This story begins with the ABC Book, the book for teaching the alphabet and early reading, the book that Pinocchio kept under his arm on the road to school.
Perhaps Pinocchio will not be remembered as the greatest fan of education, but in his story, there are many typical elements of the educational process, especially the presence of Children. Children are both the main users and carriers of education; they are the ones who learn, who acquire knowledge and who, as adults, teach to other children.
This cause-and-effect relationship between learning and teaching laid the foundation for the dissemination of Knowledge. Knowledge transmitted from generation to generation, from age to age. Knowledge that becomes the object of the educational process.
“You were not made to live your lives as brutes, but to be followers of worth and knowledge” Ulysses told his men before crossing the Strait of Gibraltar. With these words Dante Alighieri declared the following of knowledge as the only reason for human existence. He was a real fan of education.
However, the educational process does not always succeed in bringing out the genius of those involved. The teaching-learning-teaching circularity can be interrupted by flawed educational systems. This was the case, for example, with Einstein, an undisputed genius in physics and mathematics with a dubious educational profile. This case highlights the imperfection and, not surprisingly, the ‘relativity’ of the educational process.
Luckily for him, little Einstein grew up in a Family that nurtured the fire of his intellect. His mother enrolled him in violin lessons, his father introduced him to scientific studies and his uncle stimulated him with numerous mathematical problems. The role of Parents is fundamental in the educational process of any individual. They are the key elements in the educational process of an individual, complementary to schools and more generally to education and information systems.
While the role of the parents has always been a constant in the intimate educational process, stimuli outside the family have evolved throughout history, increasing in number and complexity. Emblematic examples of this entropy are the social networks, leading players of the dissemination of knowledge, whose main vehicle is the Hashtag, a powerful Virgil in Dante’s universe of web content. To get an idea of the scale of the phenomenon, if you go on Instagram and type #education, you get 23 million results. In opening and creating the different contents, an educational process is thus triggered, where teachers and students are constantly mixing.
But all this would never have been possible without the advent of the Internet, the pain and delight of education in the 21st century. Thanks to the Internet, knowledge is faster, more immediate, available, abundant, superficial; the mediality of information prevails over depth. To quote Baricco, “Mediality is fast. Genius is slow. In mediality, the system finds a rapid circulation of ideas and gestures: in genius, in the depth of the noblest individual, that rhythm is broken. A simple brain transmits messages faster, a complex brain slows them down”. Our minds seem to have adapted to this new form of communication, but has the educational process evolved accordingly? Has education adapted to this mediality?
In order to understand the current stage of evolution of education, it is necessary to go back over some of the elements that have characterised it throughout history. Derived from the union of ē- (“from, out of”) and dūcĕre (“to lead”), to educate literally means “to bring out”. It is no coincidence that its etymology comes from Latin, a leading instrument in the history of education, both in the past and present. Latin has been the language of culture in the Western world for more than a millennium, an essential part of the communicative/educational process for the Romans and the Church, transversal to all subjects, both humanistic and scientific. Today it is used in schools, especially in Italy but also beyond its borders, with the dual purpose of spreading worth and knowledge to students in the various high schools.
The system that best interpreted the meaning of education was the method devised by Maria Montessori. This method, which is based on independence and freedom to choose one’s own educational path, aims to ‘bring out’ the talents and abilities of each individual. “Each person has a function in life that he does not know he has and that is related to the good of others. The purpose of the individual is not to live better, but to develop certain circumstances that are useful for others.” With these words Maria Montessori perfectly describes the ideology behind her theories.
One of the elements that Montessori considered fundamental to the individual’s educational path is the relationship with Nature. She argued that children had little opportunity to come into contact with nature and promoted their involvement in activities related to agriculture and the care of plants and animals. Many schools have started to offer this kind of approach, where lessons are held in real forests. At a time when it is no longer possible to imagine classrooms full of girls and boys, the idea of en plein air school that no longer has walls but trees, responds perfectly to the need to find new places of learning.
Because of the pandemic, almost all educational institutions have had to change their teaching methods; open-air schools are one example, but for those who do not have the option of choosing the path of nature, moving Online has been the only solution. This phenomenon has been growing since the beginning of the 21st century and with the Covid-19 pandemic it has seen a real revolution. The education-line is now represented by more or less experienced teachers who develop new educational contents, on any kind of subject, that can be accessed from home. Universities, Masters, maths lessons, piano lessons, cooking courses, sommelier courses. It turns out that anything can be taught and learned from home.
All these considerations are daily bread for scholars and experts in Pedagogy, the science that aims to understand education and the formation of the individual and to understand whether changes in the educational process are cause or effect of human evolution. How did we go from the ‘ABC era’, where children walk with their spelling books to school, to the ‘QWERTY era’, where children can discover the world with a simple finger on the keyboard? And what will be next?
Whatever happens, the hope is not to lose the straight path to worth and knowledge. This was the wish of one of Switzerland’s greatest writers and pedagogues Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Through his novel “Emilio o dell’educazione” (Emilius or Education), the writer advocated an educational system that would increase the knowledge of the individual, satisfying his needs and inclinations, educating him in the natural world and in Society. Emilio is a representative of a good humanity and of a society that has become conscious thanks to a perfect educational paradigm.
Today’s education tries to achieve this by positioning itself with a system based on the trinomial Talent – Equality – Mark. It is complex to reconcile these three aspects in a single process: guaranteeing the expression of everyone’s abilities (talent), equally for all (equality), based on a meritocratic system (mark). Today, 24th of January, on International Education Day, the theme of equality emerges as fundamental. Many have studied and designed innovative educational systems, but it is crucial to focus on those who do not have an educational system at all.
The United Nations are moving in this direction through their commitments to Sustainable Development Goal 4: Provide quality, equitable and inclusive education and learning opportunities for all. To quote Ulysses: “ You were not made to live your lives as brutes, but to guarantee worth and knowledge to all“.
After going through the history of education, I think of what best represents it for me: the Backpack. The backpack is the treasure chest of my educational experience. I can see all the books, notebooks, Latin vocabularies, cards, pencil cases, diaries. It makes me think about how important school and everything about it was for me. How does it feel for someone who can no longer feel this way because they have to stay at home due to the pandemic? How does it feel for someone who never had that feeling because they grew up in areas of the world without schools and education?
And, how do you feel?
Member of Kukula Onlus