Reflections on Oppi
Last week I wrote of the need to explore international collaboration in education rather than only competition. This was the focus of the Oppi festival of learning in Helsinki last week, which Nesta supported by sending myself and three of our partner organisations Code Club, Coder Dojo and Technology Will Save Us.
The conference was opened by Australian educationalist Simon Breakspear, who framed the themes of the challenges education systems across the world are facing dealing with rapid societal change, the impact of new technologies, and globalisation. He framed the two broad challenges facing different education systems as those of 'supply' and ‘demand’. In some parts of the world we are still working to ensure that there is supply of education to all those who do not have access, whilst in those areas where this problem has been largely solved we are facing a challenge of demand in the form of engagement of young people.
Engagement became a key theme of the conference. Finnish education minister Krista Kiuru expressed that although Finland is seen to have a world class education system, they are increasingly facing challenges with their young people engaging with it. This issue was raised in a number of sessions focused on education in the developed world, while the focus in the developing world is on ensuring access it seem developed nations face the challenge of making their education relevant and authentic enough to keep up with changes in society and the expectations of young people.
On both sides, new technologies were discussed as a potential answer. Bridging this theme was Friday’s closing keynote from Sugata Mitra, TED prize winner and instigator of the ‘hole in the wall project’ and now the ‘school in the cloud’. Mitra’s initial work was in using technology to provide access to learning in both slums and remote areas of India, but this work revealed that technology can facilitate powerful learning and engagement without a teacher being present. He has developed the work to explore how the lessons learned in deprived communities in India might influence the way we do education in the UK, while continuing to develop his approaches to access in the developing world.
Whether technology can replace teachers is clearly a contentious issue, and Mitra’s presentation prompted much discussion at the conference. His take was that teachers are still needed, but perhaps taking a different role than they have traditionally and allowing both technology and the agency of young people to take some aspects of their work so that they might concentrate on they key aspects of learning that require human interaction.
The human element was placed centre stage by Simon Breakspear, who stated that ‘relationships are still the killer app for learning’. However, with the challenges of engagement there was a sense that technology should be explored to harness the enthusiasm of young people. Finnish games developers Rovio presented on their work in education, which is framed around the fun and engagement that can be generated by both games and large entertainment brands. I didn’t manage to make their sessions, but my conversations with them and reading their ‘Learning as fun’ book by Lauri Jarvilehto demonstrated to me that their move into education is underpinned by a deep exploration of how learning and motivation works.
Games and online media are the culture of many young people, and there was a sense that to reach meaningful engagement in education the voice of youth cultures needed to be fully involved. Sarah Brown and youth ambassadors Lisa Goronga and Erin Lynch brought this issue to the fore with sessions chaired by Gavin Dykes for which I joined them. We talked about the challenges of engaging with young people and allowing them to shape the education systems in which they have the greatest stake.
Around such presentations of the current ‘big ideas’ in international education, there were numerous smaller sessions where people collaborated, discussed, and even got making. Our partners from Code Club, Coder Dojo and Technology Will Save brought educators together for the kind of hands on sessions they regularly run with young people. Mozilla also ran workshops throughout the festival on designing learning using their Web Literacy Map, and assessing and accrediting it with Open Badges.
Oppi was a festival rather than a conference, and for many the most valuable aspect of it was to get the opportunity to share and discuss informally. There were many opportunities for this throughout the weekend, and I had some fascinating conversations with teachers, educators and Finnish students about both the work Nesta is involved in and education in general. I also enjoyed sharing the perspectives from ‘the chalkface’ in different countries as teachers joined Tim Walker and myself for a TeachMeet session based on sharing stories of the everyday but inspirational from across the world.
As I wrote last week, so often when we discuss international educations we make stark comparisons which result in a framing around competition. The common language in these discussions is often the international PISA tests and the resulting ranking of countries produced by them, and inevitably these were mentioned many times.
Yet 2015 sees PISA introduce a new aspect of their assessments looking at ‘collaborative problem solving’, and there is a growing sense that the challenges for education across the world require solutions based on working together.
Ultimately what Oppi provided was a space outside of the specific pressure educators often face to conform with their own systems or compete against others. Oppi showed itself to be a space to discuss, to think and to learn together.