This blog is written by Anabel Wunderer, one of our Barcelona Urban Hub learners, kicking off a new series of learner-led thought pieces that will use this blog as a vehicle to amplify the voices of the young people we share our days with here at Learnlife.
There is something mesmerising about the word future. Something that appeals to all our senses. We want it to be bright-eyed and hopeful. Rather liberally we use words that match our high hopes. Scroll through the website of any school. All of them hope to prepare thinkers and problem solvers with a global perspective to live the future of a complex and changing world. However, apart from some wonderful exceptions, those liberally used words hardly ever reflect the reality of a traditional school.
Undoubtedly there is a huge amount of energy and resources devoted to building and maintaining the current education system, so any changes to it might feel threatening or even unfair to some of those who put their life's work into it. But maybe we could be united in our determination for change if we keep present in our minds the utter vulnerability of a child, whose purpose in life is to explore, and also a teacher for whom teaching is a true vocation. Instead of celebrating their creativity and discovering their potential, they are reduced to polishing their survival skills in the midst of an adrenaline fatigue. We may dream about a collaborative and bright future but the standardised testing and grading system seems to train children for a future of the Hunger Games variant instead.
It is dangerous to idealise the resilience of children, hoping that they can withstand whatever is thrown at them by the traditional educational system and that any negative effects will be easily reversible as soon as they are given some agency. Unfortunately, this is not always the case and we must treat the situation with urgency, but that should not take away hope but rather inspire change. Of course, it is not an easy task to talk about an emergency without alienating someone in the process, but we simply do not have the luxury to alienate anyone. The whole system is so complex and rooted in our cultural, social and political reality that we need every single person in education to be determined to tune their mindset towards change.
There is already an impressive body of work about the flaws in the traditional system as well as the role of creativity and agency in the process of learning. There are also some amazing projects around the world that offer glimpses into possible educational alternatives. It all seems to be accelerating fast. There are many different factors that affect this acceleration which have become especially clear as seen through the prism of the pandemic. How could this acceleration and energy be channelled? It must start by gathering and empowering all the voices; thought leaders, innovators, specialists, education leaders, educators; those well known in the field of education as well as new voices. This was the idea behind [RE]LEARN 2020: The Online Learning Innovation Festival.
The two intense weeks of the [RE]LEARN Festival are now over and the Learnlife team who hosted it can finally sleep soundly through nights without worrying about different time zones. It's time to reflect. From the perspective of a learner, it was really moving to see so many people who were passionate about innovation in education, networking and sharing their work, projects, thoughts, expertise, experiences, and ideas. It was also inspiring to hear from educators around the globe who are developing projects and authentic and productive collaboration with learners. It brings hope.
The inclusiveness, diversity and sheer size of [RE]LEARN were very special. More than 3600 people attended with more than 200 speakers from over 60 countries. Understandably this was quite a logistical challenge. Everyone from various time zones gathered on a virtual platform making it possible for everyone to network and make connections as well as lead or join talks, Q&As and workshops. In total there were over 270 sessions.
So what’s next after [RE]LEARN? One would agree that most important is to transform everybody's experiences, knowledge and synergy of the intense dialogues generated in [RE]LEARN into actions and solutions. All content and the networking system of [RE]LEARN remains open for a year, which is a very valuable resource so I think the first step would be to keep that virtual space alive and use it to build collaborative projects on a local and global scale. Collaboration will also be done through the Alliance network; an inclusive and diverse group who are determined to work collaboratively to build and implement a new learning paradigm. Another important step will be to involve learners in this process which could potentially be important for understanding the acuteness of the emergency as well as creating new educational models.
We must rewire our thinking in order to move towards an educational system where there is an authentic and profound respect for learners. I take the risk of sounding childishly idealistic but without that change, we cannot hope for a just and compassionate society that is ready to tackle its many challenges.