On October 6, the Global Education Forum took place in Madrid; this international meeting gathered many education professionals to debate on the future of education. The purpose of the meeting was to propose to all social agents a “great conversation” about the necessity and urgency of creating a new educational model capable of providing responses to the deep transformations of our time.
As stated by philosopher Michel Serres, after the two great revolutions represented by the transition from oral to written culture and from written to print culture, we are now deeply engaged in a third revolution, from print culture to the digital era and new technologies. These revolutions were accompanied by profound political and social transformation, and they all throve in the wake of a worldwide crisis. New generations must now learn how to surf today’s technological tsunami while adapting at a much greater pace than their parents or grand-parents did. However, the institutions, including educational ones, being in crisis, it appears somewhat complicated for the young generations to count on the latter to do so.
A Failing Educational System
No matter the country, most people feel that their education system is more or less failing. Despite billions of investment and thousands of measures, students outcomes remain stagnant, when not declining, as compared to previous observed performances in the 80’s. In a speech before the National Governors Association education summit, Bill Gates blasted the state of US high schools, using words such as “ashamed” and “appalled” to describe his reaction to the failure rates for students.
We are facing a global crisis which is at the same time financial, economic, social, climatic and educational. Yet, institutions continue to operate as they always have, while failing to adapt to this technological revolution.
Only twenty years have passed since the first web browser was invented; could anyone have only imagined the transformations that have occurred during this period of time, in terms of access to information and knowledge, in terms of exchanges and communication between people of different cultures? Nobody knows what awaits us in the years ahead, however, Brewster Kahle, co-founder of the Internet Archive, might be right when he said that “Universal access to all human knowledge” could be within our reach.
For those who couldn’t travel to Madrid, the organizers of the Global Education Forum did a pretty good job providing web-based real time video streaming of every speech. Amongst the latter, Daniel Pink’s address (in video conference from the US) on “Education, motivation and the future” was much appreciated.
American author and journalist, Daniel Pink wrote four books that focus on the changing workplace. Despite not being an expert in the field of education, his last book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, sheds new light about motivation issues, whether at the workplace or at school.
Daniel Pink recounted an experience by Nashville education department, during which researchers and officials were seeking how to improve teachers’ professional performance, i.e. the number of students who would succeed at their exams under their supervision. Researchers made two groups of teachers, offering the first one a 15,000$ financial bonus to those who would perform well at the end of the experiment (the carrot) while they offered… nothing at all to the second group of teachers (the stick)!
Unfortunately, people are not donkeys moving towards thanks to a carrot or a stick, and the result of the experiment was instructive: there was no significant difference between both groups. Moreover, even though the experience had pointed out the inefficiency of such system, the New York State Education Department made a 58 million dollars investment to develop a similar system, without result. This suggests that those who profess to reform the system usually rely on folklore and intuition rather than scientific evidence…
The Keys for Motivation
It would be false to infer that teachers are not motivated by money. The truth is that they are not only motivated by money, the latter being an important factor for motivation, respect and recognition (and the fact is that teachers are not being paid at their fair value…) What motivates us, Pink says, whether at work, at school or at home, is the deeply human need to direct our own lives, to learn and create, to learn and create new things, and to do better by ourselves and our world. The three keys to motivation, he explains, are autonomy, mastery and purpose.
One of the most significant experience has been conducted by Australian software company Atlassian. Atlassian’s “FedEx Days” is a 20% time set aside for developers to work on whatever they want, with a skew towards the company’s product. The result was amazing in terms of inventiveness, creativity and… fun! Since then, the Google company implemented its own FedEx Days, which gave rise to some of the company’s greater achievements, such as “Gmail” or “Google News”… Is the idea applicable to the education system? Yes! Pink asserts: why not give teachers and students 20% time to invent solutions to improve education, to discover new things, while recapturing the joy of learning!
In conclusion, our future will require a deep transformation of our education systems, to invent a system which is based not only on knowledge acquisition but also capable of fostering human creativity and individual skills and interpersonal communication; a system grounded on the teaching of democracy, citizenship, equity, social justice and on the harmony with one’s natural environment. Thanks to such debates, as proposed by the Global Education Forum and other NGOs, we will move forward to take up this challenge, under the condition that everyone can acquire, through education, sufficient autonomy to invent tomorrow’s solutions, both technological and human.