If something has made us clear in the last year, it is that our entire lives have changed from one moment to the next, and it is becoming more and more evident that many of these transformations have come to stay.
We see it in the way we interact with friends and family, at work, in changes in our life priorities, and although it is not talked about so much, it is also in education.
Either because we are teachers, students of any level and educational field, as parents, or because we have an acquaintance studying: the pandemic has meant that education as we knew it until last year will never be the same again.
As the researchers María del Mar Sánchez and Paz Prendes already explained , virtual education has its own rules and dynamics that make it a pedagogical model that is not effective in emulating learning in traditional face-to-face and synchronous environments.
Precisely this rapid, abrupt and unstructured transition from classroom teaching to education in confinement has caused profound imbalances in the educational system: from the lack of access to computers and internet connection to the lack of knowledge and skills for teachers and students to adapt appropriately to the online model, going through the risks of a capitalist digitization of education , among others.
This panorama shows us the complexity of the transfer from face-to-face educational models to the different online modalities and, therefore, the need for a broad view that allows holistically analyzing and intervening in solving these problems.
For decades, an important branch of the sociology of science and technology has been dedicated to uncovering the “magic” behind technoscientific experiments and political discussions, concluding that that complex mathematical formula to describe a black hole or the presentation end of a cumbersome new law, are actually the result of a complex work and academic relationship between scientists and fellows, the discarding of dozens of previous experiments that went wrong, the obtaining (or not) of new funding or the success in persuading other groups to support the initiative.
Neither good nor bad nor neutral
The conclusion of these studies is that we need to attend and understand small local actions in detail to be able to account for phenomena as global and complex as scientific or political. This is how one of the founders of the sociology of science, Melvin Kranzberg, would summarize it: technology is not good or bad, but it is not neutral either , that is, any innovation or scientific or political milestone is not good or bad a priori, we need understand it in its complexity and context in order to assess it.
This point is relevant to analyze what happened this year with education and the pandemic. Extrapolating Kranzberg’s argument to what we have already explained and that we have all lived in different ways, we can affirm that virtual education is neither good nor bad, but it is not neutral either. And to analyze educational change without reducing it to that magical and abrupt process, we need to analyze the complexity of educational systems and serve local educational communities.
As with the sociological analyzes of laboratories or parliaments, it is naive to reduce the transfer from face-to-face to virtual education to the connection of students and teachers to a screen and an internet connection.
Some play with advantage
To avoid the digital divide or to guarantee equal opportunities in the new educational model, we must take into account the existence of conditions that place some people “at an advantage” from the starting line over others: greater skill with new technologies , the possibility of dedicating themselves to educational work without attending to the family or a job, the economic and cultural support of the cohabitants to the optimal adaptation of the student to the virtual context or the greater capacity to attend during a long period to the indications of a screen.
Not all and all students and teachers have some of these advantages, because not all people are the same and, therefore, the change in the educational model must start from the recognition of this diversity.
But how to do this? Although there are different ways, approaches and alternatives, all of them should go through listening to the needs that teachers, students, mothers, fathers, management teams and educational technicians have had during this process.
Nobody is more expert in an educational process, in teaching and learning and in the characteristics of its students than that teacher, that student or that tutor who daily make the effort to teach and learn virtually in a pandemic context that ensues. These actors form the local educational communities, and must be part of the educational political actions that are directly affecting and challenging them.
Let’s take advantage of this situation
Only in this way can the role of virtual education be judged. It is neither good nor bad (a priori), but it is not neutral either. Therefore, nothing is a higher priority than taking advantage of this event so relevant worldwide to make an in-depth analysis in order to guarantee inclusion and equality in each context and in each particular educational community.
No moment is better than the present, in which the distribution of European funds to overcome the pandemic through digital transformation gives us the opportunity to make ours a more responsible, just and democratic society towards its educational system and aligned with the sustainable development goals of the 2030 agenda.
Author Bio: Enrique Baleriola Escudero is a Lecturer in Social and Work Psychology at UOC – Open University of Catalonia