“We look at the present through a rear view mirror; we walk backwards into the future” is one of my favorite Marshall McLuhan quotes. The man who said “The medium is the message” and “The user is the content” tens of years before the web 2.0 made its first steps has a unique perspective on evolution.

I was thinking about the medium and the user following several education-related video presentations I watched recently. I would like to mention two; both are talking about today’s education, in relation to the past.

It will be wrong to say that we live in an era of great changes or a surprising rise of new technologies. It will be wrong, because this is not an era. This is it. It started with the invention of the writing, moving us from pre-history to history. The next great leap was the industrial revolution. Evolution has been on that course of rapid developments and constant changes ever since. Some aspects of life keeping up and some being left behind. Unfortunately, one of the most important aspects of civilization is having trouble keeping up. That’s education. Individuals are doing great jobs sometimes. But as a whole, education is in trouble.

How relevant to today’s education can a 40 year old quote be? How relevant can a 160 year old quote be?
“Today’s child is bewildered when he enters the 19th century environment that still characterizes the educational establishment, where information is scarce but ordered and structured by fragmented, classified patterns subjects, and schedules”.
This opening statement, to a presentation made by university students, quotes “Marshall McLuhan, 1967”.
The same presentation ends with another brilliant quote: “The inventor of the system deserves to be ranked among the best contributors to learning and science, if not the greatest benefactors of mankind”. Quote by Josiah F. Bumstead, made in 1841 on the benefits of the chalkboard.

Looking back at the invention of the chalkboard this was the previous revolution to education. At the time it was perceived more as an innovation than as a revolution. A revolution is happening nowadays too. And surprisingly, it is also perceived more as an innovation than as a revolution.But an Australian school is demonstrating its full grasp of the revolution in a series of 9 short videos, linked to from the Flickschool blog.
Watching them I felt happy: Someone has finally got it and is actually saying it out loud.While the teacher’s role in the past was to teach, to pass on material to students, the teachers today need to understand that their role in the society has changed. It’s a revolutionary transition from a giver’s role, where the students are passive, to an enabler role, where the students assume an active role. Moreover, as a learning-enabler or adviser, the teachers themselves become active learners. And they learn from their students too.

Many teachers complain about the downgrade in the teacher’s status in the eyes of their students. Students hardly look up to teachers as they used to do some 30 years ago maybe. Teachers who are respected are those who respect their students. And I can see it every day as a mother and as an active PTA member.

As a communications strategist, working with hi-tech companies, I can honestly say that learning enabling is the highest value of all and the only expectation I have of school. If in the past a teacher would be preparing his students for a well known set of professions, it is clear, and even clearer over the last 20-30 years, that teachers couldn’t have prepared us, for those professions which they had no idea would exist. Who would have thought of a New Media specialist 20 years ago? E-business? Homeland security? Organic agriculture?

You can look around you and see who the people who learned-how-to-learn are. The teaching and studying environments change. But if you think that computers are the new teaching tools – you are greatly mistaken. Computers, like the chalkboard, mark the environment. The tool has never changed throughout the history of mankind: curiosity remains the single most important quality and tool of the learner.