Funds and Participation to Move Beyond the Government Policies

Dr. Milton Ramirez is a man I greatly respect.  As you will see from his post, he places a great emphasis on research. I originally started talking to @tonnet on Twitter where he is consistently among the most insightful people I know. He seems to be one of the rare people who can be both intensely smart and yet still get to know you on a personal level. He blogs at Education & Tech; I am thrilled and humbled that he took the time to write for the Diffusion of Innovations series. He brings a fresh point of view that has not previously been discussed here.

The mere fact of speaking of change scares us away and put on the defensive more than one. I’ve had the opportunity to work in the private business in management for several years and know firsthand what innovation means. The word as such belongs not even to education, is a  borrowed term which belongs either to of economics, business, entrepreneurship, design, technology, sociology, or engineering. While they, in this case  education officials , talk about innovation, the first thing to consider is to decide based on what we are going to implement innovations.

And that is where the educational structure leaves much to be desired. While the industry invests huge amounts of money for research and development, money is almost nonexistent for education other than non-government resources. One wonders why this happens. Since the education as an institution of change was created in the Greek era, this discipline, although it was used to educate the children of monarchs, was performed by slaves in the service to the empire. That scourge has not been eliminated and today, in almost every country worldwide, an individual with a doctor’s degree in education neither has the prestige nor receives the same money as an individual with a doctor’s degree in medicine.

Then, first thing we should do is obtain the money and government funds to carry out independent research. In this information-linked society we are pretty much able to see the limitations of our imaginations, and better able to make clear-eyed  transformations. Once we know scientifically the flaws in the system we can start thinking of innovation. The reforms to which we are accustomed to obey government  and political party slogans, do not always respond to technical research factors. Hence the same program receives small changes and it is renamed it, they  are still  thinking of the absolute goodness of the tests and want to make teachers accountable to a system where they do not even take any policy decision.

I have to resort to a book I read carefully. It is written by Clayton Cristensen, Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns. Taking a clue from Bill Gates’ 2005 critique of the American school system, Clayton applies his  theory of disruptive innovation to a much-needed evolution in the educational technologies, offering new opportunities and challenges for a system based on the business principles. After all, who with national authority has been able, at least,  to collect empirical data to proclaim that the proposed reform as it is, offers chances of maintaining the status quo.

If we refer to Biology, for example, evolution is a continuous process of attaining perfection through small steps. This is how creativity and innovation work. There must be an environment to experiment and create without too much overhead. The time from the conception of an idea to its birth must be short. This is the basic idea behind innovation in technology, which can be borrowed by education. Arun Ravindran is a computer scientist and he believes that: “The real secret of innovation is in making prototyping, experimenting, iterating or whatever you call it, cheap.”

What I am saying may seem like another set of words than we have already been heard. It is possible. But it is my vision of what innovation entails. Two people who I greatly respect have raised their concerns about the danger of wandering without concrete proposals. One is Steven W. Anderson, also known as @web20classroom.  He recommends us for example, “Educators have to reach out and add voices to the chorus. Get to your parents, make them an ally. Talk to your community. Make them a partner. It is easy for policy makers to ignore educators. (Frankly, they do it all the time.) But when we add local business, parents, community leaders, it gets that much tougher for them ignore. We have to quit thinking that parents and the community are the enemy. Schools were once centers of our community. We have to get back to that. Separated, we are weak. Together we are strong.”

There are several voices I have not had the opportunity to hear, but these two are the ones I am in touch with. Dr. Jeff Goldstein, who goes by  @doctorjeff on Twitter , is the other person. He has rightly called for a cessation of oratory and a shift in the way that educators need to be heard. The two education professionals have a lot to do with what Irving Wladawsky-Berger, one of the key innovators at IBM, presented to the Council of Graduate Schools (CGS) back in 2007: To raise concern about changes in education (pdf)we have to foster collaboration among leaders in education, business and government . We have to expand participation of underrepresented groups in all fields, especially those essential to America’s development and competitiveness. Attract and retain the best and brightest minds from around the world, and enhance the quality of education-through community members’ ongoing research.

I was doing an initial search for material on the topic of innovation in education and what I found is really little. Again, there is not research. If social support is not present for children and their families to buffer the consequences of poverty and other problems, even with the implementation of school reform proposals, educational success is highly unlikely. I think one of reasons we look for innovation is that this society has to be remove from the relative poverty in which this economic system has all immersed. But unfortunately there is no recipe, no book that tells us how to innovate. Or maybe we should continue with the utopia of innovation with little or no money, as Ravindran suggested.

Every step toward change and innovation therefore aims to prompt debate around the nature, purpose and tools that may promote innovative practice in schools. Of course, any discussion of innovation in education necessarily opens up a host of related debates, from debates on the nature of curriculum and assessment, to debates on the identity and role of teachers and communities, to discussions about the relationship between changing research and practice in teaching and learning. We cannot begin to address all of these issues here, but we leave the discussion open enough to influence others so they can take the lead.

New practices, no matter how small they are, tend to expand our vision of education. Teachers are obliged to get into the culture of continuous and daily innovation; if we do that there will be changes in the educational policies of each country. Remember though, that innovation leads to mistakes and we must be prepared.

This post was written by Milton Ramirez. He is a Math and Spanish Teacher and his contributions on education can be found at Education & Tech. He also writes about Ecuadorian affairs at Global Voices.

Photo credit to: AussieGold

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