risk. Thus, many people will understandably resist any change that has to do with them gradually giving up their subject, possibly having to completely renew themselves even though many do or lose their jobs.

The fact that one may seriously threaten a variety of vested interests and ideals of those who are already lodged in the system, presents a vast challenge for those who argue for replacing the old with the new. This may operate at several levels and therefore perhaps presents the most formidable obstacles of all the ones mentioned here.

Thus, investigating previous examples of proposed new curricula which contain new insights, topics or competencies, it would be necessary to explore if these new aspects are basically added onto the content that is already there; if they became marginal add-ons? However, vested interests do not only affect the curriculum in isolation, but also education in schools more generally. Tyack and Cuban [ 1 ] note two principles of change that school reformers should know about. The vested interests have thus influenced or rather controlled the educational discourse, in a number of ways.

First, by controlling who can talk about what. It may often be inappropriate for non-subject specialists to discuss the content of a subject curriculum. Who would be eligible to discuss the mathematics or history curriculum within the professional environment of a school, aside from the subject specialists?

The other specialists, e. Second, the discussion about content is most of the time defined by the existing subjects. Defending an existing subject will be done in absolute terms, as noted above, i. Modern education of teachers may supress rather than encourage developments of content in education. Even assuming that those responsible for teacher education are truly up to-date and that they follow the development of modern ideas, as well as tackling relevant new challenges in education, we still suggest that teacher education is conservative, in at least two ways.

The first relates to the subject based segmentation that characterizes many teacher education programmes.

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Traditional subjects, and what their proponents decide to introduce, determine what teachers are prepared for. Thus, new subjects or issues or emphases do not gain ground within the programmes of teacher education unless there is space for them among the existing subjects. The examples might be the capacity to teach computer programming, the nature of sustainability challenges or the introduction of ethics as a serious challenge for many areas of modern society, or bringing new technology or multicultural issues to the fore.

This is just to name a few important arenas of knowledge that new teachers will go without unless some space is opened up for these subjects within their TE program. If university biology teachers do not emphasise genetics as a potential part of general education or the mathematicians or psychologist do not introduce artificial intelligence at the university level for prospective teachers, there is a danger that these crucial topics will not be tackled in a serious way by many of the subject specialists preparing as teachers.

For a long time, neither anthropology nor economics were a serious part of teacher education and thus not serious contenders as a part of general education. Interdisciplinary projects may also struggle to find their place within the university system since their implementation will largely depend on the extent to which the subject departments related to teacher education foster interdisciplinarity. It is also possible that teacher education pedagogy etc. Secondly, professional development, which is indeed a crucial part of teacher education, is rather chaotic and unsystematic in many educational systems.

This literally holds back the development of education. There can be no doubt that it is totally insufficient that teacher education solely comprises initial training and then some sporadic updating.

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However, the professional development of teachers, following their formal teacher training program, is often not formally within the purview of universities, except on an ad hoc basis, and it is rarely formalised on par with the initial stages. This can have its pros and cons but the weakness lies in the lack of formalised effort to foster on-going professional development including perspectives toward possible futures.

Sustained and effective development of new knowledge and competencies within the teaching profession needs an effective system, anchored also within the schools and their practices. It should also have strong ties with the professional enterprises, the universities, in accumulating frontier knowledge, not only in pedagogy but all the various developing spheres of modern knowledge. There is a lack of incentive or space to take the initiative. Exploring research and following a wide spectrum of modern development is certainly time-consuming if these were to have some priority, both from the leadership and the teachers.

Neither may be available [ 52 ]. Engaging constantly with new ideas, new thinking about education and dealing with the various inertias of change, when taken together, presents a formidable task even if the desire for change is present. The demands and pressure on the school system are steadily increasing, and consequently, the tasks for the leaders at all levels, multiply.

They cannot, despite their potential interest, take time to immerse themselves in the ideas and development required by the complex task of attending to possible futures. It is not clear whether either Hargreaves and Shirley [ 53 ], who argue for the initiative of teachers, nor Young and Lambert [ 6 ], who imply the important active role of the subject specialists, have really dealt with this problem of ensuring that the teachers have the leeway, the time, the foresight and competence to introduce new ideas, when they quite rightly emphasise the trust that must be placed in the professional teacher and the school leadership for developing education.

Neither do they normally have the informed foresight necessary only obtained by constant vigilance, following what is happening in many different fields to motivate sensible developments. Crudely speaking, it is a problem of ignorance, which in a crucial sense is a concomitant of the expansion of knowledge [ 33 ]. Apart within some Think-Tanks or specialised future-oriented organisations, very few individuals have the opportunity or the responsibility to follow the multifaceted and substantial changes in the social, ethical, technological and cultural environment, and the possible educational implications.

Hardly any government agencies and certainly not municipalities, schools or teachers engage in this. There are clearinghouses, 17 which deal mainly with existing evidence and are thus only marginally future oriented even though the evidence collected is meant to inform policy. Moreover, there are Think Tanks which also collect evidence but with a clear policy agenda, but rarely with focus on education. There are also future institutes, 18 which are set up precisely to ensure that knowledge about possible futures is assembled.

But such future institutes rarely focus on education and neither would they create steps for channelling emerging ideas into practice. Educational experts such as Murgatroyd [ 54 ] and Aviram [ 55 ] have attended to this issue in a direct, extensive and provocative way, but their ideas still need to find a way into the mainstream curricular debate.

An additional problem here is that when a future perspective is at least nominally adopted, it tends to be very narrow, directed towards the labour market, the world of work, whereas scientific, social, ethical and cultural issues are somewhat neglected, but are probably more important. Nothing happens, even if we do not change much? Nothing dramatic happens if we do not exchange new ideas for old ones. The claim is made on the basis of two related reasons.


The other is that no system would have any sort of comparison with other systems until possibly decades later. Therefore, it is unnecessarily onerous to take on the fight for new ideas, replacing old well-established and tested ones. And lamentably few would complain if nothing is done. Thus, perhaps lethargy or indifference could be counted as an inertial mould. This laissez-faire stance presents, nevertheless, at least three problems.

First, young people are not given the opportunity to engage in the variety of interesting and valuable challenges that new ideas, new skills, new technologies or new cultures might afford them. They — and indeed all of us — are cheated, perhaps in a serious way. Of course, they will nevertheless survive; many of them will of course do very well, regardless, and indeed make much of the education they received. Second, many young people may be seriously demotivated if they feel that their education is not addressing the important issues or content that they think will become important and would stimulate them.

Thirdly, many of the grand challenges of modernity and possible futures scenarios facing the world demand necessarily pre-emptive and pro-active action, which these young people are expected to grapple with at a later date. There is certain danger that inaction will weaken the preparation for these challenges and thus the potential response will be much feebler.

In brief, the power to engender positive change will remain unharnessed. This also relates to the previous points of vested interests. There are so few, if any, that have a vested interest in the renewal of the curriculum and thus there are no agents or stakeholders in sight to take up the issue.

This is a problem because it is possible to offer a very strong substantive argument for quite dramatic changes to the foundation of the curriculum, argued on the basis of changes already visible, but more importantly on the basis of changes that will occur in the next three or four decades which may lead to various future scenarios. This paper presumes the importance of bringing possible futures into the discussion about the content of education, but little will happen if we do not acquire a firm understanding of the obstacles to change or the inactive roles played by presumed facilitators.

The institutional features, traditions and vested interests resisting any but incremental change in the content of education are immense. But we should of course be reminded that not all changes are sensible and many of the examples of inertia may be well founded. It should also be stressed that future scenarios, which are sorely lacking in the discussion about education should not entirely dominate the educational discourse. Education is also about the present and how we connect to the past; it is also about the person and her relationship to society.

The most important educational issue is the discourse about its aims and how they guide us to attend to the past, to the present, and importantly, to the near and far potential futures. From a certain perspective there is no problem with our educational curriculum, despite what has been said, and there never will be, even if some people complain.

This is because we will always adapt to the current situation and we would never know what it might have been like if we had done things differently. That is why those who detract from change will always be equally right as those who seek change. What is being argued above, nevertheless, is that we would most likely have more enlightened, dynamic and democratic societies and be able to address many of our current and future challenges much better if we developed the content of our education , partly with old and partly with new ideas, and particularly with new content.

The more farsighted and powerful the knowledge our education offers, the more likely we are to develop a good society. There is, however, no easy path in this direction. The logistic problem of harnessing the constant flux of new knowledge in the system of education is enormous. The number of actors is daunting and thus the purely logistic problem of implementing change is huge. In , the global school age cohort is not far from million children [ 56 , see Table A.

If we imagine that all children could go to school in a class of 25 pupils, this would require five million teachers per cohort or 50 million teachers for 10 cohorts in basic education. Introducing new ideas on a regular basis is therefore a daunting task; even for those ideas that are well received. If they are meant to become a part of a genuinely educational process, we must thoroughly involve the teachers themselves in assimilating and impregnating the flow of ideas with an educational value. That is a major problem and if this is not addressed, the teachers will never have a real opportunity to become actively involved to the minimum extent necessary.