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Don Tapscott

Rethinking what we mean by school and public education

Yesterday I wrote about the extensive three-year study funded by the MacArthur Foundation into how young people spend time on social networking web sites and how this exposure shapes their social skills and opinions.  In particular I am excited about the suggestions that online learning has major implications for our usual assumptions about teaching behaviour in the classroom.

Though they don’t discuss the idea in depth, the study’s authors also wonder aloud as to whether we should be rethinking our traditional understanding of what constitutes a school and what we mean by public education.

Kids’ participation in networked publics suggests some new ways of thinking about the role of public education. Rather than thinking of public education as a burden that schools must shoulder on their own, what would it mean to think of public education as a responsibility of a more distributed network of people and institutions? And rather than assuming that education is primarily about preparing for jobs and careers, what would it mean to think of education as a process of guiding kids’ participation in public life more generally, a public life that includes social, recreational, and civic engagement? And finally, what would it mean to enlist help in this endeavor from an engaged and diverse set of publics that are broader than what we tradition­ally think of as educational and civic institutions? In addition to publics that are dominated by adult interests, these publics should include those that are relevant and accessible to kids now, where they can find role models, recognition, friends, and collaborators who are co-participants in the journey of growing up in a digital age. We hope that our research has stimulated discus­sion of these questions.

These are excellent questions.  I’ve written extensively about the creative upheaval in the private sector courtesy of the Internet.  How can we facilitate similar innovation in education?  And now that the traditional school/employment divide no longer makes sense, and workers must be equipped for life-long learning, should we now have a more diverse and inclusive definition of public education?

Tags: School/College


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