There is no simple fix to the education system. The problems in the education systems of many countries are symptoms of a bigger cultural dysfunction. Acquiring knowledge must not be confused with memorising information and acquiring beliefs.
The goal of teaching must change from transmitting factual information to the cultivation of thinking tools. Knowing how to ask useful questions and knowing how to reason and use the scientific method is much more important than memorising answers.
Parents strive to give their children a head start. At school children are being taught how to be persuasive before they are being taught how to reason. Children are discouraged from thinking deeply, and are often discouraged from asking probing questions. Popularity and conformance is valued over divergent thinking. What does this tell us about society?
Old habits and perceptions about the purpose of education are not unlearned quickly, this goes for teachers as much as for students and their parents. Techniques for unlearning obsolete assumptions and questionable ideologies need to be taught.
Many still perceive the goal of teaching as being the transmission of factual and cultural information. Much of the role of transmitting information – some validated and some questionable – is now being taken over by YouTube and other web based tools. The old role of the teacher is dead.
This is an opportunity to create a new and valuable teacher role. We swim in oceans of data, yet validated and useful knowledge remains rare. In the fast paced transactional culture of competitive economics, there is no time for considering evidence. This is a wider cultural problem, not a problem of education.
Technologies are spreading faster and changing faster than human societies can keep up with. Assuming that children need to learn in preparation to “work” and to perform “jobs” is already an obsolete belief. Anyone with hands-on experience in advanced automation, including the automation of software design and development, knows this. The age of work and jobs is over.
However, less work does not imply any less need to think. Thinking is more important than ever, and the more people remain stuck in the busyness demanded by the old economic paradigm, the less thinking happens. We need to rethink what the word economics means, and it is time to reconsider which kinds of human activities and behaviours need to be valued, and which ones have to be considered counter-productive going forward.
Software technologies are language systems, and they also represent encodings of the ideologies of the organisations that have developed the software. Ideologies must not simply be consumed, they must be questioned and the underlying interests must be exposed and understood.
Ted Nelson captures this increasingly relevant concern in the following words:
All human artifacts are technology. But beware anybody who uses this term. Like “maturity” and “reality” and “progress”, the word “technology” has an agenda for your behavior: usually what is being referred to as “technology” is something that somebody wants you to submit to. “Technology” often implicitly refers to something you are expected to turn over to “the guys who understand it.” This is actually almost always a political move. Somebody wants you to give certain things to them to design and decide. Perhaps you should, but perhaps not.