ICT at the DIP Geneva
The original paper was published in French in: Informatique Informations; vol. 33; June 1997; pp. 6 to 10
Aims of this document
This text expounds the contents of a framework programme of the Department of public education in the Geneva State Administration, a project which promotes the integration of information and communication technologies (ICTs) in education. It exemplifies how the Department's pedagogical projects - after due submission to educational descision makers - are to be submitted to the Authorities for approbation and inclusion in the annual budget.
It also clarifies in general terms the nature of ICTs, their use and how they can be applied in the public education system. Special emphasis is laid on the impact of ICT in the training and education of young people for the information world of today and tomorrow.
Additionally, each level of the Geneva education and training system shall offer (1) a more specific illustration of the skills and knowledge development to take place in each school. The lists presentated below will serve as framework for the description of these specifications.
Information and communication technologies (ICTs) are in the course of introducing important transformations in the societies which have access to them, an alteration disrupting both work and social structures. This evolution will probably represent as much a transformation - to say the least - as television and mass media formerly induced in the relationships collectivities and individuals entertain with knowledge. It is not conceivable anymore that an educational system, even more so as it is engaged in a process of reform and renovation, should ignore the potential benefits, the challenges and the risks that these technologies entail.
One often compares the revolution brought with the emergence of ICT to the transformation that accompanied the invention of writing in high antiquity and the use of the printed word in the early Renaissance. We lack the historical distance to compound these views. Nevertheless, keeping in mind a prospective point of view, we have to take ICTs very seriously :
- similar to writing, ICTs appear as a new code, available to a minority, when they imply a high potential for universal applications students should be given access to, without further delay;
- ICTs are built upon a variety of technical skills, similar to those acquired with writing, that can be applied to a whole gamut of aptitudes, form the most down-to-earth to the most sophisticated;
- as a knowledge and information medium, ICT gives birth to new attitudes and cognitive conventions to be compared with what happened, in former times, both with the printed medium and television. As a consequence, it produces new users and new habits;
- ICTs are no more applicable to science than to language learning. They are highly flexible and can be used in the current practice of traditional spheres of knowledge as well as in unexplored fields yet to be examined;
- ICTs bring added value to textual productions in a culture which is sometimes thought as being primarily based on the image. The digital medium is linking formally disjointed realms of expression: sound, imaging (still or animated), writing, etc. It is hence natural to try to bring together the analysis and the learning of these different fields. Let us recall that it is one of the functions of teachers - and of educational systems - to repeatedly rebuild knowledge to put it at the disposal of new generations of students without over-simplification or distortion.
Where do ICTs stand in the present process of the reform of training and teaching in the Geneva education department ?
At the end of the 19th century, to read, count and write was thought as essential abilities to live and work in the industrial society as it was unfolding. At the beginning of the next millennium, to learn, to be autonomous and to be able to make choices as an individual and as a citizen inserted in a changing society seem hardly thinkable without knowing and practising ICTs. Schools have to offer their students the necessary skills to dwell in the midst of a evolving and unstable society. They have to bestow them the ability to take place in a process of continuing and life-long education in the context of a perpetually evolving work and social background, accompanied by the emergence of new jobs. Furthermore, as we are at the moment engaged in necessary reflections on how to transform the educational system, ICTs emerge as unavoidable because of the transformations they bring about in the field of knowledge.
For our students, to acquire autonomy will mean to learn and to master ICTs. Their schooling will only succeed if it offers them, in an integrated way, active, concrete and co-operative access to these technologies. Education will have to expand from a teaching rationale based on transmission and reproduction to one based on collaborative learning. An essential predicament and goal to be able to implement ICTs in education successfully.
A challenge for schooling
Information and communication technologies represent a source of knowledge that competes with mass media - especially for the audience of a public and compulsory school system. It is probable that schools, as dispenser of knowledge, will remain the only source having an effective and comprehensive capacity for analysing various domains of knowledge and for disseminating them. Schools have to maintain this capacity, a challenge that has to be upheld imperatively.
Moreover, it is difficult to take ICTs as a specialised field of knowledge, necessitating unique skills and activities to be developed in specific ways. They do not represent an autonomous branch in the tree of knowledge of mankind at the eve of the 21st century. Rather, drawing on our previous metaphor comparing the spread of ICTs with the emergence of writing, one should consider them as a container, a form, a generative model, if not a language. It is a compelling fact that schooling institutions have to accept that the present informational shift is effecting society as a whole. This means that they have to make up their minds about the basic competencies (or key skills) they have to develop in and for their students. Likewise, the educational system as a whole has to have a responsible stand in the face of the dangers represented by unemployment and social exclusion : still another serious challenge for educational systems.
Fortunately, schools are not without means to fight and offer, among other answers, effective solutions integrating adequately ICTs in their practices. Provided one places the latter in a broader context, it perfectly possible to analyse how to respond to present training and educational needs .
Knowledge and skills to be developed in educational systems
The lists below try to summarise the training needs of the present generation of students. They are voluntarily kept at a high level of generality to be applicable to any level of schooling (primary, lower and upper secondary, professional training, etc.).
Still, they have to be understood in a dynamic way :
- it is necessary that each type of school or educational sub-system bear the brunt of change in its distinctive way - i.e. some schools will insist on technical aspects as others will concentrate on critical features. Let us insist on this point: all levels of schooling are concerned and shall have to come to terms with the necessary skill and knowledge to be encouraged to master and cultivate ICTs (1);
- these lists are, of course, to be completed...
A Skills and knowledge specifically bound to ICT
ICTs considered as OBJECT of knowledge (subject to object relationship) :
1) to manage information;
2) to communicate;
3) to use the man-machine interface effectively (dialogue skills);
4) to understand how automatons work;
5) to know how to use professional software applications.
B Skills and knowledge bound to ICT as an information medium
ICTs considered as VECTORS of knowledge (subject to subject relationship) :
1) to be able to read, produce and process documents, multimedia included;
2) communication procedures: to learn how to "push" or broadcast information;
3) to search, organise and criticise information;
4) to structure concrete reality vs. virtual reality;
C Skills and knowledge bound to ICT within a school subject matter
ICTs considered as an ADDED VALUE in existing fields of knowledge :
1) to use new representations of knowledge within a given subject matter;
2) to use simulations and modelisations;
3) to process information emanating from various sources and origins;
4) to develop operative procedures bound to specific knowledge domains;
5) to build on specific existing basic knowledge and skills;
6) to reinforce communication skills;
7) to foster creativity.
D Skills and knowledge bound to both ICT and to the status of knowledge
ICTs considered as a CHANGE FACTOR within knowledge fields and between them - "meta" points of view: didactic, philosophical, ethical approaches :
1) to anticipate changes in the status of knowledge;
2) to reinforce the trans-disciplinary potentials of ICTs;
3) to help the creation and the setting up of pedagogical projects at all educational levels - students, teachers, schools;
4) to support co-operative/collaborative work;
5) to strengthen specific basic training procedures;
6) to foster better interactions between the educational system and society.
Defining an ICT framework project in education and recognising the necessity of setting up pedagogical projects integrating information and communication technologies in an evolving educational system are tasks that go beyond merely outlining students' learning profiles.
The issue of teacher EDUCATION is an acute problem, both as regards initial training and continuing professional development. For the latter point, one may consider ICTs as a specific skill and subject matter, as a tool-box to be used for training needs and - last but not least - as a framework field of knowledge necessitating a thorough critical reflexive effort. A well designed ICT teacher EDUCATION scheme should focus on topics such as communication and work methodology (pedagogy), knowledge acquisition and knowledge construction procedures (didactics) as well as the various psycho-social dimensions of communication technologies.
This entails that the different institutional actors of the Geneva department of education involved in teacher EDUCATION will have to co-ordinate their efforts in order to offer their audience the necessary skills to be able to get to terms with ICT. These include two basic qualifications :
- to acquire skills based on professional practice to be able to train their audience in an appropriate way;
- to understand their limits and to avoid malpractice - always likely in a field not yet sufficiently taken into account by the educational institution.
Among the difficulties repeatedly faced by educational systems, let us quote the periodic expansion of new fields of scholarship and the explosive nature of knowledge, especially as regards scientific knowledge. Schools cannot answer to these challenges by a mere additive procedure. In order to remain effective, they have to change their practices and their aims (1).
To take into account and introduce ICTs in education must not be considered as a crisis to be managed but rather as a pertinent - if partial - response to a number of difficulties. To integrate ICTs is a necessary constituent of changes taking place elsewhere in society. This means that both school authorities and professional educators have to consider them positive an opportunity for further development.
For the workshop: M. Bettens
Members of the workshop: Ms and Mr E. Bänziger, C. Beguin, M. Bettens, Cl. Charlier, J.L. Corsini, T. Fischer, F. Gabriel, N. Girod, B. Gmur, Ph. Kurrer, CH. Lachat, Cl. Magni, C. Malingod, J.-CL. Messellier, R. Morel, B. Parisod, J.D. Payot, A. Roissard de Bellet, P. Ronget, L. Stefen, S. Zoutter
May 1997 (English transcription by P. Dunand Filliol, CPTIC associate - April 1998)
(1) available in an addendum, to be released shortly.