Saturday, 29 October 2016

42 or why one college does not wipe out previous options #education

When the BBC reported on the French/US college named '42', which is build around the idea of peer learning, without the interference of teachers. This new educational initiative (and yes, I do choose 'educational' to be in the description) was once again propagated as a unique solution to education.

Although I am not a product of traditional formal education, and I do acknowledge gaps in the formal education system, I also think there is no single educational or learning solution. This fits in with the idea that I do not think Human is the single species on earth, nor that Earth would be the single, life creating planet. Evolution is seldom based on single solutions, it is the complex and ever changing dynamic of different elements. MOOCs and 42 are not the solution for education, just as humans are not the solution for peace (clearly). It is a positive, engaging combination of elements that makes things happen, one where ethical considerations are discussed and used as guidelines for next steps, or - in case of nature's evolution - options are tested out in a natural equation that is aimed at keeping a balance, a mutual beneficial equilibrium. So at best, each element is a timely part of the overall equilibrium to move us forward, or simply to keep us moving.

Admittedly this no-teacher solution does have benefits, as peers learn from each other, which increases problem based solutions, collaborative efforts... etcetera. Yes, this works for those reasons. But do have some side remarks: coding lends itself to peer-to-peer learning as it is already set up as Lego building blocks in many cases (not all, I admit). This means that although no teachers are present at that moment in time, others (which could be seen as teachers as they choose content, made combination of coding combinations) did provide the basic foundation. Having said this, this approach also risks of duplicating what exists (true, could also happen in traditional schools, but that is why philosophy is in many cases part of any curriculum to have the hope of critical field thinking triggered). Coding does not start from scratch, just like language... but critical thinking does review language (gender capital embedded in words, sayings that divide society...) and this should happen for the coding language as well, while it is coded. This enriching historical context is something that is not something you learn early on in life (exceptions noted). Which is why it is a real positive addition to any type of learning.

The 42 college seems to work and I am honestly glad that it does. All initiatives resulting on getting more people educated get my vote. But I do hope there is room for a critical thinking influx that will enable critical thought. In the article Dan Butin already points out the benefits of having professors/teachers present to provide thought frameworks. But critical thought is necessary in all tech-oriented subjects, just like it is necessary in less-tech fields. Creating code, possibly adding algorithms, inside of Northern context made technologies to promote this coding... it risks to flatten diversity, which in the long-term slows down evolution. Or at least that what I think, but I admit I am trying to figure out how much diversity is good, and if there is such a thing as too much diversity. But still... any education and learning should at least try to be critical in order to at least ponder on possible effects of any chosen process.

For those who wonder about the name of the college '42', it is a reference to forty two as being the answer to life, the universe and everything (according to the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy written by Douglas Adams).