Friday, 21 August 2009

PSHE, social networks & critical pedagogy

'The ABC of XYZ: Towards Fulfilling The Opportunity For A New Learning Culture Through PSHE Curriculum Development Using Digital Learning Platforms And Critical Pedagogy'
In 2011 Personal, Social, Health and Economic Education (PSHE) will become statutory in all English schools. PSHE is the curricular locus of the Every Child Matters (ECM) agenda which puts schools at the centre of a drive for wider community action. PSHE is intended to act as a curriculum hub, in symbiotic dialogue with all other subjects. As such it reflects an emerging holistic paradigm in society and represents an opportunity for the evolution of a new learning culture. Research indicates that many schools are unsure of how to maximize the benefit of this new opportunity. This paper draws on educational- and social-historical context, mythography, digital learning platforms and Freire’s ‘critical pedagogy’ to present one possible way ahead. It explores the potential of social networks, underpinned by the values of critical pedagogy, to enhance community focus through PSHE. And it argues that this is consistent with the ethos of ECM, with the zeitgeist of generation Z, and with the need for a new ‘mythology’ to underpin 21st Century curriculum development. It invites readers to engage in dialogues towards a model for community cohesion and critical learning culture which can be exported to other countries where such issues are equally problematic.

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Mythology is not just a collection of stories any more than a curriculum is just a collection of school subjects. Like a curriculum, a mythology is a whole complex structure, a body of intersecting parts in constant dynamic. Curricula and mythologies both map routes to understanding our social and historical context, the former as learners in school and the latter as members of wider society. They both orientate our growth and development as individuals and collectively. The messages given by curriculum structures help to impart the values attached to learning and to define its place in our guiding mythology.

Pedagogy is not just a method of teaching anymore than digital social networking is just a method of communication. Pedagogy stems from how we view the purpose of teaching and the relationship between teachers and learners, it reflects our view of what it means to be human. And digital social networking is not just a platform for gregarious chatter, it is a vehicle for building community and understanding between people, and as such it can help us learn and grow, it is an educational tool.

This paper will weave these four threads together: mythology, curriculum, pedagogy and digital social networking, to offer a view of how current opportunities presented by UK government plans for PSHE can be converted into a positive new learning culture for English schools.

Every society is underpinned by a mythology which bestows agreed meaning, guides behaviour and tells us where and how we and everything around us belongs. Where the mythology does not keep pace with social change (e.g. economic, demographic, technological, environmental, etc.) cultural subsidence occurs; as now.

Our mythology sets the context for all aspects of our culture, including learning cultures. Mythology comprises epistemological and value systems encoded in a narrative which is distilled through illustrative stories; McLuhan reminds us that the media of transmission is as much the message as the content of the narrative itself.

This is a unique moment of opportunity for curriculum reform to herald the development of a new learning culture through the application of the digital learning media which lie at the heart of an evolving 21st Century mythology. In 2011 Personal, Social, Health and Economic education (PSHE) becomes statutory and central in all schools and must engage all other curriculum subjects in symbiotic dialogue.

PSHE is the chief curricular vehicle for delivering the ‘Every Child Matters’ agenda which is the prime mover of most current school developments in the UK. Government and schools are as yet unclear in their vision of PSHE’s potential contribution to transforming learning culture or of the role of digital learning platforms in this development. The development of a new learning culture requires a new mythology and a new curricular framework (which in turn require a pedagogy that can enhance critical awareness of the transformative process itself). This theoretical paper presents some possible pointers to all three. 21st Century mythology, learning culture and curriculum need a digital catalyst, but for digital media to play their role in our current historical context we must understand how a mythology proper is built using narrative and dialogue and how digital media fit into the context of Every Child Matters.
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The age of pupil-centred learning lasted from the 70s to the early 2000s. This was an age marked in education by a whole raft of school based initiatives and programs aimed at increasing individuals’ achievement and enrichment, many of which are still with us: Personal and Social Education (PSE), Individual Learning Plans (ILPs), Gifted and Talented registers, the growth of special needs education, and so on.

The totem of self-development and personal enrichment, which in its most extreme form was defined by Thatcher’s dictum “there is no such thing as society”, can be argued to have been a natural correlate of the whole Generation X zeitgeist that grew out of the self-indulgent 60s.

Fast forward to the 80s and 90s and crackling green-orange lightening laces a purple fizzing virtual sky as we boot up for the ride into the new millennium; and out of that primordial cyber-soup school IT is born. By the end of the 90s computers were in all schools, both as part of the curriculum and as the primary mode of data management and communication between staff (including for daily registration of pupils).

Now, in the 2010s, a proliferation of increasingly sophisticated species of handheld digital hardware stalks the corridors of schools, safely tucked inside pockets and school bags, occasionally exercised but still waiting to be fully unleashed.

While increased individual achievement may continue as a priority, a new priority looks like overtaking it as we move from the era of pupil-centred to community-centred education. This new era was heralded in the UK by the gruesome killing of Victoria Climbie in 2000 and the huge systemic failures that led to her falling through the net of public services from schools and hospitals to social services and police. In the wake of Lord Laming’s report on that tragedy a new initiative was put in place in 2003, its name: Every Child Matters (ECM).

ECM weaves together some of the major strands in youth provision into a safety net to prevent repeats of the Climbie horrors. It integrates school with social services, health services, police, and so on. In this sense it is a step towards a holistic approach to youth provision in the UK. (In the US, the equivalent to ECM is called ‘No Child Left Behind’, a less holistic model focusing on school achievement with a nod towards parental and community involvement). This integrative ethos reflects the holistic concerns and global world view often associated with generation Y’s eco-ethos and critique of the self-centred materialist values of generation X.

ECM goes further than just integrating children’s public services in a way that reflects the holistic thinking of generation Y. ECM is also the umbrella for most recent and forthcoming education reform in the UK. Under that umbrella come a host of agendas and initiatives, from community cohesion, Healthy Schools and Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning (SEAL) to Extended Schools and Local Partnerships for Children (LPCs).

Community cohesion, Healthy Schools and SEAL are broad aims to be fulfilled by the curriculum in various un-prescribed, and often vaguely and patchily understood, ways. (This is a very important point to which we shall return below.) There is slightly more operational clarity of vision and direction about Extended Schools and LPCs, thanks to greater government driven support and direction. Extended Schools provision includes such activities as after-school music and sports clubs, breakfast clubs, childcare for primary school pupils, family support and community access to sports, library, ICT and learning facilities. This strong community aspect is further reinforced and tied into the community-integration agenda of ECM by LPCs. Here, the school acts as community hub for the full range of youth support services: police, NHS, social services, youth workers, feeder primary schools, employment and training agencies, CAB, leisure centres, preschool providers, childminders, town and county council services, residents associations, NGOs, local business networks, etc.

So, as the mist begins to lift and the dawn’s rays shed a crisper clearer light, the paradigm of 21st century schools begins to loom large: no more pupil-centred but community-centred.

Not all schools feel comfortable with this huge new role; it is new ground for them; they are used to the business of teaching and learning, not community coordination. Recent DCSF research makes two main recommendations re extended schools, the first of which is for greater “policy coherence and stability” at national level (Cummings et al 2007, 4). Citing confusion and different understandings of the aims and purposes of Extended Schools the second recommendation is for “clear conceptualization of the nature and purposes of ES approaches” (loc cit).

Recent research for The National College for School Leadership & Training and Development Agency for Schools reinforces the point: “Many schools find the challenges of ECM/ES overwhelming … They are not unwilling to implement ECM/ES but lack the vision, support, guidance and direction to make this happen” (Harris et al 2007, 7).

Despite government guidance and support Extended Schools provision is thus patchy, partly because the whole Extended Schools/LPC agenda is so far removed from the traditional school remit of teaching and learning and partly because of uneven Local Authority understanding and buy in. But, as we sit poised on the brink of an exciting new age in schooling, a new demand is about to be placed on schools that stands to draw the whole picture together for all stakeholders in education.

During the 90s PSE morphed into PSHCE. ‘Health’ (physical and emotional) and ‘Citizenship’ (local, national and global) became part of the mix of personal and social development in line with the holistic paradigm of Generation Y.

In a mechanistic response to declining youth involvement in political processes, Citizenship Education was made statutory in 2002, leaving PSHE behind. Now the gap has been spotted. In 2011 PSHE will become a statutory requirement for all schools in England (as PSE has been in Scotland and Wales since 2003) with a new added emphasis on ‘economic’ education. It is hard to overstate the importance of this for schools.

PSHE is envisaged as the hub of the whole curriculum, making cross curricular links and entering into symbiotic dialogue with all other curriculum subjects. This all sounds very Generation Y, very holistic. But the ship of education has turned from a Generation X bearing through a Generation Y bearing to a bearing for Generation Z: the digital age of mobile learning platforms and social networks. PSHE can only function properly in our historical context as a vehicle for the Generation Z paradigm.

(Generation X booted up and turned the education wheel; Generation Y put the cap on the ‘me-agenda’ and hoisted the ECM umbrella for Generation Z to step out the door and down the road, out into the community, zigzagging between the acid rain of reality and the purple rains of virtuality.)

With its ‘curricular hub’ role, statutory PSHE offers the potential for a whole new learning and teaching culture to emerge in England’s schools. In covering the SEAL and Community Cohesion aspects of the ECM agenda, and in reflecting that agenda’s holistic ethos, it is the curricular correlate of Extended Schools and LPCs. As mentioned above, most schools are as unsure of how wrap and deliver it as they are about Extended Schools. (PSHE is more about the traditional school business of teaching and learning, but to fulfil its new role as curriculum hub and correlate to Extended Schools and LPCs under the ECM umbrella it requires more support and direction.) How can all learning relate to pupils’ personal, social and health development AND to their community context? Some schools use a specialist team, some deliver it through the pastoral system, and some take all pupils off timetable to hothouse PSHE for a number of days per year. Nationally, the provision is uneven, sometimes uncertain, for schools in general have been left to flounder in deep water; they are all looking for a new best model of delivery. How do we start to model education so that all learning will relate to personal, social, material, emotional, global and community contexts? If we reframe the question to ask ‘how do we start to model a holistic learning system combining the personal and social with the communal and integrative?’ perhaps the answer is closer to hand.

Such a question implies a key role for the digital technology of the global village, and draws together the relevant concerns of generations’ X (personal/social), Y (global/holistic) and Z (virtual/communal) that have contributed to the education agenda in general and to the PSHE agenda in particular.

We have covered quite a lot of ground so far in this all-important contextual outline. So here is a brief recap, before outlining the potential future role of internet learning in the new education paradigm:

Education has shifted from pupil-centred to community-centred in catering for the concerns and issues of generations X, Y and Z respectively. This move has been paralleled by an increasing role for digital media and learning platforms in schools and society. The umbrella for all education reform is ECM, which has two main thrusts: community and curriculum. The community thrust of ECM is delivered, patchily, through Extended Schools and LPC’s; while the curricular thrust, including SEAL, community Cohesion and Healthy Schools, is to be delivered through PSHE which will become the statutory curriculum hub for all learning in 2011. ECM in general and PSHE in particular herald a new age in English schooling, presenting an opportunity to generate a new learning and teaching culture. This trend is echoed in the US by ‘No Child Left Behind’.

The Potential Role of Social Networks:
A unique window of opportunity presents itself for all stakeholders. 70s pupils got detention for using a calculator in class, now you get detention if you don’t, and exam boards design exams to test our use of them. Now you get detention for using a mobile in class, five years from now you might get detention if you don’t, and exam boards might design exams to test our use of them. Complex organizations like the education system fear change as potentially unsettling. The fear of using mobile learning technology in schools is based on the irrational idea that the medium will mainly be abused. Although we do have experience of abuses, from cyber bullying to inappropriate texting in lessons, recent research cited by the US National School Boards Association indicates that “almost 60 percent of students who use social networking talk about education topics online and, surprisingly, more than 50 percent talk specifically about schoolwork” (Fn1). It seems reasonable to admit the possibility, or even the likelihood, that these figures could be nudged higher with the concerted push of school-sanctioned digital and mobile learning platforms for PSHE.

It is no mere coincidence that the envisaged central role of digital and handheld learning coincides with the forthcoming statutory status of PSHE and the general community-focus of ECM. Community focus, integrated children’s services, holistic curriculum models and hand held media all coalesce as part of our evolving historical context; they are some of the defining tokens of generation Z.

This point is echoed by Marshall McLuhan, for whom the instant communication of audio visual global village technology signifies a dynamic of implosion, or bringing things together: “Nothing studied in depth can remain partitioned off as a subject in a curriculum. … The world tends to become a single classroom … we begin to realize the depth of our involvement with one another as a community” (McLuhan 1970, 37).

The best of digital media is already where PHSE wants to be - is community-based, community-driven. With social network platforms (Facebook, MySpace, iPhone) digital media are community based. Digital media are already there - waiting for PHSE, waiting for the education system to meet them. They are ready to do what PHSE wants to do.

PSHE offers a specific focus for the diffuse range of educational social network communities springing up on Ning and Learncentral which connect teachers and learners. Because of its forthcoming statutory status PSHE presents a unique opportunity to build social networking into the new hub for curriculum development in schools right from the start. This opportunity can be exploited by the formation of a PSHE internet social network site.

A national PSHE social network site will require learning materials for every lesson with a facility to share schemes of work and lesson plans and with links to all other curriculum subjects. It will require frameworks to construct community links to fulfill other parts of the ECM agenda like Extended Schools and LPCs. It will require frameworks for schools to create their own branded social network ‘branches’. It will require a range of differentiated classwork and homework tasks that can be done on mobile phones, in school and in the community, e.g. photographic, interviews, questionnaires and viral campaigning. And it will require creative gaming and social networking features that harness all the key culturally dynamic components of a new mythology from visual images to sound, characters and stories.

The students themselves could probably develop some of the software applications needed, with help from professionals in the community to mentor them – that is one of our community business links right there.

The Role of Critical Pedagogy:
All that said, before the technophiles cheer and the technophobes jeer there is an important consideration to bear in mind. Postman reminds us that “there is a limit to the promise of new technology, and that it cannot be a substitute for human values" (Postman 1996). He points to the need for a critical pedagogic underpinning of our use of digital media, which would “give students an education in the history, social effects and psychological biases of technology, so they may become adults who use technology rather than being used by it” (ibid, my emphasis).

Marshall McLuhan arrives at a similar conclusion: “The age of implosion in education will lead to the … study of the … learning process itself” (McLuhan loc cit, my emphasis).

What Postman and McLuhan are pointing to is the fact that while learning-culture transformation through curriculum development may be a narrative process (which, it has been argued here, includes mythography using current media of communication), it is equally a process of critically reflective pedagogy. The champion of critical pedagogy is Paulo Freire for whom education is a process of social transformation when teachers and learners are aware of it and use it for that purpose. The following comment from Friere may have special significance if we consider it in the context of social networking sites (e.g. Twitter and Facebook) and the historical inevitability/imperative of their role in educational mythography:

“The ordinary person is crushed, diminished … maneuvered by myths which powerful social forces have created. These myths turn against us …tragically frightened people fear authentic relationships and even doubt the possibility of their existence. … Fearing solitude, they gather in groups lacking in any critical or loving ties which might transform them into a cooperating unit, into a community. … Perhaps the greatest tragedy of modern man is his domination by the force of these myths. … A society beginning to move from one epoch to another requires the development of an especially flexible, critical spirit” (Friere 1976, 6-7).

If Freire is right, the focus on mythographic narrative of transformation from a pupil-centered paradigm to the community focus of PSHE and of the whole ECM agenda (i.e. from generation X and Y concerns to generation Z ones) needs to be tempered by a critical pedagogy along the lines hinted at by McLuhan and Postman.

The intended relevance of Freire’s thinking to our discussion of the role of learning technologies in learning-culture transformation is clarified further on in the same essay:

“We cannot rely on the mere process of technological modernization to lead us … to a critical consciousness. Indeed, an analysis of highly technological societies usually reveals the ‘domestication’ of man’s critical faculties by a situation in which he is massified and has only the illusion of choice [or transformative potential] (ibid, 34).

What is required for communication through internet social networks to generate relationships which Freire might count as authentic, i.e. genuinely constructive of community-transformative cultural action?

Freire does not suggest throwing the baby out with the bathwater; he would accept the centrality of digital communications technologies in any attempt to transform learning culture through PSHE, but whilst he is in favour of “amplifying man’s sphere of participation” through technology, he is also wary of “distorting this amplification by reducing man’s critical capacity, [for] man is [easily] maneuvered [i.e. manipulated] by mass media” (loc cit). For Freire “The answer does not lie in the rejection of the machine, but rather in the humanization of man” (ibid, 35).

The specific 21st century communication-technology terms of our challenge are beyond Freire’s time and frame of reference. But this paper is not alone in extrapolating his significance to the context of digital social networking. Stanford’s Professor Martin Carnoy writes in his introduction to Freire’s final book:

“Freire thinks of critical education as a form of networking – a ‘community’ of knowledge and knowledge formation. New networks are also essential to flexibility and productivity. As families and traditional, stable neighborhoods disintegrate … new networks are needed to reproduce skills and knowledge. It is this new … virtual community that could replace traditional jobs based social networks and residential neighborhoods. … Freire’s knowledge of communities could be the basis for new kinds of networks … formed around schools … [and] youth organizations … with a common interest to enhance individual and collective value” (in Freire1998, 17-18).

Now we turn to the process of applying Freire’s thought to our specific context. Freire directly addresses the issue of learning culture transformation through critical pedagogy and curriculum reform in response to historical and technological change:

“An historical epoch is characterized by a series of aspirations, concerns and values … by ways of being and behaving … The epochs are fulfilled to the degree that their themes are grasped and their tasks solved; and they are superseded when their themes and tasks no longer correspond to newly emerging concerns” (Freire 1976, 5, my emphasis).

Friere uses the term ‘transitive’ to describe learners moving from one epoch to another. His use of this term connotes “an increase in their capacity to enter into dialogue with others and with the world,” implying an evolutionary view of epochal steps in general, as generally inclining towards greater consciousness and humanity.

Freire describes two main phases of transitive learning, ‘naïve transitivity’ and ‘transitive consciousness’ (ibid, 18).

In ‘naïve transivity’, marked by “a strong tendency to gregariousness, … the capacity for dialogue is still fragile and capable of distortion” (loc cit). This would correspond to the use of digital social network learning platforms without a critical pedagogic pillar. Indeed, Freire’s warning is clear: “There is a close potential relationship between naïve transivity and massification” (ibid, 19).

A case in point might be the growing use of social networks by companies as a tool for training and recruitment in schools. Siemens AG provides toys and classroom materials to influence children as young as five years old to consider occupations in engineering and industrial design. London based ‘Brave New Talent’ aims “to innovate the education sector and employability market by allowing employers to be able to start training the people who want to work for them while they are still at university and, more importantly, off the payroll” (Fn2).

In ‘transitive consciousness’ the very purpose of the transition itself is clear to the learners and becomes the compass to guide them through the forces of distortion and manipulation towards genuine social action and advancement.

For Freire the path to transitive consciousness is dialogue, and what could be more suited to digital social network learning platforms? The key to ensuring that dialogue enables transitive consciousness rather than remaining in the realms of naïve gregariousness is in the pedagogic stance adopted. Friere distinguishes between genuine dialogue and what he calls ‘anti-dialogue’. Anti-dialogue stems from a vertical relationship between teacher and pupils which corrupts hope, trust and critical potential. His definition of genuine dialogue is taken from Jaspers:

“Dialogue is the only way, not only in the vital questions of the political order, but in all the expressions of our being. Only by virtue of faith, however, does dialogue have power and meaning: by faith in man and his possibilities, by the faith that I can only become truly myself when other men also become themselves” (Freire 1976, 45).

(Compare this with McLuhan, above: “… The world tends to become a single classroom … we begin to realize the depth of our involvement with one another as a community”.)

Freire speaks not just as an academic educationist but also as a Jesuit, he is therefore quite comfortable with using the term ‘love’ in an educational context: the matrix for a dialogic pedagogy is

“Loving, humble, trusting, critical … Born of a critical matrix, dialogue creates a critical attitude. It is nourished by love, humility, hope, faith and trust. When the two ‘poles’ of the dialogue [e.g. teacher and pupil] are thus linked by love, hope and mutual trust, they can join in a critical search for something” (loc cit).

And that something is social/learning-culture transformation.

Thirty years before internet social networking, Freire’s associate, Illich, advocated liberating education through a computer network that could “match people according to their interest” and give each person the “opportunity to share their current concern with others motivated by the same concern” (1970, 26). His aim was to widen the platform of education from schools to communities. He also feared that if schools took on the role of hosting such a development this could lead to “the expansion of the mandate of the pedagogue and his increasing control of society … outside school” (ibid, p.104). He regarded this as a recipe for increased social polarization and oppression. Had he considered the possibility of applying the principles of critical pedagogy to such a development his fears might have been allayed.

The warning from Illich is clear: schools will become untenable and obsolete if the platform for education is not extended to communities in what he calls an ‘Epimethian’ spirit of critical consciousness (1981, passim). In other words, if learning culture fails to achieve a sound basis in community focused social networking our historical ‘epoch’ (to use Freire’s term, cf p.20 above) will remain unfulfilled, halting the evolution of schooling.

Illich’s distinction between old ‘Prometian’ and new ‘Epimethian’ education, and Freire’s warnings about negative myths remind us that the evolution of any kind of new culture requires the evolution of an implicit new mythology. For every culture is underpinned by a mythology, or cultural narrative, which bestows agreed meaning, guides behaviour and tells us where and how we and everything around us belongs. Where a mythology is absent or fails to meet, or keep pace with, social change (e.g. economic, demographic, technological, environmental, paradigmatic, etc.) we have what Freire calls an ‘unfulfilled epoch’ (see p.20 above) and cultural subsidence occurs - witness the daily news (Fn3).

An example of an attempt to erect new mythological bases over the past ten years would be the totem of global democracy. This has led to concepts like ‘regime change’, broadening the definition of a ‘just war’ and muddying the waters of morality and international law. It has also been applied to the cult of celebrity. In the 40s celebrity was an all American concept reserved for Hollywood movie stars, baseball players, music and arts figures. As an ideological export it was sold as the pinnacle of the American dream. Following a precedent established by the Beatles in the 1960s this totem has been globalized and democratized to allow non-US figures to participate. There may be something of the ‘let them eat cake’ about this, as if all the world needs is democratic process and the chance to brighten their horizons with the prospect of razzmatazz and glitz. The effect of the myth of global democratization on the cult of celebrity has led ultimately to the rise of ‘reality TV’, where anyone from any background can become a celebrity with no need for talent or promotion. For young people this has muddied the waters of values, aspiration and achievement. National and international lotteries that allow anyone to become a millionaire complete the mythological package: the dream of capitalist success is now open to us all; we can all be democratized celebrity millionaires. Citizenship education is also part of the apparatus of this mythology, for although it does not sell the dream in these terms it promotes the idea of democracy in a social context that is based on the dream.

The mythology of global democracy is fundamentally unsound and therefore incoherent, not just because it muddies water instead of clarifying it, but because it hides a host of ulterior political and economic motives and, perhaps most unarguably of all, because it fails to embrace the primary media of communication and technology. Recent events in Iran show how web community action provides opposition to artificially imposed mythologies. And Obama’s presidential campaign shows how web community action can be a force for real political change.

A 21st Century mythology (and arguably democracy too) needs a digital catalyst because, after language, that is now our primary medium of communication. It also requires organic/community generation and involvement.

A rich new field beckons, but for digital media to play their role we must understand how a mythology proper is built. This is a science known as mythography. (My own research in educational mythography and my work in schools as storyteller and consultant involve much of this.)

The construction of any new mythology emerges out of a combination of the elements of narrative and dialogue. Narrative is the story, the values, the meaning of the mythology, and dialogue is how it is generated, negotiated and transmitted. In our 21st Century context the following elements have emerged in this paper as being useful to generating a new mythology of learning: dialogue based in a pedagogy of critical consciousness would provide a suitable set of values and framework for their transmission; digital, and increasingly handheld, learning platforms would provide a practicable medium for dialogue and learning; global and local community focus, supported by the whole ECM agenda, would provide a meaningful basis for narrative development; and PSHE post 2011 offers a clear signal point and locus for expressing the narrative of learning in a way that can reach out and touch all subject areas. What the mythology will consist of is pointed to in all that has been said about these four elements.

When we know the story, the narrative of the historical context (as outlined above), and when we know how to construct an appropriate ‘mythology’ that allows dynamic creativity within the framework of that narrative, we can begin to explore the role of digital and mobile media in the process of generating the new learning culture. Only then can we start to construct and apply that role. For a new learning culture needs to be underpinned by a coherent and appropriate ‘mythology’ to be sustainable, or it will subside.

Opportunities, Challenges and Benefits:
This paper comes as an invitation to join in the challenge of constructing a new learning- (and teaching-) culture through curriculum development around the twin pillars of narrative and dialogue, and issued in by ECM and statutory PSHE. It has been argued that the narrative/mythographic aspect should be community focused from local to global, while the dialogic aspect should be rooted in the principles of Freire’s critical pedagogy. It has also been argued that these two sets of principles should steer the genesis of a new mythology to lend coherent meaning and value to the purpose of education in the 21st Century context.

England is used to being the source of innovations in many fields that have spread worldwide, but sadly education has not been one of them. ECM and PSHE present an opportunity for digital community focused learning through critical dialogue to take centre stage in schools. We are halfway there already with the ECM/PSHE framework already in place, merely awaiting the link to digital learning and critical pedagogy. Such innovation may indeed be worthy of export to countries struggling, like the UK, with anti-social behaviour and general lack of faith in the future among the young. In recent talks with DCSF it was agreed by Lynda Lawrence, head of PSHE there, that the key requirements for PSHE to fulfil its role include clear and consistent communication of vision and the use of inspiring modern platforms for learning. That is the challenge addressed here.

Meeting this challenge will require creative vision, careful strategic planning and lots of hard work, but the social and educational rewards promise to justify the effort. We will have the support of young people who want and need to make the most out of emerging communication technologies and learning opportunities, of schools who are looking for a tangible peg to hang their new ECM/PSHE hat on, and of government who are keen to ensure an evenness of delivery and of acceptance for their forthcoming new measure that has been lacking to date. It will need software designers, hardware manufacturers, teachers, academics and social network entrepreneurs all to put their shoulders behind this in concert.

The benefits of such a development include increased scope for creative multi-media work across the curriculum, including building narratives and dialogues around the experience of schooling itself, transformation of learning culture and, therewith, of behaviours, increased scope for school, teacher and pupil creativity in terms of vision, work-tasks and community enrichment, enhanced links with prospective employers, and greater inclusion resulting from young people feeling valued by their communities, and valuing their communities more in turn, because of their community-focused work in all fields.

This paper is intended as a stimulus for thinking about the rudiments of applying digital and mobile learning as part of the emerging community focused education paradigm. It offers a starting point for considering and building the future of 21st century education around PSHE (as foreseen by the government) marrying digital learning platforms with critical pedagogy (both unforeseen by the government but suggested by the tides of technology and history).

This paper has woven together a number of threads that have previously been viewed separately (PSHE, educational- and generational-historical contexts, mythography, community focused education, critical pedagogy and digital and mobile learning). This has enabled a comprehensive and holistic view of the ‘big questions’: Where is the locus of change in curriculum development? What are the social and historical drivers that place it there? What is the possible role of digital/mobile learning platforms in these developments? And what kind of pedagogic stance is required to minimise risk of failure and maximise benefit?

Research has shown the need for a consistent approach to ECM in its Extended Schools aspect; and DCSF agree that the curricula locus of ECM, PSHE, needs the same if it is to take its appointed place at the hub of school curriculum. The application of internet social networking to community focused learning may be one way of dovetailing PSHE with the broader community-focused ECM agenda and with current trends in generational themes and communications technology. It is also a good way of focusing the increasing but diffuse use of this medium by schools and young people. It has been argued in this paper that the best way of ensuring the educational soundness of such a development is to underpin it with a pedagogy of critical consciousness that prevents abuses and enables the emergence of a clear and positive orientation for learning culture. Given the uniqueness and centrality of the 2011 PSHE initiative, getting it right and making the most of it is the single most important challenge facing UK curriculum development as we move into the second decade of the 21st Century.


Fn1 - See Wikipedia, Social Network Service: educational applications.

Fn2 - See Salkowitz, R. ‘Firms Reinvent Recruitment with Social Media’ in www. Internet, 20-08-2009.

Fn3 - Jung ascribes a ‘loss of cosmological belonging’ to the outdating of our mythological basis. Cf Jung, C. ‘Collected Works’, Vol 8 p.95 (Princeton University Press, 1967).


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Postman, Neil. 1996, PBS Newshour Interview.

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