Can the digital revolution de-school society?

Will we still need schools?
Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

De-schooling society is an interesting book in by Ivan Illich (1971) in which provides a strong critique on the institutionalization of education in schools. In a nutshell, there is a continuous contradiction with the concept of universal education and the promotion of universal school systems. As the education process is continuously appropriated in education institutions, it excludes those that cannot be involved in these institutions. There It can be asked, “isn’t this what should be done? What the education system is made for?”, however, current trends such as the rise of MOOC (Massive Online Open Courses) and learning platforms (i.e., Udemy) bet on this separation. How useful can this separation be through these platforms?

In a way, these platforms provide an opening to the proposed network of learning that Illich defines as necessary for the de-institutionalization of learning. However, these platforms are just one aspect of his perspective. The network of learning is not only the creation of content distribution networks. These platforms are limited to skill-learning, not education. Education is a purposeless process that is based on the empowerment of the learner, on allowing for greater autonomy through their exploration and dialogue with peers. Education needs more than high-quality or personalized content. Education cannot be inside a framework of efficient and measurable acquisitions of content or skills.

Of course, we could hint to other platforms that may allow for the sharing and discussion for peers (such as Facebook ability to create groups or Instagram for sharing media content). However, these platforms, as many others in our society, are and will be based on profit-optimization algorithms whose role is to create a market of behavior through their applications. They depend on graphical and emotional mechanisms for the increase of use, which goes against the nature of education. It requires dialogue, not just opinion making. It is not about selecting ideas I like or not, it is about judging them continuously. Therefore, schools are not by themselves are detrimental, is their internal process, that largely resembles indoctrination, that has been accepted in various forms of government (from authoritarian to democratic). As education continuously starts being the target of capital due to its continuous lag of growth in productivity, we need to understand better how education and skill-learning are different.

A clear example is the joy around Google creating their own courses and certifications, as a potential substitute to university degrees. As we push for corporation ideology (efficiency, control, defined objectives) and the influence of labour market demands on education, we will begin to stop differentiating the fact that the market does not care about education as far as it creates “market useful” skills. Proper education can be reserved to a section of the population that can afford it, or even say to deserve it, the same way the system does to wealth and income. It just needs labour that can do tasks that are not yet automatable until they are, and god forbid that corporations should pay for re-skilling. The latter is individual responsibility. In the continuous desire of control from the market (commodification) in more human activities, schools can present themselves as havens for education, not for skill-learning. It should welcome the “efficiency” of the market serve themselves through skill-creation. Therefore, instead of trying to be more efficient, to allow for every person involved to have the autonomy and social aspects that education is based on. With a joint desire for the progress of society, they still should bear the cost of real education as a right for everyone in a society that believes so.

To answer the initial question, the digital revolution does not provide the answers to the de-schooling of education. Education Technologies (EdTech) should be renamed SkillTech if their value is centered in efficiency and measurable outcomes. However, it may provide the support for higher freedom for real education, as skill-learning (of market useful skills) can be left to market mechanisms where corporations should take higher responsibility on the training of their employees. However, it does provide new technologies that can prosper to empower real education, outside of market mechanisms.

I have lived some while in some places. With plenty of life ahead of me (hopefully), I’ll start writing about the ideas I have or pass through life.