The end of education- as we know it?

Education in the 21st century is a multi-billion dollar business. It wasn’t always that way. Ancient cultures provided an education based on the foundations of literacy (writing, reading & numeracy) underpinning further studies in languages, culture, religions, philosophies, the sciences and the mathematics of their era. The Islamic world in particular contributed significantly to developments in mathematics and the sciences, yet this was seldom widely acknowledged in the western intellectual traditions from the late Middle Ages through to the mid-20th century. This has changed today with a growing understanding of the interconnectedness of all intellectual traditions and the contributions made to the growth of modern civilizations. The Middle East, the Indian sub-continent (inclusive of the modern state of Pakistan), China, Europe, Greece, Rome and the cultures of the Americas, Melanesia and Polynesia all made significant contributions from a cultural, religious, sociological and anthropological perspective to modern civilizations. Humanity has grown and developed through the combined wisdom of the ages.

Education as a basic human right grew out of the charter of the United Nations, and as recently as 2011 this was reaffirmed in UN resolution 66/137 on human rights, education and training. Three key components of the resolution are worth mentioning here:
1. Reaffirming further that everyone has the right to education, and that education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and the sense of its dignity, enable all persons to participate effectively in a free society and promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations and all racial, ethnic or religious groups, and further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace, security and the promotion of development and human rights,

2. Reaffirming that States are duty-bound, as stipulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and in other human rights instruments, to ensure that education is aimed at strengthening respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms,

3. Acknowledging the fundamental importance of human rights education and training in contributing to the promotion, protection and effective realization of all human rights (United Nations)

These are noteworthy and important because the concept of a 21st century education seems to have been navigated away from such essential ideals upon which the human condition relies for its betterment. The renowned Pakistani writer and columnist, Dr. Shahnaz Khan makes a compelling case on this point when she writes:
“Education is…a fundamental human right, however under capitalism education has been converted into a commodity-just like many other necessities of life-to be bought and sold with the sole purpose of generating profit. This has led to drastic changes in how society perceives the role of knowledge in human life and how it is
imparted and acquired” (Khan)

Today the cornerstones of a 21st century education are defined and understood within the confines of a pre-determined political-economic dialectic. The Partnership for 21st Century Skills makes this very clear:
The partnership for 21st century skills has emerged as the leading advocacy
organization focused on infusing 21st century skills into education. The
organization brings together the business community, education leaders
and policy makers to define a powerful vision for 21st century education
to ensure every child’s success as citizens and workers in the 21st century
…to triumph in the global skills race that is central to economic
competitiveness for the next decade. (21st Century Skills: Education & Competitiveness)

Williamson and Payton’s argument in their handbook on innovative curriculum is not dissimilar to The Partnership for 21st Century Skills claim that a 21st century education is simply about preparing children for work and subsuming even those as young as 3-4 years old into an advanced capitalist work principle:
“It is our aim to supply a critical but practical overview of the drivers
and factors influencing curricula innovations. We look at the most
recent policy shifts, and identify how these situate the work of schools
in larger debates about equipping…people for changing economic
circumstances and conditions. The development of ‘world class skills’
twinned with the contemporary focus on ICT and on heightening
employability for a competitive economy, are all parts of the modern
educational policy discourse…” (Williamson and Payton)

Translated into the ground reality of schooling in the 21st century this means educational outcomes are predetermined before a child gets through their primary and secondary schooling. Their career pathways have been decided and the myriad possibilities of a child’s innate potential; including their ability to expresses themselves creatively and to be innovative have been predetermined. It is education as an end in itself, rather than a means to a greater end. In essence this is called the ‘global knowledge economy’ and its aims run counter to the real purpose of education:
“to gain knowledge, to enrich human life, enhance the intellectual capabilities of people, promote curiosity, and enlighten and broaden minds in order to propel human society towards achieving the goal of creating a just, fair, and equitable world free of prejudices, conflicts, want, hunger, deprivation, oppression and exploitation”. (Khan)

Today isn’t the end of education as we know it-that was yesterday. But, our schools of tomorrow can redress the balance and work towards creating a more just, fair and equitable world for future generations to come. http://www.schooloftomorrow.beaconhouse.net/

References:
Khan, S. International: The News. 29 April 2015. http://www.thenews.com.pk/Todays-News-9-315391-Education-as-commodity. 23 11 2015.
Partnership For 21st Century Skills. 21st Century Skills: Education & Competitveness. Washington: Partnership For 21st Century Skills, 2008. Print.
United Nations. United Nations Human Rights: Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights. 23 March 2011. http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Education/Training/Pages/UNDHREducationTraining.aspx. 23 November 2015.
Williamson, B and S Payton. Curriculum and Teaching Innovation: Transforming classroom practice and personalisation. Handbook. London: Futrelab, 2009. Print.

Technology: How much is too much?

One of the more comic technology items introduced in 2013 was the iPotty. A simple device was attached to a toilet training potty for very young children. They could play with apps and Google away while waiting for nature’s call. Now in itself it may seem harmless, yet the problem is that this key developmental stage in an infant’s life has a lasting impact on their personality. Harsh punishment during toilet training create a submissive personality. The theory being if we can control little children biologically, they’ll be equally submissive adults and seek out authority figures to tell them how to live their life. There’s some evidence for this view. In the former East Germany toddlers in State run crèches were all sat upon a toilet training bench and required to toilet on cue. Later they became submissive citizens of an authoritarian state. The theory goes that an iPotty creates co-dependence on technology. As the child grows and develops, every time it answers the call of nature, it would need access to an iPad. One doesn’t want to over analyze here, but there are obvious developmental issues as the child grows into adolescence and adulthood. In fact I’ve often wondered why so many people enter public conveniences with an iPad or digital device in hand.
There’s no doubt that the iPad and its multiple applications, along with other mobile devices have brought additional resources into the daily lives of everyone. Yet most of us are conflicted. On the one hand we argue for creating more civilized societies, becoming interconnected and building a better world; while on the other hand we embraces technologies some of which have the most devastating and alienating effects on families and communities and undermine the very concept of nurture and a duty of care towards one another.
For example, there’s evidence to suggest people behave more rudely and aggressively online. Psychologists call this the dis-inhibition effect- a name for bad-mannered, anti-social behavior. It is suggested that people feel less inhibited when not seen and can express themselves more freely and without feeling vulnerable to criticism. But the result of this kind of reasoning put into practice can have devastating and tragic consequences. One of the cruelest examples of online anonymity and the dis-inhibition effect is the tragic and untimely death of 13 year old Megan Meier. Megan began receiving nasty messages from a boy a few weeks after she met him, via her MySpace account. After many messages of kindness and support she received one telling her the ‘world would be a better place without you’. Megan believed she had been rejected by the boy and committed suicide in her home. However, the boy never existed. He was a virtual character created by Lori Drew, a 47 year old married woman and a mother herself, who lived four houses down the street. Whereas parents were once the bridge between home life and the social interaction of their children, today technology is taking on that role. The once strong, stable pillars of family and community are being replaced by bridges of aluminum and fiberglass courtesy of Apple Inc., Samsung and Microsoft et.al.
For the most part I can fully appreciate and understand the gains to humanity through the development of technologies which assist and aid us in understanding and improving the human condition. Yet, on occasion events occur which cause me to pause and reflect on where we are heading. Such a moment occurred after reading a BBC news report about a company which markets neuroscience educational kits for children. It developed a very small electronic device which is glued to the back of a cockroach. This can be controlled through a downloadable app on a mobile phone. The child is able to control the movement of the creature. The company argues that allowing children to dissect another creature, place electronic devices into it and control its movements is giving them a 5-10 year head start on those in graduate schools studying neuroscience. They further claim they are aware of the shortcomings of the kinds of experiments their peculiar equipment enables kids to perform on other creatures, but suggest they are justified due to the inaccessibility of neuroscience in our current primary, middle and secondary school curricula. It is by all accounts a misleading and false argument.
Those of my generation learned a lot in primary school about neuroscience without being asked to cut-up another creature. I recall wonderful teachers who would take us for walks and lets us smell the earth, flowers, sea, and explain why we had such a painful reaction to accidentally standing on a broken shell, or nail or piece of glass-it was all quite wonderful, intriguing and followed up with diagrams and drawings of humans and other creatures showing how the brain and central nervous system functions. It was an interactive, highly sociable communicative process which instilled in us a lifelong love of science and a mutual respect for all living creatures-even those we didn’t like-the cockroach, spider and ants to name a few. We learned their role in the wonderful complex Eco-system called life, along with the importance of a human being’s necessary moral relationship with other creatures.
To argue that allowing children to capture and mutilate then insert electrodes into the head and body of another creature will ‘create the next generation of neural engineers, scientists and physicians’ is fabricated nonsense. Humans and other creatures have an equal interest in maintaining an Eco-system – even in the digital age-which ensures the survival of all species. Humans and other creatures matter a lot. It is this key relationship between ourselves and other living things we need to understand in the digital age. So, how much is too much technology? Today we’ve gone beyond an answer to such a question. A more meaningful question is whose brave new world do we want to live in, our own or one belonging to someone else?

Facebook’s Disconnect from the World

Face: (noun) the front part of a person’s head from the forehead to the chin, or the corresponding part in an animal. Book: (noun) a written or printed work consisting of pages glued or sewn together along one side and bound in covers. Facebook: verb or adjective? An action or description? No-one seems to know for sure; but the key feature of the nomenclature of this virtual reality world is to “like, dislike or poke” at whatever the claimed 1.2 billion users deem fit to judge as such.
In the week it was revealed that 300, 000 migrants (babies, small children, the elderly and youth) had fled to Europe from the war ravaged middle east (most smuggled out from their respective countries by those who embrace the dark side of entrepreneurship,) and an additional 72 of them had suffocated to death in a truck in Austria, Mark Zukerberg, the front man for his self-proclaimed brave new virtual world, celebrated the somewhat irrelevant claim that one billion users had connected to his online website. He also claimed that soon “the whole world will be connected’.
Forgive me Mr. Zukerberg, but prior to your foray into the world of ‘other people’ we had been connected. Long before the telegraph, telephone and internet people had devised the most ingenious ways to communicate and connect with one another-regardless of the ‘speed’ of such communications. The world was very much connected-more authentically so, I would argue.
First there was speech-the most innovative astounding way we developed as a species to connect with one another over half a million years ago- we went from grunts and groans (sadly back in vogue on Facebook and in online communications and in daily conversation with those who’ve lost the ability to communicate outside of the social media and twitter-sphere) to developing verbal communications which helped shape further more sophisticated, authentic ways of connecting with one another. Signs, symbols and writing also facilitated a wonderful and innovative medium to connect us globally. The oral tradition, smoke signals, ‘the bush telegraph’, cave paintings, architecture from previous civilizations (when ISIS doesn’t blow them up), letters, postal services and newspapers (still in vogue today), and the various developments of transport throughout history which have enabled us to communicate about ‘new worlds’ and to connect with them (often with the complex negative results which we’ve inherited today) have connected humanity.
So, Mr. Zukerberg it is somewhat disingenuous to aspire to “connect the world’ when the world is already connected. But perhaps we should examine more closely your idea of a connected world. It is a world reduced to “a like, a dislike and a poke”, it is a crude reductionist understanding of the needs of human beings to connect authentically, empathically, and genuinely with one another. Even the name ‘Facebook’ connotes a pejorative understanding of people and the way they’ve evolved to communicate with one another. Yet it is peddled by the wealtherati as a means to their end: to make money at the expense of the naive and vulnerable who yearn for meaning in the brave new 21st century world of the digital technocrats.
Truth be told it is difficult to authenticate the actual number of genuine users of the Facebook website. There are duplicate accounts, company and advertising accounts, spammers, and people who’ve set up accounts for their pets (oh yes, we’ve evolved to such a higher order of species that Cecil the deceased Zimbabwean Lion ranks higher than the poor and disenfranchised without a Facebook account).
Cellan-Jones (2012) estimated that there were in excess of 83 million fake Facebook accounts. It would be reasonable to speculate that in the 3 years since that report the exponential increase of fake accounts is anywhere between 90-140 million.
The world forgets that Facebook was founded on a betrayal of friendships. Its founder developed a network initially used to humiliate people-especially young college woman at one of the world’s most prestigious learning institutions. Has it changed significantly today? People require more than a “like, dislike, or a poke” to feel appreciated and valued. The founder of Facebook along with those who’ve embraced its dangerous compliant rules of hyper-visibility and the delusion that we can all be friends forget that there are complex social phenomena and mutual understandings, based on a moral and ethical understanding of what it means to be a human being. These include love, compassion, and empathy without which we cannot develop and maintain close intimate friendships and relationships. Such essential human qualities and attributes ensure that we can delineate between the importance of celebrating one billion users in any one day on Facebook, and the death of 72 war refugees (babies, men women and children) left to suffocate to death in a smugglers truck on a highway in 21st century Europe.

Why be forgotten-Who Wants to Remember You Anyway?

I’d never heard of Mario Costeja González, until a few days ago when I learnt that he’d suffered a personal financial set back in 1998, and having since recovered wanted that information deleted from the world wide web.
According to the Court of Justice of the European Union, individuals have a right to control their private data, especially if they are not public figures. Great news, but not very helpful or insightful after the fact of the Snowden revelations!
In the virtual world the wish to be forgotten is simply that-wishful thinking, while in the real world anything we upload or disseminate online will never, ever be deleted. It might be harder to find-but the original data will always remain-somewhere out there until it is ‘remembered’ through an online search. But, memory is a tricky concept because it
“throws up high and dry
A crowd of twisted things;
A twisted branch upon the beach
Eaten smooth, and polished
As if the world gave up
The secret of its skeleton,
Stiff and white.
A broken spring in a factory yard,
Rust that clings to the form that the strength has left
Hard and curled and ready to snap” (Eliot, 1920)

No-one is truly forgotten, but they may not be remembered unless they choose to remind us so.

References
Eliot, T. (1920). Prufrock and Other Observations. London: Faber & Faber.

The Myth of Free Speech & Facebook’s Tarnished Happy Social Community Image

There’s no such thing as free speech, in fact the notion or concept of Freedom is pretty flaky. We are never free from anything-there’s always a concept, an idea, an action or our own conscience which keeps us bound-up and shackled-in most cases to our own internal dialectic. Free speech is an illusory concept- especially when it comes to reporting anything as any report of anything seldom conveys the truth in any objective, rational way. Free speech has become a liberal mantra when anything which causes offense is criticized or causes outrage to others. We’ve seen the destructive nature of this illusory concept, especially when it comes to bigotry and scapegoating against others. Currently in the Western media there’s been a wave of anti-Semitism against Israel, and anti-Islamism against Muslims. This has taken the form of offensive cartoons and offensive articles which degenerate and stereotype the people of these cultures and religions. More recently there were the offensive cartoons produced by a French satirical newspaper showing the radiation effects on Japanese Sumo Wrestler. It was a very poor attempt at humor and a subtle, rather insidious dig by France at Japan’s successful bid to host the 2020 Olympic Games.
More recently Facebook has gained increased notoriety (perhaps to push up its share price?) by allowing further violent and offensive multi-media material to be uploaded and transferred through its service. Facebook is allowing decapitation videos and pictures to be freely transferred via its users. We may never, ever know how many authentic users Facebook has, or for that matter the real identity of those whom Facebook claim they can ‘authenticate’; nonetheless the idea that anyone would want to watch another person having their head brutally cut off is quite abhorrent to any well adjusted human being. Leaving aside Art imitating life and the special effects created by movie studios who glorify such violent acts; Facebook and any other service for that matter is simply promoting gratuitous violence under the guise of public interest, and that ever flaky notion of free speech. Given that Facebook allows children as young as 13 to use its service there should be a public outcry at this move. Warnings about graphic content are useless in the face of the prurient interests of the weak willed.
But perhaps what is more astonishing in this sorry saga is the claim by Melbourne University academic Dr. Suelette Dreyfus that “Facebook’s decision is a victory for freedom of Speech” She goes on to argue that bad things go on in the world and as such should not be hidden, and that Facebook through its social media site is simply “revealing truth” albeit it is an “ugly truth”. Dr. Dreyfus claims that social media are testing the boundaries of “free speech” through their “new coalfaces of digitally-based citizen journalism” Notwithstanding her conflicting mixed metaphors spanning from the industrial age to the present so-called digital age; such a claim makes no sense at all especially under the spurious claim of free speech.
Social media sites have an ethical and moral responsibility to censor offensive material and to promote ethics, morals and values which create cohesive societies not broken ones. Social media sites should exist to promote values which will create better communities and better lives. Instead they are becoming a haven for the dishonest and disaffected who plot, bully and work out ways of how offensive they may be to the ‘other’ whom for the most part they may have never met or may never know. Dr. Dreyfus’ opinion is sure to promote and provoke debate and that is a positive outcome I suppose. But her proclamation that “it’s a good thing Facebook has opted for freedom of speech on the issue” of allowing children as young as 13 years old (and adults for that matter) watch a man cut off a woman’s head is simply misguided and wrong.

Barack Obama-A Nobel Peace Laureate for our Times?

One of the key benefits of having a Nobel Peace Laureate as the leader of one of the most militaristic and aggressive countries in the West, is that he is able to hesitate, pause, reflect and think, before he orders cruise missiles to be launched into another sovereign state which is fighting a bitter insurrection and civil war.
The President of the United States of America Barrack Obama is under extraordinary political and military pressure to attack another self-governing, independent state. While to some extent this is of his own making (“the use of chemical weapons crosses a red line”) he has listened to his key allies, and to the Russians in deciding to wait before he issues the order to attack Syria. Fortunately for the rest of us Mr. Obama possesses key human qualities of rational thinking, reflection and understanding. Qualities which many of his predecessors have lacked, especially George W Bush and his administration who led the world to the point of no return following their illegal invasion of Iraq.
In his address at Cairo University in 2009 President Obama stated that “There must be a sustained effort to listen to each other; to learn from each other; to respect one another; and to seek common ground. As the Holy Koran tells us, “Be conscious of God and speak always the truth.”
These are the decent, humane values which underpin this man’s political career and aspirations, his thoughtful and decent leadership qualities, as well as the directions in which he is attempting to lead his country and the world. He went on to say that “ We will, however, relentlessly confront violent extremists who pose a grave threat to our security — because we reject the same thing that people of all faiths reject: the killing of innocent men, women, and children”. (Obama, 2009) So, it is in this context that American citizens and peoples of other countries need to situate his current stance on the Syrian Arab Republic and not in the politics of hate and disaffection which seems to taint and threaten America’s democracy in the 21st century.
Disaffected Democrat and Republican politicans and their supporters, along with war crazed peoples of the USA (and the world), caught up in their own blood lust, are calling for War and urging a catastrophic missile strike on the besieged Syrian state without any pause for reflection. They are caught up in their own narcissistic egos. They are filled with gloated pride and the faded ideas of war time glory, world domination and imperialistic grandeur. Shame on them! They have learned nothing from history or their countries covert and explicit involvement in wars outside of their immediate geo-political sphere over the past 70 years
President Obama continued “…events in Iraq have reminded America of the need to use diplomacy and build international consensus to resolve our problems whenever possible. Indeed, we can recall the words of Thomas Jefferson, who said: “I hope that our wisdom will grow with our power, and teach us that the less we use our power the greater it will be.” (Obama, 2009) This is a good and noble way of acting – to seek diplomatic solutions to world crises which may involve countries going to war. Indeed, it is the only way for a Nobel Peace Laureate to think and behave.
Those who talk of plots by the Russians and a new era of American appeasement and submission are enmeshed in their own webs of fear, trickery and deceit, and cannot see that the world is tired of war. The new age awareness of peace rather than war has never been erased from our consciousness, and we must work hard to keep it at the forefront of our critical thinking, awareness and understanding.
As one very fallible Nobel peace laureate recently said, “Too many tears have been shed. Too much blood has been shed. All of us have a responsibility to work for the day when mothers… can see their children grow up without fear; when the Holy Land of the three great faiths is the place of peace that God intended it to be; when Jerusalem is a secure and lasting home for Jews and Christians and Muslims, and a place for all of the children of Abraham to mingle peacefully together as in the story of Isra, when Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed, peace be upon them, joined in prayer” (Obama, 2009).
We need to pray in our respective traditions and cultures for peace in Syria, and throughout the world, and if we don’t believe in prayer we need to think positively and hope for a world where kindness and compassion are the core values we live by, rather than anger and aggression and the fear and ever present danger of war.
References
http://www.whitehouse.gov/the_press_office/Remarks-by-the-President-at-Cairo-University-6-04-09

Will horse meat lift the poor and impoverished of Europe out of poverty and find them a job?

The famous quip Let them eat cake by some oblique French aristocrat and once wrongly attributed to Marie Antoinette has taken on new meaning in the Federal Republic of Germany in 2013. Hartwig Fischer, a prominent member of the Christian Democratic Union has suggested that horsemeat, fraudulently labelled as beef should be fed to the poor.  Fischer, seemingly oblivious to the plight of the poor and the unemployed thinks that the horsemeat scandal currently engulfing the European Union could be the sin qua non to finding a solution to Europe’s endless recession, massive unemployment and the growing disaffection and fragmentation from within its member states.  Fischer’s ally in this radical, unworkable and stupid solution is Dirk Niebel; Germany’s development minister. He is quoted as saying “we cannot just throw away good food”.  Yet, his country is among the top ten nations in the world who waste food on a daily basis-and don’t give any of it away free to the poor and needy.

It’s difficult to comprehend the stupidity in such a throwaway line as Let them eat horse coming from a supposedly educated man (although German Ministers have had a few problems of their own in this regard recently-with at least two having had to resign for plagiarising their Doctoral theses) who is charged with developing his country.

It is evident that Herr Niebel hasn’t read Tristram Stuart’s book Waste, which describes the staggering, and shocking wastage of food which occurs daily in the developed world, especially in Germany, the Unites States and United Kingdom. For example, Stuarts writes that:   There are nearly one billion malnourished people in the world, but the approximately 40 million tonnes of food wasted by US households, retailers and food services each year would be enough to satisfy the hunger of every one of them…

The UK, US and Europe have nearly twice as much food as is required by the nutritional needs of their populations. Up to half the entire food supply is wasted between the farm and the fork. If crops wastefully fed to livestock are included, European countries have more than three times more food than they need, while the US has around four times more food than is needed, and up to three-quarters of the nutritional value is lost before it reaches people’s mouths. (Stuart, 2009)

Clearly Herr Niebel and Fischer,  it just isn’t a matter of feeding horsemeat to the hungry. Notwithstanding the dignity of the poor and impoverished, who for all we know may count among their many millions in Germany and globally, vegetarians, vegans and just ordinary folk who would find it repugnant to eat  a horse; it is simply an unworkable solution to Germany’s and the EU’s recession woes. It is also a suggestion which in its most base form is ignorant and shows a callous disregard for humanity and those who find themselves dispossessed of the right to a meaningful life and dignified employment.

But the naivety of the pronouncement from both Niebel and Fischer reveals a darker insidious message from within the crisis racked European Union. It suggests just how much the political power elite are out of touch with the suffering and plight of the poor and dispossessed who for the most part are still paying for the duplicitous actions and scams of the banking and financial sectors in Europe and the United States of America.

We live in a broken world. People are hungry and there’s plenty of food to feed them. People are homeless and there are plenty of empty buildings to house them. People are lonely and there are plenty of lonely people looking for companionship. People are poor and live in abject poverty and the wealth and riches of the world are held by a mere 1% of the total global population. “All the world’s nearly one billion hungry people could be lifted out of malnourishment on less than a quarter of the food that is wasted in the US, UK and Europe” (Stuart, 2009), and my least favourite double standard, is China, one of the last remaining vestiges of an outdated and unworkable Marxist dialectic ranks second in the world for billionaires and is only outranked by the United States of America which has an equally, unworkable outdated democratic dialectic as well as the highest poverty rates in the developed world.

Stuart, T. (2009). Waste. London: Penguin.