An interesting post by George Siemens on how he is negotiating change in the education system.
This lead to reflection about how change happens and why many of the best ideas don’t gain traction and don’t make a systemic level impact. We know the names: Vygostky, Freire, Illich, Papert, and so on. We know the ideas. We know the vision of networks, of openness, of equity, and of a restructured system of learning that begins with learning and the learner rather than content and testing.
But why doesn’t the positive change happen?
The reason, I believe, is due to the lack of systems/network-level and integrative thinking that reflects the passion of advocates AND the reality of how systems and networks function.
“Unfortunately, none of these reformers confront the governance system as a system that includes the school, the school system or district, the board of education, the state department of education, the university, the parents, the legislature, and the executive branch of government. These are stakeholders in a very complicated educational system. They are not passive stakeholders; they have similar but by no means identical interests and agendas; more often than not they are in conflict with and mistrust one another. It is a system so balkanized as to prevent meaningful discussion of, let alone agreement about, educational goals and priorities. It is not a system that can initiate and sustain meaningful reform. on the contrary, its features are such as to make reform extraordinarily difficult and even impossible. Under severe and unusual pressure it may permit tinkering, even the appearance of reform, but as time goes on and the pressures decrease, the leadership changes, the tinkering and reform lose force and purpose, confirming the adage that the more things change, the more they remain the same. It is not a self-correcting system; there are no means, procedures, forums through which the system “learns.” ”
George follows his trajectory over the past few years and writes (the last of which Stephen does not full agree with):
Ideas that change things require an integrative awareness of systems, of multiple players, and of the motivations of different agents. It is also required that we are involved in the power-shaping networks that influence how education systems are structured, even when we don’t like all of the players in the network.
I don’t think this is simply an argument about how to bring about change, from within or externally. It is more a core belief that either the system can change or cannot. Quoting Sarason again:
It is a system with a seemingly infinite capacity to remain the same in the face of obvious inadequacies, unmet goals, and public dissatisfaction. It is a system in which accountability is so diffused that no one is accountable. It is a system that has outlived all of its reformers, and will outlive the present generation of reformers
George’s concern, however, remains valid:
I’m worried that those who have the greatest passion for an equitable world and a just society are not involved in the conversations that are shaping the future of learning. I continue to hear about the great unbundling of education. My fear is the re-bundling where new power brokers enter the education system with a mandate of profit, not quality of life.
More people need to engage in this conversation, even if their beliefs mean that they dismiss the current system. There is a rebundling happening and there is a clear and present danger that George identifies accurately. We saw how MOOCs were usurped in 2011.
In India, it is not all that different. I have witnessed, at close quarters, many practices that are nothing to do with educating, but more to do with sustaining the system – whether in corporate, government or academic communities. It is almost as if there is a sense of fatalistic acceptance by the stakeholders with greed and disengagement equally the two vital pillars of this systemic sustenance.
But it is really important to understand that external influencers must engage with internal adopters – that is who they will meet on the inside. And a shared vision will triumph in the end.