Education calls for a new philosophy
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Let us have a glimpse of what has happened during the last 75 years in the most important branches of human activity. Life expectancy has increased from less than 45 to almost 80 (Encyclopedia Encarta, 1998). Medics are routinely making transplants of heart and other organs, several diseases have been eradicated by methods of genetic engineering (eradication of malaria, which used to cause 3 million deaths yearly, is due in near future). The power and ranges of weapons have increased thousands of times, creating a situation in which another world war is impossible, since the use of means of mass destruction on a global scale will cause the annihilation of the planet Earth.
Productivity in many branches of industry has increased hundreds of times. The progress achieved in telecommunication and transportation has increased their capability thousands of times. Satellites, fiber optics and cellular phones together with sophisticated compression methods opened highways of information for almost everyone on the earth. Free access to rich sources of information has been assured to most if not all.
One may state without exaggeration that the achievements in science and technology, in the course of the mentioned span of 75 years, have outperformed, by any standard, all that has been achieved by humanity in these fields during the previous two thousand years.
This statement may be supported by a long list of great scientific - technical feats such as theory of relativity, the quantum theory, deciphering the genetic code, the landing of man on the moon, the tunnel under La Manche, interplanetary probes, reaching the boundaries of our solar system, nuclear power, mass air transportation and many others.
There is every indication, that the pace of scientific-technical progress will further increase with accelerated acceleration. The yearly R&D budget in electronics, computers and related fields is close to 200 billion USD . The fast rate of progress is a result of the employment of many thousands of scientists and engineers of the highest caliber and excellent communication possibilities they awail, which prevent duplication of their efforts.
One should point out that there are improved instruments at the disposal of these scientists now, with an accuracy and sensitivity many thousands times better than before: e.g. 75 years ago time was measured with an accuracy of 1 part per 104, while today it is measured with accuracy of 1 part per 1013 - an improvement of 7 orders of magnitude (ref. Hewlett-Packard), microscopes and telescopes have increased their magnification and resolution thousandfold (electron microscope, Hubble telescope).
The measurement of all physical quantities: electric current and voltage, magnetic flux and magnetic flux density, radiation intensity, wavelength, frequency, energy, power, and many others, has improved by several orders of magnitude.
It is worthwhile to point out that 95 % of all those, who are or used to be considered as scientists in the whole history of mankind, are still alive at the present moment!
Only one field, the one that is highly relevant for the greatest number of people, during a prolonged period of their life, lags hopelessly behind. It has stubbornly resisted any change and remains at the same level as it used to be more than a hundred years ago - that is the education of the young generation. Many claim, not without justification, that the level of a graduate of a gymnasium or lyceum in France, Russia and Germany, hundred of years ago was much higher, than it is now.
Although it is true that the percentage of people participating in the education process has increased considerably, but this increase hardly explains the appalling lowering of the level.
One cannot avoid the question why, the most important invention of all times - the computer - that brought revolutionary changes into almost all avenues of human activity, has failed completely in the field of education, where its potential is clearly the greatest ? This state of affairs has been analyzed and documented by Scheidlinger (1984), Nickerson (1988), Cuban (1990), Sarason (1991) and Papert (1987). A series of articles on related subjects have been written by Prof. Gabriel Salomon in the years 1990 - 1991 (Salmon, 1990; Salmon et al., 1991).
Computerized education has been studied by many educators but the uniqueness of this field of endeavor has not always been understood . Because of the un-precedently fast pace of progress in computers and communications (their basic parameters improve, at least ten times every 3 to 4 years, and this process has been continuing already for more than 45 years, with nothing to indicate that a saturation is being reached), most of the research that has been done ten or more years ago ,assumed material basis that is absolutely outdated now. How can one compare the possibilities in the field of education that existed using a standalone computer which used diskettes of 360 kb capacity , with a modern computer equipped with a DVD of 17 Gb, and a communication capability that may cover the whole globe?
Only the most outstanding educators, e.g. Papert (1980), were able, in their time, to appreciate the potential of Computerized education properly and refer to it as "mindstorming " . The whole problem of computers in education has to be approached bearing in mind the most recent material basis of computers and telecommunications, and should involve making intelligent guesses concerning what will be available in next 4 to 12 years.
What will be the reaction of anybody, if an engineer, who is designing a 100 stories building, will devote several years to study how to erect nomads' tents or how to furnish cave dwellings?
Education is a long term process and therefore only people with a vision of the future can really direct and participate in this process effectively. Their "products" will appear in the market no earlier than 10 - 12 years. Without such a vision any activity related to education is absolutely meaningless.
One may predict with great probability, that the graduates of the present Educational system will enter the international market, where competition is the buzz word. The majority will have to work in high technology and compete with a rapidly growing number of highly qualified people from other countries. The essence of their work will be to innovate, develop, design, produce and deliver high quality, reliable, esthetic, energy saving and ecologically sound products, for example, highly efficient automatic machines, and powerful generators utilizing new, renewable, non-fossile sources of energy. The most talented ones will enjoy doing basic and applied scientific research and thus contributing to further scientific- technological progress, creating new jobs and new opportunities.
Some of the graduates will be employed in solving ecological problems - the treatment of waste, recycling it and preventing pollution of water and the earth. Many will work in highly intensive agriculture, based on biotechnology and genetic engineering.
It is obvious that the powerful platform of the modern computers, equipped with modern means of telecommunications, calls for an absolutely new philosophy on which education in the Third Millenium should be based. The addition of computers to the existing school routine is like adding a tractor to the horse, both pulling the plough, like adding electric illumination to torches used in the neolithic caves, like strengthening a regiment of crossbow men with intercontinental guided missiles.
These combinations of something archaic with the most modern are ridiculous and will never work. Whatever has proven its superiority will replace the outdated and obsolete . It is enough to show on a sample of few hundred pupils that computerized learning of language or math is much more effective than traditional blackboard and chalk teaching, and the people all over the world will draw the conclusions. I am deeply convinced that the superiority of Computerized teaching may be proven beyond doubt and widely published with an obvious outcome.
Virtual reality, simulation, animation and other computer-based features will render traditional class learning futile.
What is meant by "Computerized education"? It is an educational system where most of the learning is administered by the computer, with some help rendered by an advisor at the Learning Center and in presence of a juvenile instructor serving a group of learners.
The Learning Center will carry out the computerized examinations, using one of the proven authentication methods. The Learning Center will evaluate the assignments given to the learners and report his evaluation to the Leader Teacher and/or parents of the pupil.
Interaction between the learner and his peers and between the learner and his pedagogues is of an utmost importance in the educational process. Isolated, sterile learner will not fit into the fabric of the modern society. Only Computerized education may originate such relations.
The distribution of the learning process over the whole lifespan and much more effective learning, thanks to the decisive superiority of computer teaching, will leave more time for extracurricular activities such as sport, drama, ballet, music (orchestra and choir), painting, sculpture, chess, excursions, archeology, visiting industrial enterprises, building sites, agricultural settlements, scientific institutions and laboratories, planetariums, botanical gardens, museums, ports, ground stations for the reception of satellites, and many others. Participation in the above mentioned extracurricular activities will provide much more opportunities for inter-personal contact than traditional class teaching, where the main effort of the teacher is directed toward keeping the pupils not talking to one another. One may state unequivocally that computerized learning will provide human interaction to a much greater extent than traditional classroom teaching.
Let us bear in mind that the traditional classroom is a place where a great number of children are victims of prejudices of various kinds, the only place where cheating is applauded by peers, where malady of the teacher is a source of joy, where time utilization hardly exceeds 5% (that was the efficiency of Stevenson's locomotive), where the distribution of leisure time is based on the assumption that pupils have to help their parents in the time of harvest, where the distribution of rest periods has nothing to do with the basic hygiene of mental activity.
The existing school system attempts to defend its position by claiming that it forms the habits, manners, intellectual aptitudes and other character features of its pupils. This claim is ill based and the proof is that most regimes did not expect to get enough indoctrination from the educational system, so they supported youth movements: Boy scouts in Britain, Komsomol in Russia, Hitlerjugend in Germany, and the Fascist Youth Organizations in Italy and Spain. The influence of the youth movements on the upbringing of youth was immensely greater than that of school.
Computerized education will leave more time for youth movement activities and thus provide more effective interaction between peers and pedagogues which may have powerful influence on the upbringing of the young generation. In short: upbringing within the frames of youth movements and extracurricular activities, not in course of studying free fall, logarithms, similarity of triangles, Latin grammar or the chemical structure of hydrocarbons.
The idea of replacing most teachers by computers will encounter strong opposition from those who do not care if their "product" will find employment or not, from those who think that the further avalanche scientific-technical progress will stop for some unknown reason, for those who are future-blind or those for whom the problems of teachers are more important (they vote…) than the future of the young generation (they cannot vote for the time being…) (Scheidlinger, 1995; Salomon 1995; Scheidlinger, 1997).
This process is inevitable, it does not depend upon the will of bureaucrats and the aim of this paper is to draw maximum advantages from its early implementation and prevent paying the high price of fast growing unemployment and lowering the standard of living, for the delay in its acceptance.
Many thanks to Dr Frederick Bennet (firstname.lastname@example.org) for many fruitful discussions which influenced this paper. Comprehensive analysis of the situation existing in the field of education at present and the ideas how to change it in accordance with the requirements of the 21 century are contained in his book "Computer as tutors: Solving the Crisis in Education" (Bennett, 1999).