The following is a correspondence from a teacher and father in the Czech Republic. I very much appreciated his observations, and he generously permitted me to share them with you all here in the hopes that it might help others.
March 23, 2023
I have been following your research for a certain time now. I work as an elementary public school teacher, and there are some quite dramatic changes in the approach to students being implemented in our public school system. Nothing is official though. NGOs are starting to infiltrate the schools, such as the one I teach in. So far, this has taken the form of seminars for all teachers staff, where they stress student sovereignty, which is reasonable in essence. I have studied Montessori and Waldorf school methods and raise my own kids in such a way.
A method being pushed for about two years is called formative assessment. After taking the time to take a course on it and study it more thoroughly, I’ve found aspects of reductive scientific techno vision. Kids are given aims to fulfill along with some criteria they must meet at the end. When they finish working, they assess themselves according to the criteria and draw their conclusions about their own study. However, kids are unable to take their own studies into their own hands and be “responsible for it,” which is the underlying idea of formative assessment. It seems to me that it copies the fundamentals of machine learning, which they are trying to implement in our schools. I have tried it in many classes, and it is unrealistic, unnatural, time consuming, and unwanted by the kids.
Have you come across formative assessment in your country? Is it something they promote there also? Is this a method used to teach kids constantly sitting in front of panels and Ipads? I tried to find some studies supporting its success in teaching but found nothing. It is being promoted by the EU and our government all through our school system. As a teacher and a father I am concerned.
I also want to thank you for your research and the energy you are putting into informing people about these huge changes in our lives. Here, in my country, there is absolutely no information about the metaverse, blockchain, or AI whatsoever. Not even in blogs or social media.
I will be happy to hear from your opinion on this, should you find a minute. Keep up the good work!
Greetings from the Czech Republic!
Dear Teacher Friend,
First, I think you are correct that it has everything to do with machine learning. The themes of “student-centered” education and “student voice and choice” have been central here for the past decade. While to the uninformed these ideas sound empowering, especially after so many years of drill and kill exercises for standardized testing that were intended to sap student and teacher creativity and curiosity. They know this. The program of “formative assessment” is in alignment with training a machine. It is goal oriented behavior. You can see numerous references to “formative assessment” in this 2012 OECD document for the Czech Republic promoting competency based education.
If you want to better understand the evolution of competency-based education in the United States, here is a search of the term from my blog. I was introduced to these ideas by my friend Emily, a second grade teacher in Maine. She discontinued her blog a number of years ago, but some of the posts are available on the Wayback Machine – here and here. We didn’t know anything about machine learning at the time, just the human capital finance part.
Competency Based Education, which is sometimes called Mastery or Proficiency-Based, is a set up for digital skills badges and “lifelong learning” on the blockchain ledger. Essentially, the “self-directed” model of education suits the need to treat humans as learning agents in complex simulations that will be used to forecast future global labor markets. It is important to understand that teachers are intended to be the vanguard in the adoption of these new technologies. Managing educators as “improve-able” digital human capital is also a planned global investment market. In the United States, they conditioned teachers first to accept behaviorist badges and digital micro-credentials as part of their “professional development,” so they would embrace the idea and promote the new paradigm to their students. I see that Erasmus and EduSTA are doing the same in the Czech Republic.
There is a reason Jeff Bezos, grandson of DARPA and Department of Energy big-wig Lawrence Gise, is investing in Montessori pre-k. I didn’t know about embodied AI and sensor networks when I wrote this post. Look up RSF Social Finance, the Rudolf Steiner Foundation, now based in Silicon Valley. It’s a social enterprise channeling considerable amounts of tech money. No surprise then that, at least in the US, Waldorf schools forced masking of children. We have to be mindful that even “alternative” types of learning styles like Montessori and Waldorf are being set up to harvest data on children. This will happen through artificial vision cameras, beacons, sensors, and wearable tech installed in learning environments. Such environments can be in non-traditional classrooms and even the outdoors.
What is most needed now is data to train artificial intelligence in social relations and human creativity and introspection. Formative assessments, when fed into a machine, allow the thinking process of the child to be made available for computation and analysis. This isn’t about one child or a classroom of children, but learning at scale – all of the children in the EU. It’s about the mental states of individuals and communities for the purposes of documentation and pattern recognition over time.
A challenging task is to embody artificial intelligence. When the AI comes into the material world it has to be able to navigate with a material “body” around complex obstacles and changing environments. Much of this research has been conducted as part of the RoboCup – robotic soccer team competitions. That project is being led by Peter Stone at UT Austin in Texas. Stone is also head of SONY AI North America.
All of this relates to choice and decision theory. Researchers use simulation modeling to train the AI before putting the technology into a robot. Within the digital simulation, the robots experience many failures moving through their test environment. Those failings affect their choices the next time around. Eventually, they “learn” to be more functional.
I think it’s useful to see alternative “student directed” approaches to learning in this light. They will want children to be independent to the verge of social isolation to create the stress to force their decision making process – then log the self-reflection inquiry. This is “goal oriented behavior.” It is easier for the system to “learn” from disaggregated agents than a complex mass of humans collaborating, at least at this point. Some day, perhaps soon, the machines will be able to look at group dynamics with the same ease. It seems the Czech government has been very involved in the development of digital identity and e-government. Social Finance has also been working with the European Social Catalyst Fund to investigate pay for success opportunities in your country. Education and health are the two primary targets.
Thanks so much for reaching out. I hope you, and others, find this information helpful.