Tuesday, March 12, 2019

The precarious future of education – risks and uncertainty in ecology, curriculum, learning and technology – book overview

 'The precarious future of education - Risks and uncertainty in ecology, curriculum, learning, and technology was published by Palgrave and MacMillan in 2017. The editor is J. Jagodzinski. I read the ebook version via the Ara library.

As per publishers description:

This volume examines the challenges weighing on the future of education in the face of globalization in the twenty-first century. Bringing together eleven authors who explore the paradox of an “after” to the future of education, each chapter in this book targets three important areas: ecology as understood in the broader framework of globalization and pedagogy; curriculum concerns which impact learning; and the pervasiveness of technology in education today. 

The chapters originate from a series of seminars held at the University of Alberta in 2014. Therefore, a Canadian and ‘teacher education’ slant on the topic.

Most of chapter 1 and a bit of chapter 2 are available via Google Books


Chapter 1 is by the editor – The precarious future of education: the speculative fictions of education.

Provides the background and rationale for the book with three sections titled - up in the clouds: take 1 and then take 2, take 3 which also has the sub-title of the futility of resistance? The first section, sets the scene with an overview of the philosophical literature on 'progress', debating how the enlightenment envisaged progress as a sort of utopia, but the reality has many 'blemishes' on the perfect world, promised by technology. The second part, critiques the offerings of contemporary educational visionaries, of 'self-directed' learning enabled by digital technologies. The other side of the coin is the dehumaisation of teachers, who are replaced by 'learning machines' and its assumption that knowledge can be defined and commodified. Creativity and innovation may be the essence of humanity but there are major challenges in affording opportunities for all to attain.The last section proposes the need for educators to be cognisant of the lure of technology and to be critically reflective on both the advantages and disadvantages of technology's role in education.


Part 1 – Curricular difficulties, ecology, globalisation and pedagogy

Second chapter by T. Carson and H. Smits titled ‘after the future in teacher education’ argues and discusses what needs to change with current teacher education, to meet the needs of the future. Teacher subjectivities or identities are important as these contribute to pedagogical decisions. There is a need for teacher education to ensure imposed curriculum is critiqued. Student teachers need to attain a diversity of thought, to be the champions for their students. Teachers should never be just transmitters of knowledge but have responsibilities to ensure pedagogy is deployed appropriately and ethically to prepare students for the future.

Chapter 3 on ‘curriculum lessons from ecopsychology’ by J. Seidel offers three lessons which address ecological concerns. These are firstly, a summary of the concerns and challenges prompted by the shift of humanity into the Anthropocene. In the second, a zombie movie is used to tease out what makes us human. The chapter closes with principles on how ecopsychology may contribute to educational direction.

Then A. Fidyk with ‘the influence of cultural and familial complexes in the classroom: A post-Jungian view’. Focuses on the need to understand the unconscious when working in education, especially the family and cultural layers of the psyche.

J. Parsons on ‘ silent schools? On the re-emergence of oral language and culture in education’. Questions the emphasis on written literacies and proposes the rationale for the elevation of oral literacies. This chapter is very evocative as 'silent' school rooms are the norm. Parson's questions whay schools have to be quiet, especially given the 'screen' generation not having sufficient face to face interaction both within and outside of school. 

Part 2 is on learning explored – asking the question ‘what is learning?’

G P Thomas presents the on ‘what is and what will be science learning (theory) in science education reform and practice? Stories and reflections. Through personal reflections, the author raises questions about technological education. What has it ignored and dismissed? Why? And some proposals for moving forward.

Next chapter by D. Britton on ‘big data and learning analytics: the ‘new’ teaching machine’. Uses the Lacanian psychoanalytical perspective to explore the fantasy space of learning. A critique of the application of data to informing decisions being made about learning and learners.


Then K. Heyer with ‘the case of wondering ‘its’: the future as more of the same in the name of change’. Challenges the current work on ‘modernising’ education as more of the same, only delivered / packaged differently. He suggests the 'learning to learn' approach has become a 'new' trend and that again, there is a need to view this trend critically. 

Part 3 – technological dilemmas

J. Kendrick on ‘brave new network: the gambit of living automated lives’. Explores the various means by which digital devices are supposed to enhance community at school.Especially the effect on the lived lives of students and teachers, given the uniquity of technology. Proposes the need to address the issues of creativity and literacy in schools to provide students with sufficient learning to be able to counter the imposition of digital networking.

Followed on by C. Adams with ‘technology’s hidden curriculum and the new digital Pharmakon’. Reflects on the implications and significance on human lives and how technology affects teachers and teachers’ lives.

J. Norris writes on ‘pioneering the use of video in research and pedgogy: A currere of media(tion). Set in the context of drama education'. A critical evaluation of using video drawing from the author's experiences and presented as a historical narrative. 

Last chapter by J. Beier with ‘the future is cancelled: from melancholia to belief in the world’. Brings some of the themes and threads from the previous sections and chapters. Discusses how contemporary pedagogy is charged with providing education for the future. Yet, the future is still hazy. Proposes the 'future is cancelled' - for now' and the need to have 'resistance come from within - moving from critique to belief.

Overall, academic approach throughout founded on recent conceptualisations of how people learn. As per the books overall intent, the overall tone is cautionary, providing a constrast to the prevalent 'bright future' focus of most work on this topic. All in, a refreshing change, although pessimistic tone in several chapters. The book is written in the academic genre and may be difficult to access for the lay reader. However, as always, 'not every cloud has a silver lining'! we need to be cautious about the rhetoric on how technology and digital literacies are 'must haves' without also ensuring that students are provided the opportunities to be critical users / contributors to technological change and the future.