Civic-Tech and tomorrow’s education: An Open Class with François Taddei

This post-event report explores the Open Class EdTech #8 — What education for what democracy? with François Taddei, held the 10th of November at the CRI in Paris. Both Master EdTech students, we’ve written two complementary viewpoints about how education and democracy can be integrated into the Civic-Tech vision of tomorrow’s society. You can read elina moraitopoulou’s article here.

Global Education

Coming just two days after the US elections on November the 8th, this Open Class at the CRI underlined the critical link between education and democracy. François Taddei, co-founder and director of the CRI, spoke at length about their intertwined but complicated relationship and how Civic-Tech initiatives can improve political awareness and civic engagement.

One of the oldest and best “technologies” available to foster both engagement and education is discussion. Civic-tech tools inherit ideals of consensus and collective decision-making processes from the antique Greek “polis” through virtual discussions, according to François.

Representative democracy collapses when confronted with global issues. If education, civil society and democracy coevolve, then shared consensus needs shared education and values; neither can exist alone. Should we be educated as citizens of the world? François reminds us that the Sustainable Development Goal 4 calls for lifelong learning worldwide; is this a premise for the birth of world citizens?

A view of Earth from Voyager 1, at a distance of more than 4 billion miles. Earth is the dot in the middle of the bright streak. Image credit: NASA/JPL

The Pale Blue Dot

Astronomer Carl Sagan asked the NASA to take one last picture of the Earth from its space probe Voyager as it left the solar system. The Earth is less than a pixel wide. For François, “It helps to change our perspective. If that’s our city, our polis, if that’s where we live, we need to nurture it more, educate each other to understand the planet’s limits and how we can best maintain it and live on it together.” The Earth is not, though, any random piece of rock; learning happens here and perhaps nowhere else. Addressing global issues means stepping out of very narrow nationalistic perceptions “us” and “them” to get to “we together.” Perhaps science offers enough common ground to begin working together.

Government and Citizens

Governance based on the power of a chosen few, a caste system, no longer works. In a participatory democracy, better educated and informed citizens should be enabled to take responsibility and contribute to a more inclusive government. What about mixing lifelong and just-in-time learning? Imagine a sick relative. You would try to educate yourself as quickly as possible to help.

The conversation turned towards Civic-Tech and citizens. What role can citizens play facing global issues when the underlying sentiment is that of major decisions such as the TTIP taken behind closed doors? Can Civic-Tech be “scaled up” to embrace worldwide issues? François Taddei returned to the antique Agora as a unified place of exchange (goods and ideas) and collective decisions. The problem today is that goods and ideas flow, but most decisions remain local or those who decide are so far removed that any connection is lost. As recent elections in England and the US have shown, the anger runs so deep that citizens prefer anything rather than maintaining the status quo.
Discussions on worldwide platforms such as Twitter turn quickly to hate, while more user-specific platforms such as Stack Overflow remain local. How can we bridge global, low-quality instantaneous exchange and local high quality exchange? Can we reinvent Civic-Tech and Ed-Tech to build high-quality consensus that reflects the will to live together? For François, we have no choice but to experiment. Civic- and Ed-Tech must evolve as do laws and constitutions.

Abstention rates in all elections are high. Even given the best tools, how can one encourage participation? We need to experiment yet again. Early citizen education leads to better participation. In Canada, one initiative invites youth to symbolically vote and express their opinions. By engaging them in a process that they are not yet allowed to do, they will hopefully continue once voters. The program “Bâtisseurs de possibles” (Design for change) in France invites children to design their involvement through questioning, finding and sharing solutions. Seeing that one’s energy has an impact is, for François, one of the best ways to foster civic engagement.

On the mission with the French Education Ministry

François has been asked to examine research and development about lifelong learning.

How to do it? How can one engage as many people as possible to redefine future learning and how can each contribute to the process? Another way to describe the mission is to ask, “how to build a path towards the future of learning and a future learning society?” The mission links with Civic-Tech in two ways: making the report public and inviting as many people as possible to contribute and also making sure that the report will not be buried after the mission.

Can this mission be a civic topic where any citizen wishing to engage themselves can join? If one can build a Civic-Tech, EdTech, Open Science-Tech tool, one could invent new collective solutions, a much more open, fluid and inclusive debate. If it works, the mission will have contributed to creating a hybrid between Civic-Tech, EdTech and the future of knowledge technologies.

Concerned about the future of education? Let us know what you think!

Further reading and links:

Sagan, Carl, and Ann Druyan. Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space. Random House Publishing Group, 2011.