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Ongoing and New World Problems
Emeritus Professor of Education
University of Oregon
“The future is here. It's just not
widely distributed yet.” (William Gibson; American-Canadian writer who
coined the term “cyberspace” in his short story “Burning Chrome” and
later popularized the concept in his debut novel, Neuromancer; 1948-.)"
“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting
the old, but on building the new.” (Socrates; Greek philosopher; circa
469 BC-399 BC.)"
This is the third in a sequence of five IAE Newsletters
focusing on possible changes designed to significantly improve our
educational systems. The first explored Robert Branson’s Upper Limit
Hypothesis (Branson, 1987). Branson argues that it will take a major
paradigm shift (probably based on computer technology) to significantly
improve educational outcomes.
The second of the newsletters explored some of the challenges of
setting and improving educational goals, effectively implementing our
educational goals, and developing good measures of how well we are
achieving the goals. Remember, every student is unique, and education
is a very complex and challenging endeavor.
This third newsletter lists and briefly discusses a number of ongoing
and new changes in our world. These are affecting and/or probably
should be affecting education. Past, Present, and Future Problems
For a child, life is full of new things. That’s just the
way it is. For those of us adults who have been around for a number of
years, each day brings some new things, but there is also a lot of
We all know that today’s children are tomorrow’s adults, and so they
need to be introduced to the major problems they will face as adults.
Many of these problems are global. And, problem solving is a core
component of each discipline that students study in school.
This IAE Newsletter lists and
briefly discusses some of the global problems that I believe should be
addressed in precollege education. This is not intended to be a
comprehensive list. Rather, it is intended to illustrate the breadth
and complexity of the world that we want our children to learn about. One Historical Example
My father was born in 1901. Cars using internal combustion engines
existed by then, but it was years before one first made it to his small
town in Texas.
Think about some of the things you know about cars and trucks, gasoline
and diesel fuel, highways, traffic accidents, and learning to be a safe
and responsible driver. Think about the world’s oil production and
distribution systems, wars motivated by gaining or maintaining access
to oil, air pollution, and so on. Suppose you were a teacher a hundred
years ago, but had relatively good foresight about what was to come in
the world of ground transportation. What would you want your students
to learn about this area?
While you are pondering this question, it may occur to you to ask the
same question about ocean liners and airplanes. The internal combustion
engine certainly was a world changer. Some of the changes have been for
the better, and some have been quite bad. Hold these thoughts in mind
as you think about some of the problems and changes our world (and
schools) currently face. World Problems
My recent Google search of the expression world problems produced well over 800 million results. Google provided me with links to articles such as the following:
Fifteen Major Current Environmental Problems (CFF, n.d.).
The Ten Biggest Problems in the World According to the European
Union (Jardine, 10/7/2011). This article was written before Great
Britain decided to withdraw from the European Union. However, the EU
economic situation was number three in the list.
Ten Most Critical Problems in the World Today (Loudenback, 8/23/2016).
Top Ten Third World Problems (PEI Staff, 2016).
The World’s Biggest Problems (WBP, 2016).
I found it interesting to read and compare a number of different lists.
There are considerable overlaps in the lists I examined.
I built my own list, and I hope you will build a personal list. By
“personal,” I mean that items in your list are ones that you feel
strongly enough about so that you are willing to expend some of your
time, energy, and other resources to help address the problems.
Part of Dave Moursund’s List
Here is part of my list, with the items in alphabetical order.
Accountability and transparency at individual, corporate, organization, and government levels. (I want to know what they are doing for us and to us.)
Big and little brother and sister are watching you. Privacy is rapidly disappearing.
Climate change: global warming and changing weather patterns. (We humans have messed up the world’s climate and weather. Now we are trying to do something about this problem situation.)
Cognitive Neuroscience, especially as it applies to education and to quality of life.
Education for all, with special emphasis on worldwide education
for disadvantaged people and women. Also, education to understand and
appropriately be involved in dealing with the problems in this list.
Energy, with special emphasis on sustainable, non-polluting
energy. (Will progress in science and technology substantially help in
solving the world’s energy problems?)
Food, water, clothing, shelter, and other basics. Fresh water is a major and growing problem.
Effective instructional uses of Information and Communication
Technology (ICT). This is a yin and yang situation. It is discussed in
detail in the next IAE Newsletter.
Medical care. How to provide all people with basic and more advanced medical care.
Pollution of air, land, and water.
Population growth and aging population.
Quality of life. Related topics include poverty, jobs and decent-paying jobs, and huge economic inequalities.
Racism and religious bigotry.
Shrinking world. Think in terms of transportation, communication, and competition for jobs.
Sustainability (species extinction). Conspicuous consumption is a related topic.
Terrorism at local levels; large-scale conflicts (war); refugees.
Weapons of mass destruction.
As you think about these problems, pick out one or more that really
concerns you. For these, ask yourself what are you personally doing to
help address the problems and what you think our schools should be
teaching students about them.
I have selected two items from my list for further discussion in the remainder of this IAE Newsletter. A third, Information and Communication Technology ICT) will be discussed in the next newsletter.
#1: Climate Change
I live quite near the Pacific Ocean. A rising ocean, a massive
earthquake, or a huge storm could devastate the region in which I live.
The same can be said for 20 percent or so of the world’s (human)
population. I have no reason to believe that humans cause earthquakes
along major fault lines, but I am absolutely convinced that humans are
a major contributor to rising oceans and substantial changes in the
While each of us can do a little to help, this is a global problem. I
have found it interesting to follow the machinations of individuals,
companies, nations, and the whole world as they have come to grips with
the seriousness of this problem. I am quite concerned that, so far, we
are doing “too little, too late.”
The human race has survived and prospered through people learning to
cooperate with each other in small groups, such as families, clans, and
small tribes. We are not nearly so successful at city, state, national,
and international levels.
It is pleasing to note that the Paris Accord on climate change has received enough votes to go into effect beginning November 4, 2016 (United Nations, 11/4/2016).
Formal and informal education, travel, and opportunities to get to know
the “others” can all help. Schools provide an environment in which
people from all kinds of backgrounds can learn to work together toward
common goals. Schools in the United States (and in many other parts of
the world) have vast opportunities for improvement in such endeavors.
In terms of Upper Limit Theory, we have by no means reached our upper
One very powerful approach to problem solving is to break a big problem
into smaller, more manageable pieces. Climate change, as well as many
of the other global problems, lend themselves to actions by individuals
and small groups at the local level. Perhaps the following quote comes
to your mind: “Think globally, act locally.” I believe such thinking
should be thoroughly integrated into the education of our children.
#2. Quality of Life
Our world currently is making considerable progress in improving the
average level of quality of life of its people. But, there are huge
disparities. I see this all of the time where I live and as I travel. I
am deeply saddened when I read about homeless and hungry school-age
children in my city, state, and nation. I am constantly exposed to
evidence of huge quality of life disparities throughout the world.
Our world has the resources and capabilities to greatly improve the
average quality of life of all its people. This problem requires a
combination of thinking and acting at the local community, city, state,
nation, and international levels. There is plenty for all of us to do.
At a local school level, ponder these questions:
Why should any children come to school hungry, without adequate
clothing and school supplies, and having spent a night without adequate
Why should any children leave school at the end of the day facing a night without appropriate food and shelter?
Why should any children be fearful of serious bullying injury, or
death as they travel to and from school, or spend time in school?
Why should any students receive less than a good education due to inadequate school staffing and facilities?
You may want to add to the list. Each of us can learn about our local
community. Each of us can help to think and act locally to help address
such problems. And, each of us can support governments that are
committed to addressing such problems at city, state, national, and
global levels. What You Can Do
Think both locally and globally. And take actions in situations where
you strongly want to, and are able to, make a significant difference.
Through your individual efforts, the world can become a better place
for our children. References and Resources
Moursund is an Emeritus Professor of Education at the University
of Oregon, and co-editor of the IAE
His professional career includes founding the International Society for
Technology in Education (ISTE) in 1979, serving as ISTE’s executive
officer for 19 years, and establishing ISTE’s flagship publication, Learning and Leading with Technology.
He was the major professor or co-major professor for 82 doctoral
students. He has presented hundreds of professional talks and
workshops. He has authored or coauthored more than 60 academic books
and hundreds of articles. Many of these books are available free
online. See http://iaepedia.org/David_Moursund_Books. In 2007,
Moursund founded Information Age Education (IAE). IAE provides free
online educational materials via its IAE-pedia,
IAE Newsletter, IAE Blog, and books. See http://iaepedia.org/Main_Page#IAE_in_a_Nutshell.
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