What inhibits the implementation of innovation strategies in European lifelong learning?
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The EDEN Conference 2006 in Vienna will address more than one missing element in the implementation of a European Innovation Strategy in the field of LLL: the point is that ambitious and innovative results cannot be achieved if some inhibiting factors are not properly addressed at the level of governance of education systems. In this article Claudio Dondi, the vice-president of EDEN and president of SCIENTER, considers some examples.
1. Many in Europe have recognised the high potential of ICT not only as a tool to help education institutions to deliver quality learning opportunities of the “usual” type, but also –and more importantly- to accompany the innovation and transformation of learning systems towards a lifelong learning society. Now, who decides on the funding share for ICT and Innovation within the integrated Programme of Action on Lifelong Learning, the new Programme that follows SOCRATES, Leonardo and -among other things- the eLearning small Programme?
People who know reasonably well school and university but have –in average- no serious knowledge or experience of what ICT can do for education, and tend to privilege the reproduction of existing national logics –sector by sector (so invalidating –defacto- the “integration” principle of the very concept of Lifelong Learning) and the beloved student mobility- that will anyhow affect a small minority of European students, most frequently already privileged from an economic and social perspective. Why virtual mobility should not be seriously considered to offer all European students a chance to have an international learning experience? And why isn’t it a structured component of Erasmus Mundus? Probably not many -at the decision making table- have a positive image of eLearning and LLL, nor see their intimate connection.
2. Everybody accepts that in a knowledge society education and lifelong learning have a key role to play in guaranteeing innovation, economic growth, social cohesion and practically all the desirable achievements of the adapted Lisbon Agenda. Now, why isn’t educational research a priority in any niche of the 7th Framework Programme, nor in most National Research Plans? Re-organising and re-thinking educational research is necessary, making it accountable to societal needs is indispensable, but these are not excuses for not paying sufficient attention and resources to a renewed, interdisciplinary and socially responsive research on learning systems innovation.
3. Accumulation and utilisation of available knowledge does not happen, in the education field, at the level of effectiveness and efficiency that one can observe in other service sectors such as health or transport. Several factors may explain, but not justify this situation: the “not invented here syndrome”, the limited effort done by “innovators” to transfer results of their experiences, the limited awareness/attention of many policy makers, the objective difficulty of implementing large scale innovation in systems that have few resources to activate change levers. Sometimes even non “user friendly” ways to promote innovation from the top policy level, disregarding the achievement of grass-roots initiatives and ignoring the bottom-up option to diffuse innovation, may play a role.
4. The culture of support to innovation is not a characterising element in European education and training systems: innovators are there, both at grass-roots and at policy making level, but innovation plans are implemented at a very slow pace, and sometimes are abandoned before they can be finally implemented. Support to innovation does not mean only vision and funding, it requires long term commitment at the top level of policy making and institutional leadership, reward to innovators, capacity to learn from mistakes, correct and fine-tune rather than abandon a plan if anything goes wrong or different leadership is installed. A too quick turn over of innovation plans –and substitution of key words- may damage innovators and the concept of innovation more than legitimate resistance to unconvincing innovation. The terms “fashionable” and “innovative” may then risk to be understood as synonyms, while innovation may need a long life-cycle and several adaptations of the originating ideas to become widespread. The case of eLearning is there to demonstrate this statement.
So, if a conclusion can be derived from these considerations, that are also inspiring the 3rd ODL Liaison Committee Policy Paper, presented this month, this is that if the culture of support to innovation does not materialise within education and training systems, we cannot expect our society to become innovative.