I’ve just come across this classic example of futures thinking that is constrained by the myopic thinking of the present. In a policy background document written for the Ministry of Education back in 2002, titled a “Review of Future-focused Research on Teaching and Learning” I came across the following statement in the section on Key policy issues, the role of educational technologies (p.69):
The question is, should we uncritically encourage students to participate in a global knowledge economy where at best a small minority only of the world’s population has access to the Internet?
Well – that may have been true in 2002, but even amateur futurists were aware of the trending and potential growth of the WWW back then. One only has to look at the international statistics on access to the WWW now and the trending figures keep going up. In addition, countries like Africa and parts of Asia are demonstrating that they are capable of leap-frogging where we are in the developed world by investing in cellular networks. On top of that, the rapid development of low-cost, portable, web-connected devices is increasing every day.
Overall, this report provides a very good snapshot of large-scale research initiatives outside of New Zealand which were future-focused and specifically about teaching and learning at the time it was written, but my concern is that statements such as the one quoted above reveal a policy bias that is anchored in a particular view of technology, and not really future-focused at all. My point is perhaps further illustrated in another quote from the document (p.56-7)
It has been shown that historically computers have been oversold and underused in schools (Cuban, 2001). Moreover, the
rhetoric about the potential of ICT is largely unsubstantiated by the empirical research. This is why an increasing minority of educators are now beginning to question the high status accorded ICT in education…
…As Jane Healy (1998) writes in support of the liberal arts, do we invest in cello lessons or video games? The answer to this question strikes at the heart of what we value about education in Aotearoa/New Zealand. It shows that the ultimate question is not whether we should be promoting a particular technology but rather what form of curriculum do we want? Do we want a curriculum that values the latest technical skills over durable knowledge? In a similar vein, should teaching and learning with ICT emphasize functional and vocational know-how as opposed to rich tasks and critical literacy?
As we begin to face increasing demands for addressing needs in literacy and numeracy, the introduction of standards and investment in high speed broadband, we’re bound to see similar arguments put forward – and as educators we need to be ready to defend our position. The key thing will be, is our defense one that is truly future-focused, or one based in the rationality of the ‘now’ and what we currently know and experience?