Rantflections on Politics, Pedagogy, Education & Covid-19.

Force-mapping for design narratives in CV-19 times…

As part of the design narrative for Block 3 of the Open University module on ‘Openness and Innovation’ we were asked to create a force map and then reflect. The university might wish they’d never requested such a task from me….

I duly created the force map drawing from discussions with my cohort of five (based internationally in different settings and roles), the personas they created for the project, discussions with teachers in wider contexts…Within the force map the teacher, in the end, appears a fragile and lonely figure firmly situated at the centre it all, surrounded by responsibilities and appearing easily crushed or broken. See zoomable force-map image here.

The push has been to maintain ‘business as usual’. And to an extent that has been achieved. Teachers and organisations have hastened to transfer their existing practices to digital, keep the classes running at all cost. Some have succeeded, some have not, some have been left behind in the response to the emergency. I look at my map. Is it any wonder student motivation is maybe suffering along with teacher confidence? Just look at what the teacher is dealing with. The opportunities for experimenting with best practices must be fleeting at best. I know I myself would be likely to revert to didactic methods as the easiest route while I struggled to re-organise myself, my resources and my strategies, all the while trying to absorb the constant barrage of information coming my way… I followed this thought process and took the opportunity to Google ‘Education and CV – 19’. Every single item that came up was an information notice issued either, for the attention of educators, or by educators for the attention of students. Endless lists of whats, whys and wherefores ensuring that everyone had covered all the health and safety and required information guidance. Overwhelming. And there seemed to be little if any acknowledgement of what all this means in real, on-the-ground terms. The nitty-gritty reality of it. The publicly visible response to the crisis currently taking place in education is all about covering the appropriate arses. I was audibly relieved even in my isolation to come across Maha Bali’s 28-05-20 Blog Post “Pedagogy of Care: Covid 19 Edition” https://blog.mahabali.me/educational-technology-2/pedagogy-of-care-covid-19-edition/. Someone attending to care and well worth a read…Though interestingly it’s all about caring for the students. I get it, if you feel your students are cared for everything is a bit less stressful, but still…what about that fragile figure at the centre of it all?

Not just the publicly visible response. I started thinking about this course. I’m fortunate as I’ve been put into one of two cohorts tasked to research the current situation. But the other five or so are researching the pre-set topics, such as exploring local history and reflective practice. This is how the course has been prescribed since at least 2011 (to my knowledge). Only two cohorts may petition to choose a topic of their own, lucky me got one. All groups are following the pre-ordained design narrative script. I haven’t looked yet to see if they are finding ways to make this relevant to their own work environments and the current situation, I know I would be trying my utmost. But I start to feel angry as I begin to find that many of the links provided for our project are broken, out of date and lead to nowhere. For me personally one of the most frustrating aspects of this is that two of them are to university platforms where I’d been encouraged to do a lot of work on a previous module, now apparently inaccessible. But, worse than that – people, real teachers dealing with the current crisis, are trying also to complete this project. The broken links are just one indication of the inadequacies of the university and I start to feel really angry. Why haven’t they been able to respond to this emergency, like the teachers and education leaders they prepare have had to? Why are they sticking to a copy and paste of instructions that would be out of date at the best of times with their broken links? Why have they not been able to seize the opportunity to support their students to access the vast networks they must have available to them in order to find and generate relevant, high quality research dedicated to the global need? Why not?  Why? To me, it seems to epitomise everything that is wrong with education, especially HE as that is where it is all supposed to lead. Ponderous, laden down by tradition and investment in the establishment, painfully, and in this instance ludicrously unable to respond appropriately to social need.

I’m about to finish my ‘rantflection’ when a dangerous thought flits across my mind…I wonder what the links are between countries ranked as successful educationally and countries who have managed to control the CV-19 pandemic in a reasonable manner? I can’t help but do a quick search. Immediately Google tells me that according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)  (https://www.undispatch.com/here-is-how-countries-rank-in-education/) South Korea is leading the field in terms of ‘highly educated young adults’. I think we already know the South-Korea Coronavirus story…South Korea have been focusing their education for years now on supporting their students to operate effectively within their context and culture. That has included fully embracing technology at all levels of education, arguably at cost to other more creative arts, but they’ve determined what their citizens need in order to survive and are actively and apparently efficiently pursuing this. Close to South Korea in the education stats sits Finland. They’ve taken a totally different approach and recently became the first country to abolish all subjects at school – also in an effort to prepare its students for the unknowable future: https://curiousmindmagazine.com/goodbye-subjects-finland-taking-revolution-education-step/?fbclid=IwAR3w5I9Ybk5aoiY2yyQS7sPA8VaRqVofBOs4MY-xfYjfr2NKa_kCW20zzSQ . I haven’t looked up the Finnish coronavirus stats but somehow I don’t think I need to.

https://data.oecd.org/eduatt/adult-education-level.htm#indicator-chart Accessed 29-05-20

The sluggish response of our educational power structures…Not just the willingness to subject their (paying) educators to shamefully outdated resources, practices and pedagogies but to insist they adhere to a design narrative created ten years ago and in no way relevant to the current situation. A narrative in no way designed to help them to cope with the current situation, because the establishments themselves have no precedent for knowing how to cope and dare not step outside the known for fear of breaking with the traditions that are long since no longer relevant.

I see my fellow students struggling and lashing out in frustration. Tempers frayed and too many balls in the air. The course that should be helping to manage this situation hampering instead. What I guess I want to say is: dare to be a design narrative rebel. Write your own based on what you’re having to deal with now, and how you’d like the landscape that you and your responsibilities have to inhabit in the future. This education ‘machine’ that is causing you so much grief, find a way to use its own tools to create a narrative that works for you and those for whom you feel responsible. A narrative that helps you to exist within a pedagogy of care that encompasses all parties, including yourself. Be kind to yourselves.