Education is about compromise, a negotiated social contract

The purpose of education is:

“To teach you stuff, so when you grow up you know what to do and everything! You wouldn’t be able to read and write and do stuff like that.”

This was the quite succinct response to the question offered by my ten year old son and on reflection I’m not convinced that I could provide a more pithy statement. Unlike many of my colleagues my focus in this post is on Education as a system as opposed to ideal. From a cybernetic perspective systems are defined by what they “do”. What is it exactly that education does? What attributes do we assign to an educated person?

It would be easy for me to write a scathing critique of the education “system”. A system designed in and a relic of the Victorian era to produce the well educated workforce required to fuel industrial manufacturing output. As Ken Robinson et al argue it is a system that stifles creativity and innovation, one shaped by political doctrine. I could offer a list of worthy ideals, my own particular favourite being “enlightenment”, not purely in the Ionian sense but in the spiritual, others would include curiosity, creativity, connectedness and magic, ideals that undoubtedly resonate with my peers in the academic community. The purpose of education should be all of these things and more … the process by which wisdom is attained an ability to think beyond what is “given”. John Dewey suggested the primary purpose of education is the transfer of established conventions of knowledge and values across generations.

For me though, Education is about compromise, a negotiated social contract, one that deals with the complexity of expectation management. Ask the stakeholder constituents, and you will find a series of conflicting expectations and that’s why education is unavoidably political. Governments of all persuasions want, indeed need be seen, to care and provide “good education” of one flavour or another in an attempt to satisfy, through compromise, the conflicting demands and expectations of society for their own political purpose. Teachers invariably want to provide a “good” education based on their personal constructs of what that should constitute, compromised by such things as the requirements of state examination regimes and national curricula. Administrators may characterise good education as one of safety, order and control. Industry and employers demand “good” education that provides them with a variety of educated, able, skilled workers and students want a “good” education in order to get one of these jobs and, quoting my son, so that they know “what to do and everything” These disparate groups have from their individual perspectives perfectly valid expectations of education and all are constituent parts of an extremely complex system, with the associated variety management, that is education.

If we as a society continue to fund state education through central taxation and do not adopt the illichian ideal of de-schooling society then our education system will remain one characterised by compromise

Digital Inclusion what is the message ?

I have been closely monitoring with interest the activities and ongoing debate in respect of the UK governments activities in respect of the digital inclusion agenda.

Being brutally honest with the appointment of dot com entrepreneur Martha Lane- Fox as “Digital inclusion Champion” I was initially concerned how “inclusive” the agenda would be given Ms Lane-Fox’s largely privileged background, and whilst the jury still remains out, I have been impressed with much of the work done thus far, this despite Martha’s occasional dip into “apple pie and mother statements”. Her personal enthusiasm for the role is evident and has significantly raised the profile of digital inclusion arguably the “lions share “ of the challenge facing us.

I read with interest this morning’s published data from PWC relating to the “benefits of getting everyone online in the UK are GBP22billion” and this has served to highlight some issues I have with the focus of the undertaking.


Perhaps I’m being a little disingenuous as I have not had the benefit of reading the whole of the PWC report but it does have the taint of many of those presented by management consultants, justifying their own role, importance and significance in the activity leading to the inevitable further commissioning of work.

The report does highlight the issue that over 10million adults across the UK have never used the internet and of these 4million are “socially excluded” a definition of which is not at present provided of this number (4million) 39% are over 65, 38% are unemployed and 19% families with children. In the draft there is no mention of those with disability or accessibility challenges which in itself is quite concerning. The report then goes further in presenting questionable data in respect of lifetime savings.

There is a real conflict in the duality of the aims and motivation in undertaking “Digital inclusion” activity. There is a compelling argument, no doubt supported by the treasury in these uncertain economic times, of ‘savings “ of GBP900million pounds in “customer contact costs” however they may be defined.

There are arguments and some data supporting the notion of the potential benefits accrued by those digitally included in society. We must when highlighting the benefits also equip, in a measured non alarmist way, the “included” with the critical skills required to mange the inherent risks and danger of online activity in a balanced way.

From my perspective there is one key word that seems to be missing form the report though I hope not the debate that of “choice”.

Digital inclusion should primarily be about choice, the informed choice of individuals how to participate (or not) in (digital) society.

Kevin Kelly talks about possessing the ability to “switch off” from the digital world to counteract arguments of technological determinism. If the inclusion strategy is about choice, widening accessibility, voluntary participation and improvement in the population’s digital literacy I’m fully behind it. If it is about compulsion to participate I’m not we (and the govt) need to be much clearer about this.

I’m sure that I would be classified as one of the digitally included and thankful I am but I choose not to use any number of digital services including Online banking, tax file systems, payment for local council services etc etc and I choose from a position of being informed. My father (one of the digitally excluded over 65’s mentioned in the report) chooses to be digitally excluded, despite my best efforts to provide him with technology and inform him of the benefits inclusion would bring to him. He chooses to walk to the post office to pay his council tax monthly as it, I quote, “gets me out of the house, I like to walk and meet my fiends on the way and in the post office”. these are his informed choices.

The primary motivation behind digital inclusion should be to provide access, educate inform and prepare citizens to improve levels of digital literacy alongside the ambitions to broaden access to the technology.

This should be done with honesty with the aim of providing all UK citizens with skills and ability to make informed choices to the extent, which they may wish to participate in (digital) society.

The IMS Technology Enhanced Flexible Learning project Group

Whilst at the Learning Impact 2008 conference in Austin Texas, incidentally a more pleasent place than I expected, I became more aware of the activities of the Technology Enhanced Flexible Learning (TEFL) project under formation group.

Those educatiors involved in language teaching may get confused over the acronym but essentially the TEFL project group is aiming to develop and promote an “end-to-end” methodology for introducing e-learning students to the online environment, to include best practices drawn from literature, personal accounts and workshops (LTAC and other) for each student Introduction Phase (i.e. Expectations, Preparation and Induction). It is anticipated that this methodology will provide a framework for learning technologists and e-learning faculty and administrators to address the quality and service needs of introductory adult e-learners while establishing a effective practices for recruiting, retaining and supporting student persistence.

This is undoubtedly of significant interest to those charged with the retention of students within HE and FE instituitions and signals a clear intent by members of IMS to move away form their historic areas of focus interoperability and data exchange standards and into the contested area of “qaulity standards” it will be interesting to see how this develops.

What about LETSI ?

I have been asked on numerous occasions, well perhaps I’m exaggerating a little, what is happening about LETSI another acronym Learning, Education, Training, Systems Interoperability?

For the uninitiated LETSI is an international organisation that is currently being formed by several international partners , supported by ADL to, amongst a wider remit, provide governance for SCORM (Shareable Content Object Reference Model) standard and other learning technology specifications and standards.The organisation was born out of ADL’s desire for SCORM in the future to be self sustaining managed governed and developed by a community of users. JISC CETIS has monitored the development of the organisation and contributed to the intial start up meeting earlier this year.

The Organisation was officially launched last week in the United States by Wayne Hodgins at an event in Orlando Florida and without comment or endorsement the video of this launch is available at the link below.

We here at JISC CETIS will continue to monitor developments in this area, representing the needs of the UK HE and FE communities.


Back to Work after the Summer Break

Back to work after the summer break to be greated by seven thousand email, yes fifty per cent were mailing lists etc, but not too much SPAM in there. My university mailbox was rejecting mail from the 24th of August so my apologies to those who may have had mail returned. Traveling to Oxford tomorrow for the JISC marketing event and in Bolton on Thursday.

JISC CETIS Conference 2007

Well it is official, there will be another JISC CETIS conference later this year. After conferences in Oxford, Edinburgh and Manchester the search is on for this year’s location with the early favourites being Birmingham and Manchester (again).

JISC CETIS Deputy Director Adam Cooper will be chairing the conference this year and is tasked with preparing the themes.

Reflections on the Ten Competence Conference Manchester

I was fortunate enough to attend the Ten Competence

 project Conference at the G-Mex in Manchester last week.  There were a wide variety of speakers and presentations and I was particularily impressed with one of the final sessions including presentations by Mark Johnson, Graham Attwell and our own Scott Wilson. Scott has seemed to have grasped the torch in respect of Beer’s Viable Systems Model (VSM) applying it the complex educational field, I could sense Professor Oleg Liber at the back of the session beaming with approval. Grahams presentation served to remind us all why we are in education a rallying call for transformational change.

Parallel session 10: Support for social engagement in Lifelong Competence Development: Chair Bill


Designing systems for managing dynamic collaborative research processes, Scott Wilson, Ernie Ghiglione,

Yoichi Takayama, James Dalziel

Personal Technologies and Masks: Issues of Persona and Identity in Professional Practice and Learner

Development, Mark Johnson, Claire Brierley

Supporting Social Interaction in an “Intelligent” Competence Development System, Bertrand Sereno, Eleni

Boursinou, Albert Angehrn

Social Software, Personal Learning Environments and Lifelong Competence Development, Graham Attwell