Walking the Narrow Line: A Response to Brown’s Critique of the Current Policy Initiative Promoting the Incorporation of ICT into our Education System.

Finally! A well thought out critical perspective on the current policy initiative which promotes the incorporation of ICT into our classrooms! Browns article, The Growth of Enterprise Pedagogy: How lCT Policy is Infected by Neo-liberalism, is a breath of fresh air. The central thesis of the paper is that the incorporation of ICT into our education system is highly problematic and that this reality is unrecognized by many education theorists. I admire the Authors rejection of the false dichotonomy of ICT being either a demon or a cure (Why are those that find themselves in a society that is saturated by the western philosophical tradition, so insistent on creating false dichotomies?) since this dichotomy is both untrue and unhelpful.  Brown brings a critical yet fair perspective to the table. He is neither a Neo-liberal, nor a Neo-conservative but claims to walk a narrow path in between both viewpoints.

There are two parts to Browns paper. The first part is devoted to the wider debate about the role of ICT in education while the second part is devoted to a critique of the current ICT policy initiative, in particular its thoughtlessness and its non education intentions. I will deal with each part separately.

In the first section Brown begins by giving his ascent to the notion that ICT provides an enormous range of pedagogical innovation opportunities. However, he also proposes that the use of technology in the classroom is highly problematic. Brown correctly contends, and it is important for our society to remember (though human society often has a powerful case of amnesia) that technological advance is a double edged sword. While it provides powerful opportunities for increases in efficiency and efficacy, it very often leaves a devastating social transformation in its wake which has many negative effects. In light of this understanding Brown is contemptuous about the lack of evaluation that has been undertaken as to the effects on teachers and students brought about by using ICT inside and outside of the classroom, while regardless of our knowledge of the consequences of our incorporation of ICT in the classroom scandalous amounts of money have been advocated to purchasing ICT resources. In light of this recognition, Brown is right in portraying the aforementioned policy initiative as a grand social experiment. It seems as if, in the minds of many modern westerners, the enlightenment myth of steady social progress through technological and scientific breakthroughs has been combined with the modern foolish notion that whatever is newer is better, leading to a thoughtless incorporation of technology into all facets of our lives without so much as a thought as to the consequences. However, the Neo-conservative attacks, thought raising some good points, are also incorrect at times. In particular Brown points out that the Neo-conservatives misrepresent their opponents by saying that the use of computers alone will not increase the efficacy of our education system. In reality the Neo-liberals make no such claim. Rather their claim is that technology can be used in certain learning contexts to improve the learning experience. Brown proposes that the vital aspect of the ICT debate is the individual, societal, economic, and environmental effects of ICT.  The most powerful insight that Brown draws out in his article is that the computer is not a neutral learning tool but an active tool which changes us as we begin to use it. This acknowledgment clashes directly with the theme of progress found through the literature of ICT education reformers, and should result in further research and debate being undertaken about the subject before ICT is further integrated into our schools.

In the second section Brown takes the thoughtless push for technological integration to town. First, Brown criticises both the new Zealand and Australian policy makers on the basis that they have uncritically accepted ICT integration because of their adoption of the tool metaphor (that ICT is simply a neutral modern tool that will help us do things more efficiently) as well as a false sense of technological determinism (that technology will inevitably be incorporated into every facet of human life so we might as well get on board now). Brown claims that policy makers are enamored with what ICT can do for us without recognizing what it will do to us, and that this is their greatest folly. Second, Brown suggests that the neo-liberal ICT movement may have several negative consequences. For example he suggests that it may lead to a celebration of technological consumption as well as destructive ecological patterns. However, he fails to legitimize this claim by giving evidence. Third, Brown proclaims that the basis of the neo-liberal drive for ICT integration is a privileging of the values of innovation, and entrepreneurialism over and above the values of stewardship and moral responsibility. However, he fails to legitimize this claim by giving evidence. Fourth, Brown suggests that the ICT movement is driven by a desire to facilitate globalization and fast capitalism and that these ends may lead to the loss of national identity. However, he fails to show why these effects of globalization are negative. Fifth, Brown advocates a transformation of teachers from their current position as policy consumers to a position of policy producers, where teachers have a greater say in education policy. I agree with Brown on this point, it is clear that teachers should have some say in what and how they teach in order to subject the policy makers to critique, leading to policy change for the benefit of  both teachers and students.

In closing I offer two remarks. First, I find it highly frustrating that little research has been done in regards to the various effects of using ICT in the classroom. Surely the mental, physical, and spiritual health of students is of primary importance in deciding upon whether or not to integrate ICT into the classroom. However, there is no mention of these crucial variables in the research literature that is cited in several of the articles that I have responded to. Instead there is a misplaced focus on whether or not the integration of ICT will increase the efficacy and efficiency of our education system. It must be understood that student and teacher health is much more important than academic achievement. Above all else I commend Brown on his recognition of the health of students being of primary importance along with his call to greater research into the effects of ICT on students. Second, Brown’s critiques of the current policy trend and the incorrect focus of research on the integration of ICT into our education system, makes it clear that we need to incorporate Bennet and Maton’s tentative methodology for the integration of ICT into our schools, where careful research is undertaken before policy is changed. In the meantime, the push to upgrade the ICT in our schools should be placed on hold.

References

Brown, M. (2005). The growth of enterprise pedagogy: How ICT policy is infected by neo-liberalism. Australian Educational Computing, 20(2), 16-22.

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