Are ICT investments in schools an education revolution or fool’s errand?
From the time of Plato, educators have struggled with the acquisition of knowledge, seeking it to be understood by the learner versus just assimilated as dogma. And since Plato’s time, educational technology – from the written word to the printed book to the chalkboard – has been hailed as the solution to this challenge. Each successive technology had impact, though often not the type or scale that the introducer hoped.
False dichotomies like that make me angry. It’s a fault, I know, and I’m working on it. But this is in fact nonsense. OK, yes, we are talking about an education revolution. But more importantly, we are talking about a revolution that permeates all of society.
If Plato is the standard, all education is a fool’s errand. He did not hail writing as a great advance, but railed against it as corrosive to memory and to society. His treatise on government, propagandistically misnamed The Republic, is the classic manual for tyranny by a self-perpetuating oligarchy. He recommends a vast and weighty censorship, including tight restrictions on art and music; official lies to maintain nationalism disguised as patriotism; and most of the rest of the apparatus of the authoritarian, ideological state of the Left, the Right, or Off the Deep End (as was apparently the case in Libya).
But Plato is not the standard. In fact, there is no standard. Technology is wiping away all of our old ways of doing things as effectively as did the Gutenberg press and type. No, more effectively, because more of us can afford it this time. ICT in education provides access to all of the public knowledge of the world, and to everybody else in the world. The notion that these are not of the essence of education, or the failure of imagination that fails to consider them at all, render the conventional debate meaningless, and worse than useless.
Most modern education systems were created by empires in order to keep their subjects down both at home and in the colonies, starting with the Spanish and Portuguese empires in the 16th century, followed by Dutch, French, and British empires, among others. This trend culminated with the system devised in the Prussian Empire by a combination of royal and religious authority.
You must fashion [the person], and fashion him in such a way that he simply cannot will otherwise than what you wish him to will.
Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762–1814)
It is quite remarkable, and fortunate, that such education systems have been failing as often as they have, going back to the Dutch 80 Years War against Spain and the Inquisition, and the American Revolution against British colonial rule, and that their rate of failure is accelerating, in large part due to information technology.
Writing itself was the first culprit, according to Plato, destroying the faculty of memorizing. And still today, there are school systems around the world, even though they have books, where nothing but rote memorization is considered to be education.
It is well known to those with any sense of history that the Gutenberg press and movable type were at the root of the failure of modern education, beginning with the failure of Catholic Christian Orthodoxy in the Protestant Reformation. ;->
Tightly controlled mass communication media, particularly newspapers and radio, became the supports of the tyrannies of the early 20th century. Even the slightest turn toward freedom of press and media, however, resulted in tyrannies and imperial rule being turned out in much of the world after World War II, again after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and again today. Now we see that the Internet has taken this trend to the next level, tearing down even a few tyrannies in the Arab world that had previously been immune, with more apparently to come.
Much of the world according to Plato considers all of this to be a Bad Thing. Modernity itself is taken to be the enemy by certain Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, and other groups, by the remaining Communists, and by the corrupt regimes in a number of former colonies, especially Haiti and many in Africa and Asia.
The result of education with any degree of freedom is held by all of these groups to represent the End of Civilization as We Know It, as it was by the Nazi regime, the Italian and Spanish Fascists, the Soviet Union, and the British, French, and other remnant empires. Here.
Education is dangerous…Every educated person is a future enemy.
Martin Bormann (1900–1945)
In the USA, the enemies of modernity have been fighting a rearguard action for a century and a half against the end of slavery and gradual progress in Civil Rights; against teaching Evolutionary Biology in the schools, or as they call it “Darwinism”; against sex education; and much more, each of which undermines the Divinely Appointed Order of Things According to Them. Unfortunately for them, they are losing thousands of members daily, millions every year, and the US is shifting on a number of these issues at rates ranging from half a percent or so annually to 2% on Gay rights in 2010 and 2011.
We may therefore confidently expect considerable improvements in governance over time from the general advance of freedom of information due to computers, whether or not in education, and similar improvements in economic development and other matters of general interest. We can expect those previously in positions of undue power and influence to continue to lament furiously their coming losses and to deploy all the methods they know or can invent against them.
North Korea is the last remaining Stalinist country, and does not permit Internet use by the public at all. Arab countries, which have significant Internet penetration, have been variously affected by the current Arab Spring. Sub-Saharan Africa has only recently had significant fiber optic capacity landed along its coasts, and has had even less time to get fiber built out through the interior of most countries. However, there is enough fiber in some countries to spark severe price wars for Internet capacity, and there are plans to get fiber to every country, even the landlocked ones, led by Rwanda.
The question whether we should teach computers in the schools is beside the point. It is like discussions of Bridging the Digital Divide rather than obliterating it and making it no more than a fading memory.
The real question for the schools is how we can integrate computers throughout the curriculum as much as we do in business and politics today, and how that will change the curriculum as children learn ideas at ever earlier ages. This is important especially in civics and in those other subjects that relate to human rights and economic growth. I have pointed out elsewhere that with the replacement of printed textbooks by OER the investment required to provide computers to all schoolchildren is negative, giving an infinite financial Return on Investment, and an even greater social return.