The front page of the Guardian today carried an article by David Leigh about the Secretary of State which included specific reference to the ambitions of Rupert Murdoch to profit from online learning. It’s headlined ‘The schools crusade that links Michael Gove to Rupert Murdoch’. As an aside, Mr Gove, as the author of a book about Islam, might consider the word crusade a little tasteless.1
One interesting passage refers to
…the extraordinarily close links that still exist between publishing tycoon and Tory politician. One of Murdoch’s long-term projects is what he calls a “revolutionary and profitable” move by his media companies into online education. Gove would be a key figure in any attempt to penetrate the British schools market.
And the evidence is:
On 19 May, Gove breakfasted with Murdoch in London. The tycoon flew on from that meeting to address a Paris conference of internet entrepreneurs. This time, he went into some detail about News Corp’s plans for educational technology. He and Klein had been touring educational projects around the world, in South Korea, Sweden and California. Schools were the “last holdout from the digital revolution” he said. “Today’s classroom looks almost exactly the same as it did in the Victorian age… The key is the software.”
You can read the full text of Murdoch’s speech on the News International site.
That’s Mr Murdoch, boys and girls. Now let’s have a look at what Mr Gove said at the BETT Show on 11 January 2012:
The fundamental model of school education is still a teacher talking to a group of pupils. It has barely changed over the centuries, even since Plato established the earliest ‘akademia’ in a shady olive grove in ancient Athens. A Victorian schoolteacher could enter a 21st century classroom and feel completely at home.
Now who do you think is copying the homework, children?
Does this suggest a reason for the recent interest by the DfE in technology in schools? In the early days of the coalition, having immediately abolished the education technology agency Becta, it seemed ICT in schools was deemed peripheral at best. Now it seems that Mr Gove is asking, ‘What can technology do for learning?’ The answers in his BETT address are revealing: ‘disseminate learning…. think about how we teach… unprecedented opportunities for assessment’. Well, it’s a start, if a rather limited one – which is why I gave him a copy of our book, Teaching English Using ICT, to show him that English teachers have been thinking about this for a long time already. What’s that? You’d like a copy as well? Oh, all right then….
An open-source curriculum?
In calling for ‘an open-source curriculum’, mind you, Mr Gove might not entirely please his former employer and continued friend Mr Murdoch. For in that same speech to the G-8 Forum in Paris referred to earlier, Rupert Murdoch opened by making a strong plea for copyright law:
We hope the G-8 will strongly affirm that the property rights of artists and creators are more than a matter of protecting cultures. In this new century, they are essential requirements for a dynamic economy and the digital future.
As the Open Source Schools site tells us,
Open source software is software which can be used, modified and improved by anyone and can be redistributed freely.
Such a philosophy might not always sit easily with those who see education as a ‘revolutionary and profitable’ market, might it? And that’s before we get to the purists of the Free Software Foundation. Still, taking open source seriously, using free software and publicly-funded and freely available content might save schools a lot of money, mightn’t it? Now that might be ‘revolutionary and profitable’, though more in the spirit of Paris 1789 or 1968 than G-8 Paris 2011….
Rupert Murdoch, the considerate employer
Mr Gove might feel kindly towards Mr Murdoch for a number of reasons. Weary hacks eking out a living in their drafty garrets might be just a little jealous at two further tid-bits in the Guardian story, which shows that ‘Murdoch in turn was kind to his former employee’:
- When Mr Gove was a backbench MP, The Times topped up his salary with a £60,000-a-year column. Nice work if you can get it – and something covered here in a blog post last July.
- Murdoch’s publishing arm, HarperCollins, also gave Mr Gove a book advance in 2004 for a history of an obscure 18th-century politician, Viscount Bolingbroke. ‘Puzzlingly,’ David Leigh writes, ‘the book was never delivered.’ What a fine example to set to the children! Well, Miss, that Mr Gove never did his ‘omework neither!
Film least likely to win an Academy Award?
Still, let’s look on the bright side – the Guardian last weekend carried a cartoon by Stephen Collins on films least likely to win an Academy Award. One was Gove: ‘he was a British public figure, but he had a human side too’ (‘extremely detailed… very long indeed’)
Fanciful? Not for Toby Young! In case you weren’t among the 3.26 million who bought the Sun on Sunday, I’ve read it for you – well the bit where Toby Young waxes lyrical about the Secretary of State:
My bet’s on Gove for PM
Haven’t we heard that somewhere before?
1After all, Michael Gove’s Celsius 7/7, published in 2006, ‘argues that Islamists are waging “total war” against the west, not because of imperialism but because of their root-and-branch rejection of “western values”,’ according to Richard Seymour). I’m afraid that another reviewer found this ‘perfervid pamphlet… remarkably trite’. Harsh words indeed! If you want to judge for yourself, Celsius 7/7 is available from Amazon from only £0.01.