Closed and Open Education

When you set out to educate a society in which information is scarce and in which all the key sources of information are controlled by an elite, the most efficient way to do so is to set up establishments in which learners are brought in front of teachers and are expected to absorb “knowledge” delivered on the basis of a centrally- determined curriculum. We know it as the school.

So, when the Church controlled “knowledge”, schools were set up and run by the Church for its own purposes. The Church determined what was taught, and controlled who could teach.

When the sources of information began to expand, so the nature of the school began to adapt to reflect the change, with control of education gradually being shifted from the Church to the State (although there were a few exceptions where Church and State continued to come together in this endeavour). But the basic model remained the same – few sources of information, teacher as conduit of knowledge, passive learners sitting at the feet of the learned.

Alexander Yu Uvarov has written about the concept of a “closed educational architecture” – a fixed framework that set minimum standards of general education, that created “barriers against low-quality teaching” and that ensured “the relatively effective introduction of global modifications to the educational process” (in other words, a regulated framework that permitted changes to the curriculum or to the structures of schooling to be put in place relatively easily and quickly). This is the concept of education that we all understand because it is the framework within which we were all educated and in which we are still educating our young people

But in a situation in which we now have open and, to all intents and purposes, unlimited access to information, that closed educational architecture is starting to creak a bit. We now have to define and move towards a more open educational architecture – and many are thinking hard already about what that might look like.

For me, it will encompass a situation in which learners take more and more responsibility for their own learning as they get older (and note I do not say “are given more responsibility” – I use “take” deliberately) and in which teachers establish a new definition of what it is to teach. That, for me, means freeing up teachers to work with students in an open, collaborative way, with the teaching and learning that goes on the result of a continual process of negotiation. Teachers freed to do what they do best – to teach, to work with young people to help them get the best out of their own efforts, to advise, to counsel, to cajole, to persuade, and, yes, to impart knowledge where required – will go a long way towards enabling that “open architecture” that will be the future for education.