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“The End of Education.” Are we there yet?

The Schools cried out where are the children and the teachers lamented the empty classroom. The world screamed, ” We have no humans but droids!”

“The preparation for making a living… is well served by any decent education.” (pg. 32, 33) “Here it is necessary to say that no reasonable argument can be made against educating the young to be consumers or to think about the kinds of employment that might interest them. But when these are elevated to the status of a metaphysical imperative, we are being told that we have reached the end of our wits—even worse, the limit of our wisdom.” (pg. 35,36)

The End of EducationNeil Postman, 1995.

This pensive indulgence is a tribute to the children of our schools because they are life giving forces of these buildings because without them even teachers are at a loss. Schools with children only, is very much like a head without a body therefore, teachers complete the body and give greatness to it. But, is this the end of education where schools are complete only because they are filled with people? Keeping the end in mind is the wise teaching of Jim Collins in Good to Great, thus making the point that ‘end’ in essence is also purpose and ‘end’ in the mainstream thinking is that something has reached accomplishment or completion. COVID-19 opened my mind as a Principal to what I see as the end of education. This includes the purpose of education and the assumption that education is dead. Education has become a cognitive overloaded and a cognitive surplus too therefore, enabling children to become high end consumers which postulates the reality that the quintessence of education then is teaching them to accumulate things as opposed to leveraging skills that would strengthen their resolve in a world where the dynamics have changed dramatically. This dramatic change is best understood how we had to navigate the uncharted waters of the COVID-19 trials, tribulations and adjustments to a new normal or a new lifestyle.

COVID-19 pushed schools into the realm of online teaching on ZOOM, GOOGLE CLASSROOM and TEAM MEETS amongst others. It was seen as the leap into the new age of teaching. This new age of teaching is what we were preparing for in light of the barrage of information on the Fourth Industrial Revolution that emanated from the Y2K paranoia. It came in as the breakthrough to change the landscape of education forever and seen as a panacea to all the problems faced in education. However, the experience has left us wanting because the hype was such that it was an over promise of greatness, innovation, practice and metamorphosis. Allow me to express how the end of online teaching has affected the landscape of teaching and learning using the school I am Principal of as a case. ‘End’ here is used to express purpose more than it reaching its pinnacle of achievement.

Roshnee Islamic School started its road to the online platform early in 2006 and we have come of age with losing money too but, today we have refined the process with an effective Google Classroom setup that is in the main well organised and structured. The structure gives us leverage in shaping our competitive edge within the region allowing us to accrue fees, market online classes and email report cards which makes us look credible. While our school is fee driven, we need to work hard to establish a brand so that when are fees are paid, it is paid very much with the same enthusiasm of a person buying a branded item off a shelve of a branded store. In the same way that stores are branded by the product and the hype around it, online teaching was also branded a long time ago too. Its branding developed at the way education was and is evolving and it was given the puff of such redefinition of education that it was perceived to substitute the old with the new, augment learning teaching support material and modify lesson delivery, assessment and evaluation. Curriculum therefore, would change to suit the needs of a world that would become more reliant of Artificial Intelligence, Robotics and Virtual Reality. Teaching and learning changed rapidly in the first month of the COVID-19 LOCKDOWN and a new normal has now set in.

The new normal of teaching set in for Roshnee Islamic School as early as 26 March 2020 and developed into what we have today but, it is imperative to note the the response to the new normal. When the first lessons went off over ZOOM it was such a buzz that rang with modernity and it was embraced with such hope that the school became the talk of the town. It also brought in its wake the demand on parents to buy smart devices to ensure that their children learn. Purchases of smart phones, tablets and laptops reached record levels and with it came the demand for data. This marriage of device and data is set never to divorce because their dependency is crucial to each others’ existence. Pupils felt that their existence depended on data and devices and this type of existence gave the pupils a sense aplomb that was deflated very quickly when data ran out, when devices failed and when there was no WiFi connection. However, this marriage will not end despite the problems. The fight to keep the marriage going will tarry on for many years to come. What we did not see coming after the euphoria of online teaching was the helplessness of the pupil who misses the human touch and the real time interaction with the teacher. The teachers too, after the elation of feeling like a ‘Youtuber’ or a film star, began to miss the real time in the class but appreciated the sense of calm in ‘class’ because disruptions could be stunted with a click of a button. ‘Skipping class’ or ‘bunking class’ took a new slant of innovation. Pupils would screen shot the Google Meet lesson and keep that in the background while the keen mastery of gaming became the new master pastime. Parents took it for granted that their children were in ‘class’ and on line but, in many instances this was not the case.

The case with online teaching was its measurement because what cannot be measured cannot be evaluated. So we planned a mock exam when schools were reopened for pupils to attend i.e. on alternate days or on a platoon system. The teachers set papers based on what they taught on line and the results were dismal save for those few who attended online classes regularly and worked harder independently. It showed that those pupils who engaged the teacher on the various online platforms including social media performed better because they became self reliant and resilient to wasting too much time of social media. Yes, not wasting too much time means exactly that. Social media is the new hyped time waster that eats away free time faster than how a raging inferno would eat up forests. By and large pupils who produced dismal results, when interviewed said that online teaching was and is the perfect gateway to social media with a kind of license from their parents. They admitted that they did not sit for the full class and most of the times, they did not bother to attend class online. Another interesting situation is when parents were called in for a consult to discuss their child’s results of the mock exam. They were very surprised that so much of work was done on Google Classroom and were in disbelief because their children told them stories that were totally incongruent to what was actually happening. The reality is parents believed the stories their children told them. Parents in the main were so seriously fooled into buying gadgets that put them at odds with what is and was really happening in school and out of school. Parents became wiser and they thanked the school!

What is happening is that the virtual world has become our reality. We live in the world of avatars totally incongruent with living the present moment.

Image by FunkyFocus from Pixabay 

In and out of school it is now clear that the god of Consumerism is worshiped and everything else must bow to it. While on line teaching served its end, it has opened the parable of the ‘Lost pupil’. The lost pupil is like that person who in search of good education feels lost without Wifi, lonely without internet connectivity, poverty stricken without smart devices and useless if not skilled at using Apps for example like TIK TOK amongst others. The concept of narratives will be picked up later. Neil Postman in The End of Education, mentions on how the world of advertisements play on the weaknesses and vulnerabilities of mankind and thereby create a need and an urge to buy. He uses the phrase ‘Technological innocence’ to indicate our ignorance to advancements is a cause for distress and feeling left out. This feeling generates a kind of jealousy for those that have all the ‘know how’ gadgets. It gives them the face of being smart and knowledgeable. You, without it, would feel like that lost pupil in the playground. It is without doubt that Yawar Baig is correct when he says that values drives behaviour and behaviour drives results because, as a case in point we have come to worship the god of consumerism. Therefore, our values are tuned to demands of fast capitalism. Our knowledge base is narrowing. The knowledge of today’s child is the ownership of more digital toys making them consumer junkies.

Values drives behaviour and behaviour drives results.

Yawar Baig

Junkies need redemption from addiction and going cold turkey is not the solution and therefore, one looks at schools hoping that it will offer help against fast capitalism. It does not. In fact, schools promote it through the consumer curriculum it offers. To make the point real, I looked at the cell phones on the teacher’s desk when pupils were writing and exam and the value was more than R70,000, yes more than Seventy Thousand Rands. The average cost I took to be about R3,000.00 per cell phone. The god of consumerism is king here as an example. Added to that an average child is exposed to millions of adverts and ‘pop-ups’ adverts making television, social media and the internet the major role player in shaping their values. Schools become the playground for all this to have a space and furthermore, the rise of independent schools that are so expensive takes consumerism to another level of addiction to a lifestyle that is marketed on the backbone of education. Education has moved into the space of fast capitalism too.

Education on a global scale is moving to support the move of ‘fast capitalism’ i.e. where minority groups control the means of production in varying degrees of monopoly control. It is creating a mass employment market for skilled professionals and unskilled apprentices. Therefore, it becomes necessary that we train people to become independent such that they themselves become the ‘movers’ of fast capitalism.  In effect, the monopoly of control is then spread across a more broader band of people educated enough to invent new opportunities to satisfy the physiological needs of the masses. Furthermore, skilled apprentices will then become employers which would reduce unemployment. This should generate more and more reach people to aspire for self-actualisation thus, prospering their own life through a culture of self-reliance. However, our education system does not support this because in the main, South Africa as a case in point is doing really little for the vast majority of school leavers who cannot make it to study at a university. The end of education should not be and cannot be the end of schooling or when one drops out of school. There can never be an end to schooling if we keep the end in mind of being a life long learner learning relevant knowledge.

Relevant and irrelevant knowledge is available at a greater speed outside the school and even with the ‘school in the phone’ the access to information is so rapid that asking a question in class appears useless when you have Google at the fingertips. Therefore, the end of education is how we use technology and not how technology uses us. Technology uses us when we make it a god and forget about the human touch and values that underpin our lives. It is asinine to assume that children are not picking up the new values from television, social media and the likes. The values they pick up are really only gauche. There is no sophistication in the rudeness of a child today in class when he imitates anti-social behaviour of what they have seen on a sitcom or on TIK TOK therefore, schools must be able to respond to this and change it. The crucial question is, “Can schools change it?”

Schools can change it but, the narrative of the teacher must change. The narrative of the teacher should be one of a worldview that is constantly revised. For example, the teacher cannot teach with the mindset of everything Euro-centric because with technology so advanced, real life dramas can be relegated to unwanted ‘pop-ups’ on a screen. The end of education should then revive a search for a new narrative in schools that can ignite debate on a vastly different level using technology. For example in the clip below the audit of South African Department of Arts and Culture’s proposal on a special theme park for statues that are symbols of colonialism and apartheid is highlighted. Listen to the latest on The Midday Report with Lester Kiewit: ‘Arts and Culture minister Nathi Mthethwa says that the government is considering the removal of statues linked to apartheid and colonialism.’

Taking a cue from the above it is clear that the narrative on colonialism will change and when this type of talk is brought into the classroom, the end of education is seen beyond the spectrum of cultural pluralism or multiculturalism. It will enter into the space of the here and now of what people think. The thinking of people can be collaborated online in a rapid fashion. The point made is that change means how we use technology and not how it uses us therefore, underpinning the view that schools have the pivot to introduce that change but, it needs to start with reviving human values again. This change is what we have to reconnect with again.

The change we need now is to work harder to instil values and reinforce the human touch in our schools not as a cusp but as an unrelenting wave that rises and falls to level down to level up. In the school my observation was that pupils, after the lockdown of two months had lost the art of forming new or reviving old interpersonal relations. This for me was the end of education in that it proved that schools and universities open the vistas of networking and to build human relations. The online platform has merit and it will not go away but, it is the human relations that we have to look after and nurture it. If we don’t we will become human droids, empty of emotion. We are already on that trajectory of ‘Star Wars.’ Reflect on all the current wars and conflict for example. Don’t you see that are we are continuing to kill, rape, pillage and plunder because, the human touch is already diminished to flashes on a screen. The end of education and here meaning purpose, is to enhance human relations and reintroduce humanity to humans again. Truly speaking, we have been in created in differently to understand each other and to learn from each. We have not been cerated to know each other in the virtual realm where you can be deleted or as an avatar in the virtual world too. In this way, we knit the fabric of social cohesion.

Educators must guard against computer technology’s undermining some of the important reasons for having the young assemble in school, where social cohesion and responsibility are of preeminent importance.” – Neil Postman. The End of Education.

The social cohesion at Roshnee Islamic School was sorely missed and it was palpable when teachers met to discuss how the the online platform will work. It is this reality that stems from the fact schools cried out for the children and teachers lamented the empty classrooms because there was a vacuum which can only be filled with meaningful relations. It is our tenacity of being human never to give up and not give into something strange without a fight therefore, we braved the COVID -19 Lockdown and embraced technology to teach with the hope that we will meet the child again in the class. Our hope got us back into the classroom. The fight to challenge a future designed for data capturing and human herd control through the extensive use of Artificial Intelligence in all its forms means that the end of education has only begun. The end is not a pessimistic view that all will fall into entropy because of the lack of courage in us. Nay! the end of education is one of optimism because we see in front of us how devoid a human is when exposed to the full brunt of technology. The human, behaving like a droid is what we don’t want therefore, we will endeavour to make the end of education the means to reviving “The preparation for making a living” and this “is well served by any decent education.” Embrace schools again by redefining their purpose in a world that has changed. The end of Education has only begun.

Abdullah Sujee

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