The world upside-down

“Do you know anything about these tablet-free schools where Silicon Valley executives send their kids? Is it the sign that technology is not THE solution to learning?”

I raised this question a few days ago in London at the launch of the Global EdTech Startup Award and started thinking once again about education, technology and equity.

At about the same moment, I read a UNICEF report that concluded that progress in increasing access to schooling has stalled worldwide – with 58 million primary school-aged children not in school. While the richest people on earth were looking for an alternative education model in the heart of the Sillicon Valley, hundreds of millions of parents at the bottom of the pyramid were figuring out how to give a good education to their children. Both have in common the same preoccupation for their children’s future. Both believe that “education is the answer”.

In words of Abhijit V. Banerjee and Esther Duflo, authors of the fascinating book Poor Economics, “Parents, like everyone else, want schools to deliver what they understand to be an ‘elite’ education to their child.” Obviously the word “elite” has a different meaning for a Silicon Valley executive than for an Indian lower-caste family.

According to a 2011 NY Times article, high-tech giants’ top executives are sending their children to schools where not a computer is to be found and there are no screens at all. An easy conclusion can be reached: “computers and schools don’t mix.” (A little bit too easy if you consider that these kids are living constantly among screens at the very moment they leave the school…).

How can we explain that at the same time, these parents –through their companies – are providing schools in India and elsewhere with thousands of laptops as part of the project OLPC (One Laptop Per Child). What is bad for a rich American kid will be good for a poor Indian one?

Do we really have two opposite models? While the Waldorf School of the Peninsula “fosters the capacities needed for a successful, purposeful, and joyful life”, the Indian NGO Pratham aims to bring a low-cost, digital learning solution to 1000 low-income schools across 12 states of India, reaching over 50,000 children. Which one is a better school? Does it make sense to take technology out of the most technological part of the world and send it to the least technological one? Has the world gone upside-down?

For both Waldorf and Pratham, learning – not schooling – is the key. The former takes the tablets out of school because they are everywhere else in children’s lives while the latter take them into the school because they are nowhere else to be found and a fantastic tool to achieve ambitious learning goals. A question of balance…

I almost forgot to answer the introductory question: technology is not the solution if it is not accompanied by a change in pedagogy. This is the true challenge that all countries are facing. In the Silicon Valley and in India and in all countries that believe – wrongly – that a tablet will solve it all or that a tablet is useless.


We are Charlie

12 people died yesterday in Paris, most of them illustrators and journalists. 12 people killed by two terrorists claiming they were avenging the Prophet Muhammad. 12 people that speak for our freedom, freedom of speech, freedom of thought.

Lincoln once said “if you think education is expensive, try ignorance”. Is it all about ignorance? Is it about their ignorance? Or about our own ignorance? Are these illiterate murderers the symbol of our failure to educate them?

The journalists that died were defending a simple truth: we can laugh at everything, at everyone. Do we really learn this at school? Are we brave enough when defending the core values of our democracies? Are we brave enough when we dissimulate the truth to sell more geographic atlases in a given region of the world? Are we brave enough when we let mobbing, racism and sexual harassment enter our classroom? Are we brave enough when we discuss how religion should be taught and not how democracy should be taught?


I write every week in this blog about the value of open education and innovative learning. Open education should enable knowledge and values to be shared massively. Innovative learning should be about giving anyone a chance to succeed in school and in life. We discuss endlessly about efficacy, cost effectiveness, adaptation to the job market. We don’t speak enough about simple things such as love, care and respect. How many MOOCs and OERs have been produced on democracy, free speech… and are really used? How many web skills are needed to succeed in life? And how many personal skills?

Education is only a promise that needs to be reaffirmed continuously with or without technology. Two terrorists that were brought up and went to school in France broke this promise with their bullets.

For them education is not the answer. For us it is THE answer, more than ever.

We are Charlie.

2015: the year of excellence

Education policymakers are dreaming about excellence. Better teachers, better learners, better resources will almost magically turn up after years of turmoil: high youth unemployment, increasing school dropouts, burnt out teachers…

How do you measure excellence? According to PISA standards, excellence can only be reached through equity and by giving every student the chance to succeed. We may all agree that citizens should be “equipped with the skills necessary to achieve their full potential”. But what is a necessary skill? This naive question gives way to many ambiguous answers.

In Spain, the new educative law – LOMCE – aims to strengthen excellence by separating earlier on the bad students from the good ones. The former will be equipped with “level 1” basic competences while the latter will access higher education or vocational training. A new concept of equity indeed!

France is thinking of abolishing grades and creating a new framework for the evaluation of competences that could enable students to escape the tyranny of academic excellence and have the system recognise their “real” strengths.  Would parents accept it? All over the world, universities are competing to attract the best in class, strengthening the elites and making college a dream for the vast majority.

2014 revealed another road towards excellence. Personalised teaching, adaptive learning, continuous evaluation: a new jargon has been developed to tell a simple truth – every student has a special talent and deserves attention.

Excellence is no longer a dream. Is it because technology puts it within the reach of everyone? This is at least the conviction of our Open Education Challenge startups and of all Edtech innovators worldwide. But technology is still very unequally distributed.

A Christmas fairy tale brings us back to the miracle and simplicity of excellence: the best student in literature in the best class of the best French high school is a girl with autism spectrum disorder.

Miguel Gallardo

Miguel Gallardo

Just imagine a system that would have denied this girl access to an ordinary school and the right to demonstrate her talent. It just happened in Spain

How integrative can a school be? Answering this question may lead to excellence for all.

Spirit of achievement, loving parents and responsive teachers will make 2015 the year of excellence.


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