Systemic change in Greece…
Do you ever wonder what you would do if you really had the power to change things? I feel that we often hide behind the less than convincing argument of ‘I would know how to organize things in my family-school-university! If only my partner-principal-rector would would allow me to …’
Well, last week, I had a meeting with several vice-ministers, the minister of culture, the minister of education and the prime minister of Greece. A real meeting, with a few external participants (like myself), some advisors and the People in Power.
This meeting went a bit different than I expected. For one thing, we were absolutely free to tweet or blog whatever whenever. So, I did, during the meeting:
Second, I have been in ‘official’ meetings before and we often hear a brief message at the start that ‘the minister’ cannot be present because he has even more pressing business to attend to. Now, it is no secret that Greece has certain problems to solve, and I was very impressed that the prime minister actually participated actively for five hours in a meeting on education. In his introduction, he mentioned that the Greek school and university system was too heavy and rigid, and that ‘learning should be fun’.
Actually, the slogan of ‘Serious Fun‘ is one I often use in my keynotes. But it’s one thing to stand on a stage and say this. It’s another thing to actually try to implement measures that will realize this.
In our five hours of serious (and fun!) discussion, we went over a lot of topics. A few issues stood out for me:
- The Greek government actually owns all the school textbooks. This may be a bit old-fashioned, but it does present an enormous opportunity for innovation: there will be no difficult negotiations with educational publishers about copyright… The Greek government can just decide to make all textbooks available digitally for free in an open format that allows remixing. Apparently, that is exactly what they intend to do!
- My personal view is that Greece should invest in a sound technical infrastructure for learning: this includes cheap (free?) ubiquitous high bandwidth, a personal device for every teacher and learner, and basic learning services. At this level, adherence to open standards is crucial in my view as it prevents lock-in and ensures a path to co-evolve with the technology. Such an infrastructure will enable the abundance that allows the teachers and learners to steer the innovation themselves.
- On the other hand, for tools, applications and content, I encouraged the group to be innovative and go way beyond PDF’s of the textbooks. As a simple example, I’ve had some great learning time with my daughter using the Solar System app for the iPad. What if every kid, student and adult learner in Greece had access to a device with exciting content like that and social support around it? Would that not help to ‘make learning fun’?
- I do think that it is essential that every learner has his own personal device: the concept of computer rooms in schools and universities is really not working. A personal, portable networked device is part of the basic infrastructure for me. Whether that should be a phone, a tablet or a netbook is more open for discussion. And whatever device is chosen, it will be obsolete in a year or two-three. As long as Moore’s law holds, that is inevitable – and actually a good thing in my opinion, as it keeps the pressure on ;-)…
- If you’re going to innovate and experiment, then you need to reassure learners and teachers that you will support them also if things go wrong. You cannot innovate if you’re worried about failure. Especially when times are tough, it is imperative that teachers do not feel threatened. My personal strategy, admittedly naive, is to try and tap into the passion for learning that I think all of us have and to trust students and teachers. I often mention that we can afford to do this, as the current situation in most schools and universities is not very good anyway. We’re failing now already, so we do not have that much to loose…
I guess many are familiar with the quote that “a crisis is a terrible thing to waste“: another slogan that is easy to mention, but a lot less obvious to implement… I am sure that there must have been quite a bit of politics going on behind the scenes of the meeting I participated in. And I am too under-informed to even have an opinion on the austerity measures currently being implemented in Greece. Yet, if a Prime Minister is willing to spend most of a day discussing how to make learning fun, while his country faces one of its most difficult crises in recent history, then I must say that I have high hopes that the Greek crisis may actually benefit the country. I, for one, will be terribly interested to see how this evolves!