Why there will never be an ideal educational model (and why it is good that it should)


Educational models are required to transform through innovation. This must happen in two ways: to provide the person with the skills they need in the present – in this sense, they must be updated – and those they will need in the future – in this sense, they must be futurized -. Both requirements are incompatible with customs and educational inertia.

Is all innovation groundbreaking?

Many of the educational innovations are not innovative. Let’s remember. In 1937, during a polio epidemic, some 315,000 American children were receiving radio classes . This same solution, transferred to computers, was put into practice in the months of confinement, during the worst moments of the COVID-19 pandemic.

We can go back further, and discover how things that are presented to us today as great innovative changes in education were already proposed centuries ago. In 1640, Comenius presented in his Didactica Magna proposals that now, in the 21st century, would be considered “educational innovations”. For example, not learning languages ​​”with the walkers” of grammars and dictionaries and not repeating “like parrots” the lessons of eloquent texts.

We can also look back to 1762, when Jean-Jacques Rousseau , in his novel Emilio o de la Educación , presents a new educational model based on the natural stages of human development. This model was designed to train the person based on their interests, experimentation, and action, and not through imposing discipline, memorization, and passive listening. Rousseau had and continues to have many detractors.

Educational innovation or just technology?

There are very striking innovations that, in reality, are not an educational innovation: they only consist of the incorporation of technological tools to the same teaching and learning processes.

Normally, they do “business as usual” in a new way. For example, taking a test on a computer instead of on paper is not an educational innovation, it is a technological innovation. In order for it to also be educational, it must incorporate new methodologies or didactics.

Using virtual reality to walk through a digitally reconstructed Pompeii, instead of reading a description of what it was like, is an educational innovation, as well as a technological one.

Common denominator: breaking inertias

Whatever the case – something old reused (radio-classes), something only technologically new (computer exam) or something really new (virtual reality) – any innovation in education has a common denominator: it is something different (old or new, digital or analog) that breaks in and breaks a flow of established pedagogical customs.

A custom is a habit that has crystallized over time and has become an inertial way of being or doing . Inertial in the physical-dynamic sense of the term. That is to say, that way of being or doing remains in its state of constant movement until something else forces it to modify that state.

Educational customs work with the same mechanics. The pedagogical, didactic, methodological habits acquired in a specific historical moment, in the absence of a force to modify them, are perpetuated and become custom: in a way of being a teacher or student (the roles) and in a way of doing processes teaching-learning (pedagogy). The performance of a force that shakes habit is the act of innovation.

There cannot and should not be an ideal model

Customs, in turn, are neither good nor bad in themselves, but for people and within their vital context (historical, social, cultural, economic, political, family, psychological, etc.). And the educational customs extend over the vital context of the learner: the concrete and real student. In this sense, there is no abstract or “ideal” student, that is, outside of a context.

And consequently there should be no abstract or “ideal” education, an education independent of the context. Well, it is not the same to teach or learn in the middle of the industrial revolution than to do it in the digital revolution (or any other revolution that is coming). The information and access to it are different, the knowledge contents are different, the skills to acquire (not only to be able to access a job, but to live in society) are different.

For this reason, education or, rather, educational models (methodologically and pedagogically articulated contents) must be concrete and dynamic, focused on achieving the maximum development of the person in all its dimensions within their context. But not the present context but, and above all, its future context .

Considering the possibility of an abstract and static educational model pushed to the limit is equivalent to considering that our children and the children of the Paleolithic human beings can be formed within the same educational model, learn the same contents and acquire the same skills, and survive and live successfully in their respective life contexts.

Updating and futurization

So what is educational innovation? It is nothing more than the break with the inertia of pedagogical customs in a dynamic process of necessary adaptation to the present and future contexts of the student.

It consists, mainly, in the introduction of competences, tools, content and areas of knowledge in accordance with the vital needs –in the broadest sense of this term: psychological, social, cultural, academic, technical, technological, etc.– present and, above all, future of the student.

And precisely because the future of the context in which the student is going to develop has to advance, education must be futurized : intentionally projecting itself towards the possible future of the educated person and designing a path towards what does not yet exist.

This is totally incompatible with maintaining the inertia of certain educational customs. If we don’t do it like that, if we don’t break inertia, education “will never stop being outdated” (as María Antonia Casanova says ) and, what is worse, it will train people who are out of place and out of context.

Author Bio: Carmen Sanchez is Dean of the Faculty of Education at Camilo José Cela University