Information Age Education
   Issue Number 15
April, 2009   

This free Information Age Education Newsletter is written by David Moursund and produced by Ken Loge. For more information, see the end of this newsletter.

The newsletter’s goal is to help improve education. Please help build circulation to this free newsletter by publicizing it to your colleagues, students, and others.

An April 8, 2009 newspaper article quotes US Education Secretary of Education Arne Duncan as saying: “American schoolchildren need to be in class more—six days a week and at least 11 months a year—if they are to compete with students abroad.”
Duncan went on to say that: “I fundamentally believe that our school day is too short, our school week is too short, and our school year is too short.”

The need to better prepare our students so that they and the US can better compete with the rest of the world is a recurring theme in calls for school reform.

Looking Back

HistoryThe world has changed a lot since I was a child. As I was growing up, we certainly did not worry about people from other countries competing for the same jobs that people in the US competed for. Although telephone, telegraph, and radio communication spanned the globe, we had nothing like today’s fiber optics, communication satellites, Internet, and transportation systems.

A huge number of technology-based advances occurred during World War II in areas of collection, processing, storage, and communication of information. Information overload was beginning to rear its ugly head. Notice the date on the following quote.

"Consider a future device for individual use, which is a sort of mechanized private file and library. It needs a name, and, to coin one at random, 'memex' will do. A memex is a device in which an individual stores all his books, records, and communications, and which is mechanized so that it may be consulted with exceeding speed and flexibility. It is an enlarged intimate supplement to his memory." (Vannevar Bush, As We May Think, The Atlantic, July 1945.)

The article is available free on the Web at http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/194507/bush. That availability on the Web is quite fitting, since the Web is a relatively good implementation of what Vannevar Bush was dreaming about.

Looking at More Current Times

CurrentIssue 4 (October 2008) of this newsletter discussed the Information Age and the overwhelming and rapidly growing accumulation of information that each of us faces. One educational approach to this steadily growing overload of content that can be taught in schools is spelled out in Arne Duncan’s proposal. Have students go to school more hours a day, more days a week, and more weeks per year. There are two general arguments for this:

  1. Students will learn more, and they will have less time outside of school to forget what they are learning. (And, since a major goal of a school is to be a safe, secure place for students, this will increase the amount of time that many students spend in a safe, secure place.)
  2. The United States needs more and better education to occur in order to have better-prepared job seekers and for our workers to be competitive in the world market.
These are complex issues and challenges, and they certainly cannot be resolved in the small amount of space I have available here. The first argument relates to students having to deal with both an information overload (too much to learn) and an information underload (not to learn well what is really important). However, it should be obvious to you that the information overload and underload issues cannot be solved by expecting students to learn more and more. The world’s totality of accumulated information is doubling in under ten years. Such a rate of growth quickly overwhelms any solution depending just on students spending more time in school. For a more extensive discussion of information underload and overload, see http://iae-pedia.org/Information_Underload_and_Overload.

In terms of the second argument, I personally believe that there is much more to informal and formal education than just getting ready to perform on a job and to compete internationally for that job. I have met a great many people who agree with me.

 Looking into the Future

The FutureHere are two insights into education from long before I was born: 

"The mind is not a vessel to be filled but a fire to be kindled." (Plutarch; Roman historian; 46 AD–120 AD.)

"Knowledge is of two kinds. We know a subject ourselves, or we know where we can find information upon it." (Samuel Johnson; English poet, essayist, and lexicographer; 1709–1784.) His Dictionary of the English Language was published in 1755.

The whole world faces educational and other challenges from a continuing very rapid pace of change in science and technology (including ICT). The whole world also faces problems of bigotry and prejudice, rapid population growth, global warming, and sustainability.

The United States is moving in the direction of measuring the quality of its education system by how well its students perform in state, national, and international tests in a very small number of subject areas. There is special emphasis on math and science. Moreover, the major emphasis is on performance by a person working alone without the aids of ICT.

This testing emphasis ignores a very large number of disciplines that are very important. Rather than name lots of other disciplines, here is an idea I think is worth considering. Besides “traditional” measures of educational success in specific discipline areas, lets also develop and make use of measures such as levels of success in:
  1. Students learning to learn and to become relatively independent, self-directed, lifelong learners.
  2. Students learning to become responsible and productive members of the local, regional, national, and global societies in which they live. This includes learning to function well in different cultural and language setting.
  3. Students learning to work productively in teams that include people, machines that aid in physical performance, and machines that aid in mental performance. (See Issue 12 of this newsletter.) The various people and machines of such teams may be distributed throughout the world.
  4. Students learning to actively contribute to helping to solve problems of bigotry and prejudice, global warming, sustainability, hunger, disease, war, and other major problems facing our world.

About Information Age Education, Inc.

Information Age Education is a non-profit organization dedicated to improving education for learners of all ages throughout the world. IAE is a project of the Science Factory, a 501(c)(3) science and technology museum located in Eugene, Oregon. Current IAE activities include a Wiki with address http://IAE-pedia.org, a Website containing free books and articles at http://I-A-E.org, and the free newsletter you are now reading.

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