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World Futures: Education – Part One

on November 16, 2019 - 9:00am
Los Alamos World Futures Institute
In 2016, I created a list of 18 areas that I believed needed to be addressed concerning the future of earth and humanity.
Number 11 on the list was “what do we teach people – adapting machines to IQ levels.” When making a presentation, I shortened it to simply what do we teach people and, quite unexpectedly, was verbally “assaulted” about it.
The input presented stated that in addition to “what,” we had to include “how.” Since I had been personally involved in some pioneering work with distance learning and computer-based training, how could I overlook the “how” question?
Since that presentation I have concluded it is more complicated than simply “what” and “how.” So let us start with a definition from Wikipedia: “Education is the process of facilitating learning, or the acquisition of knowledge, skills, values, beliefs, and habits. Educational methods include storytelling, discussion, teaching, training, and directed research.”
Obviously, education is very broad in scope and even includes training. Yet when I was directly involved in the evolution of distance learning, there were significantly different perspectives between the education and training communities. So while I might conclude that airborne training (jumping out of good airplanes) broadened my education, or knowledge and experience, it was training, not education, at least in the formal sense.
When I think of education and embrace the term, I visualize classrooms and a teacher, or a gym and a teacher, or a computer presenting information built and structured by a “teacher.” The learning is conducted in a formal manner, perhaps with interaction, and with specific goals and techniques for measurement of successful learning. It is structured in content, structured in process, and structured in “operationallity.” It has a price tag and the payee is often obfuscated by governmental bureaucracy.
From a governmental perspective, the societal group wanting to live in an orderly fashion and have a contributing and sustaining population wants to ensure the development of children to become capable, responsible, and participating adults in the society. The definition of capable, responsible, and participating, while another subject for debate, is affected by the concept of the society in question and is strongly influenced by its collective principles. In the United States, one of the principles is to allow the pursuit of happiness, another term needing definition. Collectively, however, we have an obligation to provide the “education” that enables pursuit, the development of children into adults.
Clearly, if we agree with this societal concept of education, what we teach should be pretty obvious, but it is not. If a new child enters Kindergarten today, they theoretically will undergo 13 years of education and emerge as an adult. In that period, information will have grown over 8,000 times or 800,000 percent.
Concurrently, technology will have grown, changing what it takes to get by in life, what it takes to be a good citizen, and the definition of freedom. Does your smart phone control you or do you control is? What is your definition of freedom?
Closely related to the subject of what we should teach it the cost of teaching, which affects the topic of how. I found some numbers about the growth of the number of students, teachers, and administrative and other staff from 1950 to 2009.
One might ask why I did not look for 2019 numbers. Simply put, there is too much information out there, but these numbers provide some insight. Student growth was 96 percent, approximately in agreement with population growth. Teacher growth was 252 percent, driving down the student to teacher ratio. But the growth of administrative and other staff was up 702 percent, raising a good question about what is happening to the management overhead. Is it really needed, is it being counted differently, is it simply the growth of bureaucracy, or is it caused by technology?
For this column and before we get into greater detail, there is another point for contemplation. I stated above that when one emerges from the formal education system, the goal is to be an adult fully capable of societal participation. The child can achieve this without “schooling” cost through public education, the government paying the cost though grade 12 (or is it really daycare?).
Today, however, we see a continuing growth in college enrollments at the expense of the student. The news about college debt is overwhelming and having significant influence on the attitudes of younger generations. So why go to college? Is it being caused by the employers of adults who want better rankings of them for the selection process? One might ask if college is becoming essential to get by in life, to get and do your job, and to be a good citizen. Or is it simply deferred adulthood?
Or does graduating from high school merely signify the creation of a “semi-adult” and hence more education is required, be it college or training?
Til next time…
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