February 20, 2024

Mariano Fernández Enguita, one of the most recognized education researchers in Spain, proposes to meet at the Royal Botanical Garden of Madrid to speak in the shade of the trees about the great digital wave that, he assures, will transform the school. Emeritus Professor of Sociology at the Complutense University, Fernández Enguita (Zaragoza, 71 years old) is the author of several books, the last of which, published a few days ago, analyzes the changes experienced in education from the emergence of language to the entry into artificial intelligence (AI) scene.

Ask. He claims that the combination of digital devices, software and connectivity are going to transform the school, and that this time it will not happen as with the gramophone, the cinema, the radio, or the television, about which there were similar announcements, always unfulfilled. Because?

Answer. The book already did it, which we now consider the axis around which the school is organized, be it in the form of the textbook or the texts that the teacher himself prepares. We almost take it for granted. But the ability of this contraption, which form the device, the software and connectivity, completely breaks with it. It contains all the information, the entire school library, allows reading, drawing, composing, singing… It is a metamedia that includes all media, if one knows how to do it. And connectivity leads to more information, to more software, and many more people. She changes him entirely. The previous media, such as radio or television, never entered the school because in a certain way they brought the book to a paroxysm; they did not cease to be a succession of text. Digital replaces printed paper with advantage, because it does much better almost everything that can be done on paper, and also allows you to do a million other things.

Q. What term are you thinking of? Changes in education often generate opposition, inside and outside the centers.

R. It will take a while. Not as long as it took to get the textbook to school since the invention of the printing press, which was 200 years, but time. It will be necessary to change the initial and continuous training of teachers. And it is everyone’s responsibility. Of the administrations, of the centers… There may be individual variants, models, theories, debates, discussions. What cannot be is an individual decision, an “I want it, I don’t want it”. That could have happened in the 17th century: “I want to teach reading, I don’t want to”, because there were teachers who didn’t know how to read and write. There were teachers titled by the Order of San Casiano to only read, not write. It would be absurd.

Q. In the book you just published, The Fifth Wave. The digital transformation of learning, education and school, affirms that the best knowledge is on the Internet, but above all there is redundancy and garbage. Doesn’t that pose a major drawback to the autonomous digital learning of the student body that it seems to suggest?

R. I see it as driver’s education. At the moment when children start to go out on their own, or can simply let go of the hand at some point, they have to learn the difference between going on the sidewalk and going on the road, between a red and green traffic light. I believe that a certain panopticism, control, must be given to the teacher. But that does not mean that the student cannot get out of a lane at all, but rather that they must be taught to move precisely in this context of information overload, unreliable information, false news… Because in any case, as soon as they leave the school, they will be there. The question is whether they are alone or accompanied.

Q. Will artificial intelligence improve learning or diminish it?

R. It will depend on teachers and students learning to use it. What I think artificial intelligence promises is above all to expand the capabilities of the teacher and the capabilities in relation to the student. It’s a bit like judo masters say. It is not about brutally opposing that force that is artificial intelligence, but about using it to your advantage.

Q. You rule out the replacement of the professor by the AI.

R. It is unfeasible. If it were only a matter of bringing information to students or even some learning, artificial intelligence could replace and surpass teachers. But it is out of the question because we are not just talking about that, but about something more global. Which also occurs in an institution, the school, which is also in charge of providing care. Perhaps the word artificial intelligence misleads us a bit, because in reality what we have is the ability to organize a lot of data, which must be made available to someone to make decisions. AI cannot be left alone.

Q. What role do you think artificial intelligence will play in schools?

R. I think there are three possible developments. One, the teachers do not use it, do not enter the school, or only do so marginally. But since lots of students are going to use it outside anyway, there will be a part that will reinforce their learning with it, which will be the usual ones, those who have been born into the right family, as happens with digital access in general. And we will have much more inequality. It will be as if the school had not touched the book, with the difference that it is a more powerful medium. The second possibility is that the entry of AI occurs halfway, in some schools yes and in others no, or with part of the teaching staff yes and another part no. In that case, what we will have is greater inequality between schools, or within the schools themselves. And the third possibility is that the school deals with it, because it has to, as it had to deal with the print media. And it provides more support to those students who are disadvantaged outside.

Q. Will it be a teacher’s assistant?

R. I would say that it will be an assistant to the teacher, because he can use it for many of his tasks, and an agent or interlocutor for the student, because the student will not have to limit himself to the only answer given by the teacher. Imagine, for example, its use for learning the language, correcting spelling, or accessing information that is not too complex. The student can have quite a rich interaction with artificial intelligence, in the sense of quite extensive, that a teacher could not give them. Because a teacher can only give collective attention, to everyone, or very occasionally individual attention.

Q. What do you think of the educational law, the Lomloe, which is still being implemented?

R. In the curricular, pedagogical part, I have a good impression, in relation to what was there. It seems to me that there is adequate emphasis on skills, there is a push, a saying “we like it”, for the introduction of technology, for teamwork, for each center to have an effective project, not a purely formal one, for there is co-education, etc. In that sense, it has some good music. But then you have to put it into practice, the powers are mainly of the autonomous communities, and the key is in the center. In the center where there is a good project, there will be a good education and where there is not, there will not be, even if you have a good teacher of something.

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