The future that will not be if it stays the same

“The purpose of uchronia, scandalous, is to modify what has been.”
Emmanuel Carrère, “The Bering Strait”.

Before the appearance and generalization of the Internet, one of the greatest technological revolutions for human knowledge was the movable type printing press, invited by the Chinese six hundred years before Gutenberg’s.

This magical instrument, which has subsequently known almost inconceivable advances, brings a wonderful and insurmountable technology closer to an unlimited number of human beings: the book. It can be embodied in many formats, but all of them were based on an original discovery: letters that are articulated in words, words in sentences, sentences in paragraphs, and paragraphs that are multiplied in a discourse where someone can transmit various ideas and contents to others and offer them in a succession of pages. Technology has always accompanied education.

The truth is that for some time now, every effort has been made to attribute great prestige to the Internet as a healer, claiming that with the Internet within our reach all issues are resolved without much effort.

This is far from being true, but it allows those who have a superficial, fragmentary reading of titles and flaps to create the illusion that the problems of education will be solved by generalizing connectivity and the distribution of machines. They forget that learning is a diverse process that requires a multiplicity of elements to materialize. And that it is not only a problem of what is learned, but of how much can be achieved with what has been learned. Without forgetting that whoever learns is immersed in a social and economic fabric of enormous complexity.

If it were so easy to teach and learn, the educational issue, which keeps legions of the planet’s inhabitants awake, would not entail major difficulties. They are poor visions that propose, in words, simple solutions to complex issues. Result: the issues are resolved in the discourse but not in practice. As the poet Oliverio Girondo well said: “Gentlemen and critics, it is one thing to cackle and another to lay an egg.”

The Nobel Prize for Medicine François Jacob quotes in his book “The Game of the Possible” that unforgettable fragment of “Alice Through the Looking Glass”, Lewis Carroll’s masterpiece, where Alice assures the queen of hearts: “No one can believing things that are impossible. And the monarch replies, leaving her stunned: “I think you lack practice. When I was your age… I came to believe six impossible things before breakfast.”

This fallacy is based on something that Jacob explains very well: “Few manage to accept that life and man have become objects of investigation and not of revelation.” From science to literature, those who have really reached the depths of thought with their reflections distrust simple explanations, those that are given from a single source without delving into complexity.

It’s not just connection. While I was writing these lines, the thinker on educational issues Guillermina Tiramonti published an article in La Nación that dialogues with what is being expressed here and that I think is worth repairing. There she shows how one must know how to investigate the doubleness of numbers so as not to see the complicated paths to follow distorted and mistaken, supplanting them with easy but false ones.

To those who argue that one of the central problems of education is internet connectivity and access to devices, it is worth remembering what Leandro Folgar, the president of Plan Ceibal del Uruguay, responded when asked about the criticism he had received the most successful program on the continent for the provision of computers for education of not having improved the results in language and mathematics in the evaluation tests after more than ten years of activity: “Technology, like any human tool -replies Folgar- offers its benefits when used with a certain intention. The availability of technology, of devices, of connectivity, does not always offer improvements in learning, but is used only with that intention”.

What he is explaining is that without technology it is not possible to advance at this stage of the game but that with technology it is not enough. This conclusion shows that it is a delusion to insist as an end in itself that with machines and connectivity education will be improved.

It is worth clarifying this because when some aspirants to govern when they reach the educational chapter, which usually give prestige to address, wave the internet patch as an objective that will bring educational results by itself, without clarifying that it is a tool that is not enough without other additions more complex, such as teacher training and the development of appropriate digital content.

Ceibal, which has made Uruguay at the forefront of these issues, acknowledges that having managed to launch one of the most successful digital educational planes on the planet sixteen years ago was not enough to improve its performance.

It is worth the anecdote to be alert with those politicians who with an attitude ‘spare lives’ promise to make a “technological revolution” to replace everything that has not been done, according to them. We listen to them daily. Is it not necessary to advance in this technological direction? Of course it is, but potential voters should not be misled with express solutions and arguing that therein lies the underlying problem. Because the result will not come and another frustration will be added.

The outlined panorama is the one that justifies putting literacy at the head of the executive priorities of the educational system. And for this, we must start in the kindergarten, which does not mean teaching the children to read there, but starting actions that lead them to have phonological awareness in order to achieve their first grade literacy. Is it useful to have a computer?

Surely a little later, when the children have already advanced in reading and comprehension, which is certain, a computer will not give them, but a good teacher with the appropriate methods. Someone strongly trained to be able to give your student what is not otherwise available. It seems like a truism but it is worth remembering because we hear about our technological backwardness, which sounds very cool, while the advances in literacy are deeply unknown.

But there is another aspect that perhaps in education it will be useful to repair. In general, many of those who give their opinion make proposals about what should be added, as if in that zero sum into which all change becomes, what is in force will work optimally and with results and only lacks some elements whose additions will further improve what is in force. current. There is usually little courage to close, cut, end the bad and a lot of enthusiasm to add and add.

Because populism is like that: the bad is achieved without giving the bad news that brings it. That is why the list of those who come to give good news is full of notes. The first element to take into account is that the educational system is a great mechanism that is underway and that requires changes of course that will not lower one key and raise another, but with the mass marching at full steam.

Therefore, change strategies must anticipate some aspects. One is not to continue adding where the addition causes damage to the whole and aggravates the debacle. A clear example is the creation of positions and institutions (it happens daily) that do not affect learning and that condition the budget, something that brings an inertia encouraged by some corporations, especially the union and politics. And the second is to produce changes that innovate, in some cases looking for other unknown directions, and in others that promote what is going well, which of course exists.

And perhaps in this way a crucial point has been reached. You also have to deactivate and dismantle large scams within the system that also compromise the budget. They have no effect on the learning of the recipient of the teaching, the student, a word that should not be forgotten comes from “alere”, to feed, that is, to receive nutrients.

How to invest. It is often heard that more budget is needed for education, which is always true as a general rule. What is not usually made clear is that in the state the amount of money in the system will be ineffective because it will be invested in a way that has already proven ineffective. There is the “clown pocket” effect where what is thrown out goes to the bottom without ever filling it up and without positive effects. More of the same. Hence, the task of improving practices and the increased budget must be parallel and this must be conditioned to that.

We hear about utopia every day. It is even a word that enjoys a certain prestige because it allows those who do not have the responsibility of governing to propose that “nowhere” where the wishes of the majority will happen. Hence, the utopian has a good image, embodying who wants to reach an ideal place, for now non-existent, where the desires of many will materialize.

Around 1876, the Frenchman Charles Renouvier published his work “Uchronia”, subtitled “Utopian historical sketch of the development of European civilization such as it has not been, such as it could have been”. Now the etymology takes us to a “no time” where reality is played out as it could have been if other paths had been taken.

The interesting thing would be to consider not a classic-style uchrony that was posed as a variant of the utopian game, that is, what would have happened, but as a future project for which the internet and artificial intelligence are essential tools. Educational uchrony would be to build a different future taking into account that we can accumulate experience and see characteristic paths that have led to this decadent present. In order not to repeat and, above all, to build the future on the basis of avoiding the paths already traveled, where simplification threatens true improvements and changes, although it calms some consciences and gives them peace with the corporations that live by letting everything continue the same… or worse.

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