Towards a brighter future: is information filtering a required skill?

When you write about Education, you’d think there’s a common interest of anyone who’s thinking about what their kids can do to succeed in life, reach higher positions in the workplace, stay informed and be able to act with responsibility and readiness even when faced with the biggest challenges in the sector they are or want to be in, or maybe adapt with ease to the changes of a fast paced, disruptive and innovation driven culture. I’m here to say it doesn’t always go like that: the real data on what happens in schools around the country should put everyone not exactly on alert, but at least in a state of introspection, considering what needs to be done to fix the gaps in systems adopted on city and state levels as well as the federal programs. There’s a lot of progress in Brazil, notably in access to higher education and reshaping of testing and materials, but the discussion is marked by party ideologies that can’t seem to mix or even dialogue, as polarization makes it clear that populism and capitalism aren’t on the same spectrum of influence. And before you ask what exactly I mean by that, it’s really common understanding: caring about people or caring about money. There’s a small detail, though: everyone needs money and people need each other.

I was listening to an EdTech podcast yesterday where a teacher in London mentioned film making and programming classes for young learners. How I got there is maybe more interesting to talk about than what’s being discussed; how many people are going to dig in to find out more about every single potential knowledge building source and updated material is a whole different issue. So let me just say I’ve been thinking about my role as a teacher in the Southeast of Brazil, a region that notably has São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro as the main economic spheres in the country, while nearly 40% of people older than 25 haven’t gotten to high school, according to a 2018 report from the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (a regional assessment on school quality based on national testing is available here). A lot of discussion is happening around the future of work, with the people who used to scream that robots would take all the jobs being replaced by testimonials of Amazon workers who can’t stop; of education, with teachers being filmed in the classroom and students searching more than ever for reliable sources, as well as memes and stuff we’re all turning a blind eye to; of political campaigns, in a time where it seems to be unclear whether or not anyone established a consistent approach to the ethical instances of public and private conversations that shape policies and media strategies. The radical idea, though, seems to be integrating these spheres in a cohesive way. That’s an analytical perspective: if there are crucial differences between, for instance, states in any given country, I can’t implement a program that only attends to part of it and use the word integration to talk about it. We try to be optimistic, but reality hits us and then we fall; our response, in a connected world, should be to get back up and focus on what we can do to change things for the better. But less talk and more data: let’s suppose the metrics for literacy are not the variety of media sources you liked on Facebook, but rather, how many books you read this year. You might not focus too much on reading a physical book, and that’s okay, because things change – it doesn’t mean you don’t read and you’re dumb. I’m that kind of guy, except I’ll recommend you a good read anyway. What data shows is that 56% of new high school Brazilian students say they read books only once in a while, according to QEdu. Does that mean more than half of students aren’t reading at all or does it indicate that the experience of reading is losing ground to other forms of media, and we should all look towards a more inclusive future? That’s the kind of thing that got researchers busy coming up with the definition of media literacy, which I personally think everyone should know about, but in turn presents new challenges of categorization and finding practical solutions, especially as it sometimes favors misinformation.

The problem isn’t so easy to map. I could say that my readings are limited because the published works available in other languages aren’t available where I live, but if I can go through denial and general laziness without realizing I could search for keywords and authors giving interviews and writing columns in a variety of media channels, I hope you can too: the web is not a kid anymore; it writes theses which are just waiting for you to find them. Still, when you begin to wonder what exactly you need to learn from school, life or maybe a particular situation you don’t feel comfortable sharing even though privacy is dead and you can’t not share your life with everybody else in this day and age, you’ll find a question of relevance scrolling through endless results of your search for knowledge (to err, oh Academia, is human). What I think isn’t so clear is that it’s really fun to talk about how algorithms save lives or whatever, but not so thrilling to think about interviewing the homeless guy catching cans from the trash bin or, if you don’t wanna go there, the owner of a bar, that’s not a fancy pub selling imported beer, but a place for drunk dads around fifty to sit down and talk about soccer. Nobody’s asking you to, as long as you’re still capable of acknowledging some people got it worse than yourself. I might be missing the point, but I just want to illustrate that while many try to mirror the developed world and think about how we can be more modern, they’re not talking about distributing wealth or even looking at the needs of a population that still lacks basic infrastructure, the kind of thing that slows down investment on, I don’t know, space travel. So here’s my metaphor: an ad on YouTube showed me an MMORPG (short for Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game) called Eve. Who thinks kids should be busy with that instead of rehearsing Shakespeare plays to perform in front of their families? Here in Brazil, literally no one — since we still have our own canon to attend to.

Whatever you think is a good way to spend time with a kid or a teenager, it’s not up for debate that some of that time is going to be spent interacting with people who are far from your trust circle. While that is a reason for many parents to be concerned, some of the essence of internet possibilities basically tries to convince them it’s going to be okay: if you want to find out more about the world, you’ll find it online. But that has implications on school curricula, and though it’s not clear for developing countries what we need to do to be able to integrate the demand for complex knowledge and skill sets with behavior, lifestyle and social background, it seems that the tendency is to run as fast as you can to wherever innovation is. Wouldn’t it be nice if the concept of innovation wasn’t just creating something entirely new, but coming up with smart solutions based on research and expertise to the problems societies face, with cooperation and intelligent strategies for achieving quality standards with concrete models to implement in different sectors that spoke to different groups of people? Still according to QEdu, 60% of new high school students never or almost never read the newspaper. Are we going to say they’re completely alienated from what’s happening around them or is it time to pay more attention to the collection of links they post on their timelines – because they read from sources that don’t necessarily come in print? That’s the kind of ideology that seems to be lacking not just in my country, but maybe elsewhere. While I can’t have a consistent opinion on regime changes in South American countries, for instance, it’s easy to find a tweet in Spanish about what happened in a street protest, and even easier to be aware that it happened, since trending topics have been with us for a while now; if you’re going to expand that knowledge and construct your own opinion based on careful analysis, sharing it after scrutiny and comparison then potentially influencing other groups of people is another issue, but that’s pretty much what a digital influencer does, minus the paid ads.

While it’s interesting to read about streaming wars, it’s even more interesting to prepare someone to make videos with quality; while it’s exciting to talk about making money online, it’s more edifying to read about banks and their influence on every sector of our society. Education is taking new challenges, and as information becomes more available, the natural development is how we’re going to filter it. Then comes testing: SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test) and ACT (American College Test) in the US are just one side of a way more intricate set of procedures throughout years of student life, but we know the institutions at the top require a lot of investment that the great majority won’t ever have. In Brazil, we have Prova Brasil and ENEM, assessments for different stages of Education, and a series of programs for student support created to make sure everyone could pursue higher education and not stagnate (ProUni, Fies, Sisu). In comparison, these kinds of policies don’t seem to take shape on a national level in the American Education, athough the case for community colleges proves there are options; but while I may be inclined to comment on a lighter note that I didn’t write any essays in high school and definitely can’t solve the same equations of high school students who live there, let alone get the same scores, I do think it’s important for a nation to work toward the preparation of better citizens and better workers, if not better human beings – that role, one could argue, is reserved to parents; but the discussion about what the web is doing comes back to haunt us like the blonde woman and the white cat. What matters to know, at this point, is how I can make sure I’m not wasting my time with something that has no relevance in my daily life nor serves to build my professional skills in a way I can direct to constructing a better world for everybody else. It seems that people don’t want to start that discussion, because they want to know who you waste your time with, and the better world can’t be for anyone who’s not their client.

What follows that is the demand for free materials available online. If every teacher had a channel on YouTube, maybe the world would turn into a better place at the snap of a finger; maybe it would be filled with unsolicited opinions and kids thinking they totally can do better than that. We’re not discussing how many famous people have explained what you need to do to create monetized content, because there aren’t any, as far as I know; we’re not discussing why teachers aren’t making enough to go through a soul sucking semester (I believe that’s called alliteration, but who cares?) while their retirement is postponed and, in a lot of cases, their work is still informal. How should we look at the new skills to teach and the ones we can learn, especially in a time of crisis, focusing on the positive aspects of connectivity and the prospects of getting to live a more dignified life without the burdens of household paychecks stopping us from doing simple things like getting a new pair of shoes? Maybe the answer is to thank content creators, strive to make a difference and, in case you’re caught by the invisible hand of boredom, don’t pay attention to market oscilations.

Image: Pexels

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