Last fall LÄRA Stockholm, the magazine for staff members of Stockholm’s schools, featured an interview with me about the future of School. The article has now been translated into Spanish by Emilio Quintana and Juan Manuel Higuera. An effort that I truly appreciate, as well as Quintana’s personal remarks on some of my statements. And the latter seem to be in need of some clarifications.

As an introduction you may find my blog post in Swedish, about the interview and the magazine’s cover headline “Close down the School”, useful. The article in Spanish is available through the blog post Lo que va de Suecia a España. Entrevista con Richard Gatarski, which I have read thanks to a translation by Google.

I first met Emilio Quintana after a key note I did at IPON 2008 (ICT in education) in the Netherlands. Since then we have had some good interactions, including a few encounters here in Stockholm. Quintana’s concerns are really interesting, and I want to address them.

One-to-one before non-sense teacher qualifications

One-to-one, the idea of one computer to every student, is gaining momentum. More and more students, parents, teachers, school leaders, and politicians understand the importance of having the right digital tools on an indivudual basis. But Quintana seems to be concerned over me saying that computer equipment is more important the digital competence of teachers. Nothing could be more wrong. Quintana writes (translated by Google):

“It is true that Gatarski refers to teachers as people who should be open to new experience and contact with the culture of their environment, I think is wrong in its emphasis on computer equipment and not on the development of digital competence . Y más en un país como Suecia en el que la conexión a la red es prácticamente universal. And more in a country like Sweden where the network connection is almost universal.”

Probably a slight misunderstanding here. During the interview I argued that a computer to every student (and teacher) is more important than “qualified teachers” (swedish: behöriga lärare). In Sweden there is a big thing around “qualified teachers”, in my view a topic driven by the two largest teacher unions. Supported by vote-hungry politicians. “Qualified” is supposed to be inherent with a university degree from a teachers education program. I consider such qualification as being non-sense, given the massive critique directed to those programs. Where, for example, skills in IT-related competencies is not guaranteed by those degrees. Consequently, I feel it is more important to equip schools with contemporary tools, than “qualified teachers”.
The digital competence of teachers is of vital importance. But, as far as I can see, most of the innovative and updated digitally literate teachers have gained their insights through practical use in their schools and leisure time. Furthermore, through elaborate conversations with peers and the global web communities. Not in formal higher education. Hence, “qualified teachers” is not the important thing. Adequate tools, proper attitudes, and open conversations are. Something I also point out in the interview.
That does not mean I say give every child a laptop and wonderful things will happen. A lot of money has been wasted on IT hardware in schools, because teachers have not been given the time, support and resources to implement its use. What I am saying is simply that upgrading schools with contemporary hardware is more important than “qualified teachers” (who seems not to be qualified). And I add: digital competence, which cannot be gained withouth the “computer equipment”, is equally important. It’s chicken AND egg.

Schools must play the branding game

This concern is trickier, as I am not sure of how much Quintana knows about what I mean around branding in a school related context. And I really don’t know much about Quintana’s thinking on branding. He writes (again translated by Google):

“I am not convinced at all the way in integrating education and business, or how he [Gatarski] handles the brand concept school, although I agree with him when he gives importance to the generation of a recognizable profile (compared to those who think that ads are ‘catch’ students). Con todo, estoy mucho más de acuerdo con las ideas de Hugo Pardo Kuklinski cuando habla de ‘marcas blancas’ educativas y de geekonomía . But I am much more in accord with the ideas of Hugo Pardo Kuklinski when he speaks of ‘white label’ educational and geekonomía.”

Unfortunately I do not know much about the references Quintana gives. I only skimmed through them before writing this. But I am really stressed in not having developed, and shared, what I mean by branding in an educational context. Those ideas go far beyond tbe brand image of School (as an institution) and that of a school brand (such as Instituto Cervantes).
In short, brands have become a most important tools for children and all of us as we develop our identities and social relations. An ever-present process of human formation that schools (and teachers) more or less ignore. Worst case, even try to lock themselves and their students out from.
On the other hand, I am so happy to have learned that Richard Gerver, in his brand (sic!) new book “Creating tomorrow’s school today” seems to share similar ideas. Gerver devotes the entire third chapter “Making school matter, selling school to our children” to that subject. He ends the chapter with:

“We need to be far more considered in our thinking and the branding of our schools. We need to recognize that our children are the most targeted and, as a result, the most sophisticated consumers ever. We need to respect this and do something to counter it. It is time to swallow our pride and learn how to play the branding game!”

What I have been trying to say the last 10 years is, with Gerver’s words, that schools must play the branding game. And in order to play that game well, one has to understand its players, rules and tools. For example, the linking value of brands. Consider the brand value of “mathematics”. Do kids generally feel that math is cool and help them become a better human being? Do they feel that being good in math make them a good person to have relations with? Or is it perhaps the other way around?

Look into your nearest shopping mall. Do you see the brands?

Look into your nearest school. Where are the brands?

Where does the attention, interest, desire (and money) go?

Share
  • I think i better understand your position. I agree with you when talking about teachers informal learning in order to getting awareness and about a proper digital equipment in schools. But there are a lot of tax money buried in IT equipment because of teachers don´t know how to use it. I openly support invisible learning, learning beyond the classroom, outside the classroom: http://www.invisiblelearning.com

    I'm not sure if we need to work with computers in school; we have to use the digital tools we´re using in our everyday life for learning. Everybody can have a computer at home. If you are not using one on an usual basis, why have to do it in school?

    I also mostly agree on the theme of branding, but i don´t think selling jeans is like selling learning, because of many reasons i try to explain in this post: http://www.nodosele.com/blog/2010/03/06/educati

    When I'm in Sweden i hear all the time that students are customer and i disagree, because this concept is used in the old sense of the industrial age. In our postdigital age all is changing, and education too. We cannot apply marketing ideas from the 50s (don´t say you do). I knew Rasmus Fleischer ideas and i think he´s right : http://www.rasmusfleischer.se/skriverier/postdi

    Maybe in the future we can discussing more about these issues.