Under the ‘new normal’ of internet-based learning, those at the margins of society could find themselves struggling against further exclusion.
The concept of access needs further exploration beyond the popular understanding that it is mainly about the installation of broadband networks and distribution of gadgets to the community.
More than the means of providing a formal type of education in a world grappling with a pandemic, there should be a continuing review of what type of knowledge will be the focus of the adjusted curriculum.
The starting point in building a progressive education is recognition of the learner’s ‘cultural capital’. It assumes that every learner has a knowledge of the world that is worthy to be integrated into the schooling process. The student’s language, his ideas about the reality of the present, her struggles in a feudal household – all of these are essential in developing new knowledge and remaking the world.
Will this be the philosophy that will guide educators and technocrats?
Online education introduces a more difficult challenge since the learner has to be capable of coding, uploading, and streaming his worldview. She is allowed to articulate her reality but only in a language (and font) that is available on the internet. A student in a farming village can contribute to defining class topics but he has to present them in a digitized format.
What will be privileged are ideas, themes, and narratives shared by students who are not only able to participate in the online classes but also ready to interact with others because they have rudimentary familiarity with the rules for joining virtual sessions.
They have an advantage over the digitally excluded in unpacking the preprogrammed modules whose content reflects the values in mainstream society.
Education is under threat of being reduced into a mastery of prepackaged learning materials that are stored in downloadable files in the web cloud. Discovery of the new in the near future could simply refer to a browsing experience.
Information is presented in striking visuals, summarized in creative infographics, and standardized in conformity to national and global standards.
Diversity is equated with plural perspectives reacting to popular memes. Hence, the danger of limiting classroom discussions to topics that are viral and trending, even if these do not represent the lives of students. The valid aspiration to be relevant and seen could end up in a frantic race for cyber attention.
This has harmful consequences to students who might wrongly assume that their life stories have to garner social media boosting as a prerequisite for acceptance in society. Or they could disown their local cultures, habits, and ideologies because they diverge from the popular norm They might reject their framing of the world because it does not adhere to existing categories or it is deemed archaic for digital sharing.
The choice of what learning tools will be widely adopted, procured, and deployed should be subjected to critical scrutiny as well. The use of smartphones, laptops, and tablets has been normalized that it’s almost difficult to challenge the assumption that each gadget is fit only for individual usage. The varied IT applications in the community, the communal technologies in preserving local knowledge, the social character of schooling are all subsumed under the narrow technical discourse of making online education work. The sense of what community means might be lost in the rush to implement the individualized internet-guided type of education.
This could have a counterproductive legacy on community empowerment. Young citizens turning into self-obsessed, information-addicted, spectacle-seeking individuals with little or no sense of the grassroots and their liberating potential.
Enabling this looming reality is worship for a technological solution in response to the raging pandemic. What is discarded is the human factor in confronting a crisis. The sustained and systematic mobilization of communities to fight an invisible enemy. Blinded by the unpredictability of the situation, many succumb to fear which force them to put their trust in contactless technologies. When human interaction is suddenly viewed with suspicion, wireless alternatives suddenly become a necessity. This is taking place at a time when the pedagogic role of the internet is still promoted through corporate lens.
Therefore, the future of online education must be reshaped through a comprehensive critique of the political economy of the internet. Unmask the web of monopolies, the networks of surveillance, the economy of inequality that has condemned millions to be invisible and disconnected from the world. This will entail vigorous offline probing that students must undertake with others in the community in order to know the world and change the world.
Will this be the framework of the blended type of learning under the ‘new normal’?
What if the unmentionable aim is to pursue what neoliberal hardliners have been trying to impose through the policy reforms that they have been introducing for many years: establish a depoliticized education system. Remove the social context from the virtual environments of students. Mass produce an army of graduates possessing internet-driven skills required by the global labor market.
A complete negation of what education should be: transformative, radical, political.
Learning as an activity that makes the world knowable through dialogue and praxis. Individual enlightenment realized through the collective assertion of rights.
A reminder to build a stronger movement to derail the conservative agenda of making traditional and online education an instrument of hegemony.
And the antidote to the non-political education of learners is through political organizing. Knowledge of the world is grasped through political empowerment. A community of learners emerging from the margins asserting their voice and autonomy, tapping the power of the networks to build solidarity, and claiming power through struggle and resistance.
Mong Palatino is a Filipino activist and former legislator. He is the chairperson of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan Metro Manila. Email: email@example.com