Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let us imagine that you are the chief of police of a normal European town of, say, 500.000 inhabitants. As chief of police, you have to contend with the usual problems : speeding, road accidents, pickpocketing, burglary, the occasional homicide... Let us also imagine that, one day, a representative of an important international institution calls on you to explain that your town has been selected for an experiment: quite a considerable sum of money will be put at your disposal if you agree to participate in a project which consists in implementing information and communication technologies - ICT - into your police force.
As you know very little about ICT, you decide to refer to experts in the field to advise you.
The first expert tries to convince you that what you need is "Robocop": "You have all seen it in the cinena and on TV: it works, the technology has fully matured and is now available. Robocops can patrol the streets and assist, not to say replace, your police force. They have the added advantage that they can do difficult and dangerous jobs, they are fully reliable, cannot be bribed, work around the hour, never fall ill...
A second expert tells you that the only solution is to use the technology as tools for the police. The money will be spent on communication systems and portable computers for your police force with full access to extensive databases and the Internet.
A third expert argues for technologies to be used as tools for the public. Not only should every house be equipped with electronic surveillance systems, but also every member of the public should have access to communication systems linking them among themselves and to the police. All this to be complemented by homepages on the Internet to which the public can contribute and which foster collaboration and solidarity.
If you were this chief of police, what solution would you opt for?
If you were Minister of Education, what solution would you opt for, because, after all, the problem is quite similar.
Corresponding to the Robocop solution, the use of, what I would like to call, "teaching machines" is the easiest to implement. Terms such as computer assisted learning, computer based training and programmed learning have been with us for quite some time. Such teaching systems usually follow a very simple pedagogic model : the content is presented to the learner - and modern multimedia techniques can make this presentation quite realistic and effectful ; this then is followed by exercises on the computer to check whether the contents have been assimilated. Such a use of information and communication technology, however, raises important questions : what is the role of the teacher ; what added value do such systems have over traditional classroom teaching strategies ; can the knowledge and skills thus acquired be transferred, what about human interrelations and emotions?
A second solution is the use of ICT as a tool for the teacher. Computer-based presentation programmes and simulation software, which allow realistic presentations of phenomena which cannot otherwise be brought to the classroom, can indeed be quite stimulating. Furthermore, allowing teachers access to electronic resources, it is hoped, increases teacher motivation and professionalism. Little thought is, however, given to the learning process ; and then, why should only teachers use technology and not learners?
A third solution consists in giving acces to ICT to the learners to use as tools to support the learning process ; every learner should have access to CD-ROM and Internet-based resources, should use generic software, such as for instance word processors to support writing activities, to use as creation and communication tools to enhance cooperative and project-based learning, to foster collaboration through exchange and discussion, to develop problem-solving skills and critical thinking.
Three solutions then to be proposed to our chief of police, to educational policy-makers? Which one to opt for? If none can be totally rejected, the recent trend quite clearly points to the last solution, with the previous ones to be considered as stepping stones.
Indeed, the processes working towards globalisation of information by means of modern technology, particularly multimedia and teleinformatics, have resulted in the fact that, as never before in human history, has information been available as broadly and in such quantities. But how to turn information into knowledge? To take up the challenge, I feel that education will have to change : school can no longer only see its function as the transmitter of knowledge, but it will have to help learners delevop learning skills so that the world of tomorrow will become, for everyone, an autonomous source of discovery and knowledge. To achieve this aim, school will have to contribute to the development of exploration and information retrieval skills, with learners to develop a critical attitude to information and to realise that life is a continuous learning process towards professional development but also, and maybe more significantly, towards personal fulfilment.
It goes without saying that learners, before taking advantage of ICT, must learn the basic skills, the three r's (reading, writing and arithmentic). When I stress those three basic skills, and I do it on all occasions, I am usually criticised that school is more than that. Of course, I know that ! But I am convinced that if we fail to transmit these basic skills to all pupils, the gap between the in's and the out's will still increase.
Learning must be fun! ICT should therefore be seen as tools for communication and creation. Learners should therefore be able actively to use these tools creatively to develop their own productions, and to construct their own knowledge, alone or in groups, in interaction with peers and other educational partners who, thanks to ICT, may come from far beyond the confines of the classroom. Highly motivating, fostering autonomous learning, initiative and responsibilty, creating links with other people, cultures and civilisations, such use of ICT helps create an authentic setting for learning to take place. It is thus fully integrated into the socio-cultural framework of modern society, which it helps to prepare.
Moreover, I would like to stress that such learning is to take place throughout the curriculum, it is to involve all subject matters ; it should involve learners at all ages, from basic education to higher education, through life-long learning. As ICT allows learning to be democratised, new target publics can be addressed, the confines of the classroom can be exploded, open learning becomes a reality.
In Luxembourg, as in many other countries, we are still quite some way from generalising such a model. But the first pilot-projects have confirmed the validity and the necessity of the model and contributed to bringing it into focus. Hard- and software will still have to be pumped into our schools, teacher education programmes, both pre- and in-service, need to be reconsidered and extended. But to my mind, the most important concern should be to give further thought to how the learning process is to be improved and diversified through ICT. If the use of modern technologies in education has so far been only moderately successful, I believe that this is mainly due to the fact that the development of innovative pedagogic strategies that allow their implementation has somewhat lacked behind technological development. The production of new electronic learning applications will therefore have to be based on serious pedagogic research and teacher experience and expertise. We, the policy-makers, in intensive concertation with practising teachers, ICT developers, and the forces that shape the economic and socio-cultural environment, will have to take our responsibilities in this area.
ICT is here to stay - and if we are to prepare the people of today to prosper in the mediatised world of tomorrow, learning to learn, learning through discovery and exchange, learning together, learning about and with ICT, is not only necessary, it has also at last become fully possible through ICT.
This is both the challenge and the opportunity of ICT in education.
How can we turn information into knowledge?
(Publié le 9 mai 2000)