During the 19th century, the 20th century, and 21st century thus far, the massification of education was relevant in the context of developing countries. This process, which countries of Northern Europe had previously, allowed them significant coverage rates much earlier than the majority of countries where education and access to it were still underway.
These days we are witnessing a relevant and distinct challenge in increasing country coverage. We know now that the effort to support education for all and equality of opportunities doesn’t necessarily go hand in hand with the industrialization of the pedagogical process, nor a homogenized approach to teach in a way that everyone learns.
On the other hand, as coverage increases, the classroom is diversified and becomes a meeting place for people of different cultures, genders, social backgrounds, interests, and personal characteristics. This diversity has jeopardized the effort to homogenize the way in which everyone teaches, and brings us to a new stage in which, contrary to what one might think, meeting the challenge of equal opportunity requires knowledge of the subject in the effort to improve coverage. Like an orchestra, forests and trees simultaneously try to balance the necessities of a large group with a common piece to interpret, with the each score in accordance with an instrument and the role that it plays in the piece.
How do we come to a changing and diverse world where science and the development of human knowledge have confirmed singularity for us? As the school is responsible for this, how is the institution responsible for what children learn?
The challenge then is on different levels. On one hand, every day we need to make a little more progress in the democratic exercise of recognizing and respecting diversity in everything that we do. On the other hand, educational policies need to migrate from equal access to a world of opportunities. To shift from education as a process to learning as an experience is in the same paradigm as changing the new questions that require new forms.
The school: a tense space
School is a place for socializing, which implies the transfer of cultural patterns that are associated with the reduction of environmental complexity, as a strategy for become socially better. Reducing complexity aside from the complexity of oneself is a challenge of the school, point being that now this is a process that is being asked of a transforming world, where we take decisions that provide us with fewer known guidelines than past generations.
Schools then, are in transformation or at least feeling tension to begin this process with the demand to increase learning without considering the fact that there will be moments that require second order changes; i.e. changes in the representation of our work that go much farther than the hours that we dedicate to it.
During the past years these reflections were accompanied by conversations around educational spaces, not only in terms of energy optimization and management but also what these spaces require. Every time we see more proposals for schools without doors, schools with open and common spaces, schools with little spaces to work individually or in groups, schools where the wall borders are diluted and open spaces in the real world in a way unimaginable not long ago. Virtual schools where time and space change with a global world, integrated, and unknown to many in their daily school practices.
Considering all of the above, it is necessary to further explore the new ways of responding to everlasting questions: how do we get everyone to learn.
Probably the responses of Dewey, Piaget, Montessori, and Steiner are more relevant than ever. The point is how to translate them to proposals that consider the challenges of reaching everyone without discrimination and recognizing limited resources, considering sustainability, as education in the near future.
The challenge is how to make the precepts of the great educators of history viable in today’s world and how to outline methodologies and tools that are sustainable and effective, particularly in countries where a significant percentage of children and young people live in poverty. It is possible then that the technology that we now have access to is a resource that should be considered, not only in terms of its development as a possible offering to conventional schools, but as a response to the demands of a new school, where many people come not as students, but as learners.