Wasted investment?

Date sent: Fri, 18 Dec 1998 12:35:31
From: Kerry Miller

Diana wrote, quoting R Heeks:

{ < I would disagree with your analysis, I'm afraid - I think that the 
{ < tool/resource distinction is a very valuable one, but that 
{ < misunderstanding ICTs is leading to a huge amount of wasted 
{ < investment.
{ < 
{ < If communities, enterprises, aid agencies, etc. assume ICT is a 
{ < resource, then investment in ICT per se is a good thing.  But this is 
{ < not the case - ICTs are of no intrinsic value. It is the information 
{ < that they process and communicate; and the knowledge that they 
{ < thereby create that is of value. 
{ I'm following this the best I can, and wish I could keep up a little better.
{ Can't tho, so could you throw me some concrete examples so that my totally
{ conceptual brain could extrapolate. I think I can catch up that way. 
The effort to construe virtual reality in material 'real-life' concepts has its parallel on the technological side, too - and the 'application' which gets the most play is education, where every common sense realization that people (I prefer not to use the term 'kids') learn by doing, by participating, by sharing, have been driven almost to extinction by the 'knowledge transfer' crowd. Thus, the first reaction to a 'new technology' is that it will 'take the pressure off' the instructor (meaning, the system can then add more students to her class load) -- and only later does anyone think whether it has taken a load off the student.

A second reaction is that yet another layer of 'de-skilling' is taking place, so that the difference between a 'teacher' and a 'technician' becomes indiscernable. (Interestingly, the system invariably refers to teaching students, but training teachers... How delicate the difference from being a technician it must be!)

Both of these reactions ignore the history of the last hundred years or so ('modern' education hardly existed before that -- and no, that does not mean no one was educated! (1)), in that every 'technological advance' has faced, and survived, the same challenges. The invention of chalkboards led to the demise of the schoolmaster whose principal skill was hearing the faulty voice in a unison recitation; the ball point pen was the last straw for penmanship, and so on. But - can you believe it? - teachers who understood what learning was were able to cope with these changes. They were neither 'relieved' that they didnt have to listen to a noisy bunch of brats, nor demoralized by losing the status that went with 'having a fine hand.' Whatever the state of the tools, a body can learn to use them.

Now human teachers are begining to see that they too are sliding/ being slid into the tool category, and they are a trifle perturbed. Imo, this is no more than should have been expected in a system which has consistently failed to keep its eye on the ball, cranking out technicians (in everything but name), stamping them with a certificate, and spraying them over the landscape of budding geniuses like so much fertilizer. Does this kind of system teach this fodder what learning is? I dont think so -- or else they would be teaching their students in turn, and we could be having a useful, productive, significant, educational discussion among 20 or 30 or 100 people by now.

Not having Mike's original post, I cant say exactly what Richard was replying to - but I suspect it had to do with the possible community benefits of having widespread access to 'communication technology.' He probably did not say, 'so they can bypass formal systems of education,' but the implication is there to be stared in the face: certainly, if 'using the tools' is seen as an end in itself, then there is no point in investing in thousand dollar computers insteead of five dollar slates.

On the other hand, if the use of the tool is to get something done, and if what needs to be done is that an absolutely massive exposure of people in their infinite variety be exposed to an incredible scope of ideas, and that in the process they themselves will learn to transcend the utterly primitive, stifling, niggardly, exclusionary 'user interface' of present day 'education,' then ICT's intrinsic value is a bargain at twice the price.


(1) See Richard Mitchell, The Graves of Academe (Boston: Little Brown, 1981, e.g. pp 70-71:
    [I]t seems to have been an article of the Commission's [The National Education Association's Commission on the Reorganization of Secondary Education] unspoken agenda to overturn the work of an earlier NEA task force,... called together in 1892 and chaired by Charles W. Eliot, then president of Harvard University. That committee had come out in favor of traditional academic study in the public schools, which they fancied should be devoted to the pursuit of knowledge and the training of the intellect. But what can you expect from a bunch of intellectuals? The Eliot Report of 1893 was given to things like this:
    As studies in language and the natural sciences are best adapted to cultivate the habits of observation; as mathematics are the traditional training of the reasoning faculties; so history and its allied branches are better adapted than any other studies to promote the invaluable mental power which we call judgement...
    The Gang of Twenty-seven, unhampered by intellectual dispositons, found that proposal an elitist's dream. They concluded, in other words, that precious few schoolchildren were capable of the pursuit of knowledge and the exercise of the mind in the cause of judgement. That, of course, turned out to be the most momentous self-fulfilling prophecy of the century. It is also a splendid example of the muddled thought out of which established educational practice derives its theories. The proposals of the Eliot report are deemed ellitist because they presume that most schoolchildren are generally capable of the mastery of subject matter and intellectual skill; the proposals of the Commission [printed in 1918, 'at government expense, like all the outpourings of educationism ever since']... are 'democratic' in presuming that most adolescents are not capable of such things and should stick to homemaking and the manual arts.
Back <-- (2) He later responded, "But I should have." <--

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