"Virtual education: some things matter"
By Esteban Magnani
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Big tech companies have found data to be an invaluable source of profit. What is data used for? Should schools become a conduit for companies to become even wealthier? How can it be avoided?
As part of the series of conferences “Digital culture and education” organized by Education International Latin America (IEAL) and the National Pedagogical University of Argentina (UNIPE), to be held between May and December of this year, Esteban Magnani gives us a glimpse of what the first conference of the series has in store for us, on May 24, 2021.
Big multinationals have found data to be the raw material for developing new business models that would be unthinkable in an analog world. The population’s segmented knowledge, in Byung Chul Han's words, is a direct gateway to the collective unconscious, paving the way for developing what Shoshanna Zuboff calls "markets for future behaviors".
Just like data, artificial intelligence and tech companies’ massive financial resources cause disruptions in the markets they enter, from advertising to the audiovisual market, from finance to transportation. The success of these companies leads to successive crises of over-accumulation, forcing them to expand into new areas. Education is one of the markets that can provide an opportunity to continue with this seemingly unstoppable growth. At a time when schools are in crisis, technology companies’ aura of modernity is tempting governments to buy a turnkey solution, which, even if they do not understand it entirely, enjoys a certain prestige.
In this way, classrooms can be transformed into a new space for collecting data on thousands, if not millions, of students during their cognitive development and their transition to adulthood. Their interests, desires, difficulties and abilities, expressed on a daily basis at school, can thus be stored and processed in order to find patterns. What can we sell them? When? Who is likely to become a good employee? Which students excel in an activity and should be quickly recruited to work in certain fields? Who has learning difficulties making them less “employable”? Who is more at risk of developing certain diseases? Who finds it difficult to consistently do their school work? Who is a greater credit risk because of their erratic behavior? Once processed, all of this information is extremely valuable and allows for the development and fine-tuning of different business models.
What are the alternatives at a time when the pandemic is pressuring us? First, you have to take into account the potential harm involved in passing student data to foreign companies. Second, it is about making decisions that allow us to develop open and free responses in which technology is at the service of education and not the other way around. This can be achieved, above all, thanks to free software that allows teachers to make proposals, ask programmers to make changes and that does not depend on the will of a private company that created its platform according to general criteria, which might have little to do with local realities. Free software also makes it possible to host information on your own servers, providing guarantees for data privacy. In addition, these tasks can be carried out by local workers who in this way gain access to employment and strengthen the network of knowledge necessary to continue the process.
Such proposals are neither fanciful nor impossible: in Argentina, the University Information System, the use of Moodle in national universities, with more than twenty-five years of experience in these fields and a community of over ten thousand specialists, shows that these types of goals, although they may be long-term or require a larger initial investment than a turnkey purchase, generate a series of positive and desirable side effects for educational communities.
Indeed, inside the technology box, there are many variables, not necessarily visible at first glance, that are at stake. The state and teaching community cannot make decisions that only take into account what is easy and what is known. The stakes are much higher.
All the conferences will take place in virtual mode, via videoconference and will be broadcast live on the UNIPE YouTube page.
Members of unions that are affiliated to EI in the region can contact their organization to inquire about registration and participation through the IEAL Zoom platform. Those who register through their union will be eligible for a certificate of participation.
More information is available on the IEAL website: https://bit.ly/3haLsgi
The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect any official policies or positions of Education International.