When digital education is a trip to Silicon Valley
The debate about how the Danish Folkeskole should equip students for a digital future has been rolling back and forth since the early 1970s. In her PhD project, Sofie Stenbøg investigates how politicians, researchers, industry organizations and others are battling to set the agenda for digital education.
What is your current research about?
My PhD project is about investigating the debate about IT in primary schools as a political practice. I look at the values that characterize the debate and the public strategies and initiatives for digital education. Many players have a strong interest in influencing the teaching – politicians, companies, public debaters, researchers and, not least, industry associations that want to educate people with the skills needed by companies.
I outline these political trends and also do ethnographic research on how teachers and school leaders put national and municipal strategies into practice in the classrooms.
What have you discovered so far?
Back in the 1970s and 80's, IT teaching was about equipping students with specific skills that would turn them into democratic participants in a digital society. Today, there is a lot of focus on teaching students to be innovative and able to create with IT. At the same time, digitization has become a key element in the discussion about education – there is a lot of talk about 'digital education’. There are lots of discussions about what qualities we want students to get. It is interesting to analyze the negotiations about what the term "education" should mean in a digital context.
For example, Rødovre Municipality is currently planning to send all 8th grade students on an "education trip" to Silicon Valley to learn about technology development and innovation. What notions about IT and innovation give birth to this kind of idea? That is one of the questions I am working with at the moment.
We often use forceful metaphors when discussing IT in primary schools. We talk about a ‘technological revolution’ that we have to prepare for and call digitization an ‘avalanche’ that is rolling us over. This gives impression that we really have to hurry up because digitization is coming and we are already behind in the global competition. Many players have an interest promoting this rhetoric so that it can affect political strategies in relation to digitization.
What do you find most exciting about your field?
The discussion about who the citizens of the future should be and how to educate them is also a discussion about what kind of digital society we want. The future and the ‘needs of the future’ are often used to justify various initiatives in primary schools. But we forget that the future is also a political construction and not something that is already finite and just waiting to be realized – what will happen in the future it is largely up to us.
It is important that we make thoughtful and informed decisions in this area, rather than rush everything because of disaster scenarios like the 'robots are coming'.
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