Monday, 3 December 2007

Online Educa Berlin 2007: Day 1, Plenary Session 1

Day 1 started with a number of great keynotes:

Dominic Fobih, Ghanian Minister of Education, talked about the strategic drive in Ghana to shift from agricultural economy to knowledge economy, to which ICT is a key component. He discussed a range of inititaives in Ghana focusing on implementing ICT in Education. Main issues: affordability of technology, ICT literacy, perceptions among older people that technology is only for young people. He also spoke about cultural issues, e.g that educational resources that are available are not culturally suitable for Ghana/Africa, and they are not adapted for local contexts and needs. Another problem is that most educational resources originate from "the West", which creates dependency of Africa on the West and loss of cultural grounding of education. He also emphasised the need to digitise curriculum resources across Ghana.

Sugata Mitra from Newcastle University and formerly chief scientist with NIIT India spoke about his 'Hall in the Wall' experiments. It was a truly inspirational keynote, delivered with humor and warmth. His message made a lot of sense to me - he demonstrated very strongly and clearly by experiments carried out across the poorest neighbourhoods in India - that children can learn almost anything (how to use computers, browse internet, languages, biology) by themselves, provided the right emotions are triggered. One of the things he said was that technology should not be put into schools, because the effects he observed inhis experiments don’t happen in schools, since children expect examinations, assessments, etc. so he spoke about the importance of learning in a safe play environment.

Next was Patricia Ceysens, Flemish Minister for Economy, Enterprise, Science, Innovation and Foreign Trade. She emphasised many of the usual key strategic areas that EU and its individual countries are increasingly focsuing on these days (if not in action then definitely in speeches!)- innovation, investing in R&D, entrepreneurship, investing in human capital (ie education and training). She spoke about the fact that in Europe the society is aging rapidly therefore the clients of educational systems are changing (hence the EU's emphaisis on lifelong learning to ensure that people stay longer in the workforce). She specifically spoke about the importance of increasing their employment rate and allowing them to contribute more fully, through getting them into education and through provision of flexible working and flexible learning arrangements (e-Mamas). She spoke about mobile learning as being a key to this challenge. She spoke about the iKids of today - culture of images, need for interaction, intercultural and multilingual, social and collaborative, need individualised instruction in schools. She ended with a quote from “Little Prince” - if you want someone to build a ship, one thing you can do is to give them wood, hammers and tell them exactly what to do. But you can also paint a picture of a see with all its beauty, its possibilities and boundaries that they will want to explore, then they will get the tools and build the ship themselves.

Andrew Keen (or should I say The Andrew Keen :-)), author of the Cult of the Amateur who spoke about - well, all the usual stuff about how the internet is killing our culture and values, how the "monkeys [i.e. wikipedians, 14 year olds, everyone who is not a Harvard Professor, or New York Times journalist] have taken control of knowledge" ; about how the authority of experts should be reestablished, about how a 14 year old will never know more than a Harvard Professor, and so on. There has been a lot said about his book and his views . His views are mostly disagreeable to me, so this presentation was not any different. But there is one thing that I agree with him and that is that web 2.0 has re-emphasised the need for media literacy - i.e skills in evaluating information, determinining its quality, being able to differentiate between facts and opinion, being able to evaluate and understand evidence.

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