Bridge over Troubled Water
Let me tell you a story which is both personal and professional. It is about crisis and innovation.
The first mobile phone I used was as big as a backpack. This was in 1978. This monstro, which at the time was state-of-the-art, was so large that new words were created for it such as luggable and transportable.
To be able to use a mobile phone at that time was quite extraordinary – you felt as if you had walked into a new world of opportunities and freedom. This was an innovation that took a long time to move from a blueprint idea into our hands as the multi-purpose devices we have today.
The mobile phone was first patented in 1917 (by a Finnish inventor Eric Tigerstedt). But it was the crisis of war in the 1940s which led to mobile phone technology first being developed. Then it took another 50 years before this device became an integral part of our lives.
A similar story applies to educational transformation. In the 1960s there was a political crisis in Canada based around language and identity. One response was to introduce the pedagogy of immersion in schools. The theoretical understanding had been common for many years. It reflected the work of people like Jean Piaget (born 1896), Lev Vygotsky (born 1896), Jerome Bruner (born 1915), and in later years Stephen Krashen (born 1941) and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (born 1934) amongst others who gave us powerful understanding of how to achieve excellence in education. However it took many decades for the basic fundamentals of immersion to take root in countries outside of Canada. And one key driver in this respect was the emergence of Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL).
In the 1990s there was a crisis in Europe. How could people participate in European integration if populations were monolingual? One response was found in CLIL which is not only language teaching, nor only subject teaching. It is a fusion of both. Referenced as the ‘utimate communicative methodology’ in the 1980s, CLIL has now become a hallmark of leading edge schools and systems. As with the mobile phone, immersion and many innovations there have been forces that have tried, unsuccessfully, to prevent innovation being realized. In relation to CLIL it has been powerful political and commercial entities which saw it as a threat to sales, publishing, testing, and the human capital of so-called native speaker teachers.
Today across the world we are facing the biggest transformative process since the founding of compulsory basic education over a century ago. And one of the drivers is the continuously widening void between the digital and non-digital worlds. In some systems and schools the situation is becoming critical. The gap is too great.
In education we need to make choices, and quickly, if we are to ‘stay ahead of the game’. Generation Z and A students are racing ahead and although there is much cause for concern by many parents, guardians, educators, there is positive and exciting news – inhabiting the digital world is bringing some very important benefits in relation to human thinking processes and competences.
Some schools have tried to keep digitalization at the gate, others have seen it as a wonderful panacea for learning all subjects. Neither strategy can be seen to work.
What does work is to blend the positive potential of these new mindsets and the newly emerging competences with two educational opportunities. In relation to improving abilities to think and use English language, currently an essential 21st century competence, the best path is to integrate language learning through CLIL, and draw on digital mindsets through judicious use of own-device technology – integrative pedagogy and integrative technology which empowers digitally astute students to realize the best potential of learning. Something we have known about for a long time, but have been slow to put into practice.
CLIL is not only language teaching, nor only subject teaching. It is a fusion of both. This is where it challenges the status quo (of always having subjects separated). Augmented and virtual realities are also the result of fusion – both of which can provide profound added value to what we can achieve in the classrooms using leading edge pedagogy. The use of all provides us with learning experiences which are more than education.
Curricular and technological integration is now a hallmark of successful schools. To re-phrase Carl Jung when two substances meet the reaction leads to both being transformed.
They say that every cloud has a silver lining. We have faced the need for transformative change in education for some years. Perhaps these weeks in which our lives have been turned upside down will give us an opportunity to explore how to take the next steps in providing the best possible integrated educational opportunities for our students and their families. And then we may remember the saying by Arthur Koestler, ‘the more original a discovery, the more obvious it seems afterwards’.