In the years the OPEDUCA Project emerged (2004-2007), the educational sector appeared subject to growing criticism as it is still today. We saw a popular two-sided phenomenon around formal (school-based) education, one of guilt and reproach claiming more and better of schools while at the same time dooming its doing, declaring schooling redundant. Especially commercial interventions appeared to swarm school leaders as well as teachers with often illusive and delusive preaching of innovative progress, incurring floods of change breaking on shores where teachers' own initiatives are too often washed away, eroding schools' intrinsic transition capacity.
As our initial observations turned from astonishment over anger to constructive efforts The OPEDUCA Project was underway.
Although schools tend to be scrutinized per definition following their function, societal presence, visibility and personal involvement, critical opinions regarding technology education, ICT, soft skills and alike became widely shared in the first years of this millennium. The claim schools kill creativity (Robinson, 2006) formed one of the landmarks for years of fashionable critics most of which circled around what was educated and the way it was delivered, declaring classroom-based instructions being declared outdated. Observing the situation closer, claimants preaching change offered little solace by ways of vision or concrete solutions while creating opportunities for themselves to intervene by ways of consultancy. As murmur was copy-pasted and loudened, the drums were banged by interest groups, their sounds resonating with politics and policy developers who consequently opened an array of funding streams that in turn attracted more innovators if not gold-diggers to the field. The pressure put on practice seemed to shake its very foundations, creating cracks in walls that had held for so long, giving way to ill-prepared if not careless innovations. As change became a goal, school leaders and teachers not holding their ground allowed the demonization of schooling to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. As graphically expressed, the layers of external influence weigh heavy on schools as they are supposed to deliver ever more and perform on a multitude of priorities spelled out for them. Such pressure is frustrating and prevents an otherwise more autonomous course of development.
External influences pressure and bent the course i.e. route
A cacophony of interlinked interests obscures an otherwise potentially clear pathway of students' development by way of formal schooling
It is advised to no longer burden schools with innovations; a fragile system can crack under pressure and unleash uncontrolled eruptions of change in order to comply. It is not wise to enforce rapid changes upon an inert system that is deeply rooted in tradition. There is no progress in putting schools under relentless pressure to change while on the other being demonized and trampled on as outdated, certainly when considering school leaders and teachers are no change agents, no scientists capable of well-wrought response, let alone entrepreneurs that hold and defend their turf.
Observing developments while standing amidst practice, we explored thoughts about how it might have come that schools eventually called, also partly justifiable, criticism upon themselves.
Schools appear to function under a layered constellation of various strands of institutes and organizations, comprising elements put in place by public authorities as part of the educational system (curriculum authorities, inspectorates, etc.), initiatives arising from the field of practice itself (representative bodies, labor unions, shared services, etc.) and the education market (publishers, conference agencies, software suppliers, educational consultancy, NGO’s). A constellation that grew additionally crowded, cluttered and unclear as parties with ambiguous intentions manifested their influence by ways of countless programs and projects equipped with a variety of products, materials and services. Public authorities on the local, regional, state and national level as well as supra-national organizations, such as the EU and UNESCO, even stimulated the whole by a spread of programs and funding mechanisms. Perhaps most worrying, the layered constellation appeared not seldom entangled and interrelated in terms of course, organizations and people involved. The whole manifests itself as a persistent ‘layer of fog’ between higher-level policy and the fields of practice.
The 3-fold constellation of external influence on school-based-education has the capacity to stir the world of education so profoundly it incurs ‘floods of change’, waves rolling towards schools embodying massive amounts of energy and thrust, only to dwindle when making landfall - yet flooding the shorelines of daily education where scarce self-made improvements are consequently washed away.
False sensations of innovation give a reason for contemplation. The stampede described here is seen to delude school leaders and teachers and undermine their faith in their own skills and competencies. Consequently, many schools started to look like decorated Christmas trees, a vehicle where the ornaments, baubles and lights try to catch the eye and obscure the tree itself. In the OPEDUCA Concept, we understand education should be about the tree and the soil providing it a firm stand, about its vast system of roots and the climate it thrives in - recommending less can be more when it comes to progress.
There is an important task for governments to free schools from the layers of policy priorities and commercial interventions by extinguishing the cacophony surrounding them - lessening the waves of change that erode a school's own (transition) capacity.
Whereas it is important to set schools free from forced buy-inns of assembled educations proofed, it is most of all essential to curtail and even restrict external consultancy across the board. Such liberation will facilitate schools’ transition towards ESD-based Education, resulting in an upward-spiraling series of coherent and interlocking improvements.