Having published an article about my experience with a group of students in India, today I decided to raise the important question with Chad of the future of education. “Confronted with numerous seemingly insoluble problems in the world, including climate change and wealth inequality that is beginning to destabilize formerly solid democracies, many experts and even politicians say that the key to solving such problems lies in investing in and improving education. There is little evidence, however, that governments, despite their rhetoric, are willing to address seriously the multiple issues that education faces. What explains not only the failure to significantly increase funding for something identified as a priority and an equal indifference to the ways in which education needs to evolve to meet the complex needs of society?”
“Firstly, governments may prioritize other issues over education, such as national security or economic growth. This can lead to a lack of funding and resources being allocated towards education, despite its importance.
Secondly, political and ideological differences can also hinder progress in education. Different political parties or interest groups may have differing views on how education should be approached, leading to gridlock and inaction.
Thirdly, there may be a lack of public awareness or urgency towards the importance of investing in education. This can be due to a lack of understanding or knowledge about the long-term benefits of education or the consequences of neglecting it.
Lastly, the education system itself may be resistant to change, making it difficult to adapt to evolving societal needs. Teachers and educational institutions may be resistant to new teaching methods or technologies, and there may be a lack of accountability for ensuring that education is meeting the needs of society.
Chad’s surprising shift from pessimism to optimism
“That sounds very pessimistic, since every group you cite appears to be motivated to resisting change. Is this a problem that can more easily be solved by authoritarian regimes?
“No, this is not a problem that can be more easily solved by authoritarian regimes. While authoritarian regimes may be able to force change in the education system more quickly, it comes at the cost of individual freedoms and the possibility of creating a system that is not responsive to the needs of society. Additionally, authoritarian regimes may not prioritize education, and instead focus on other areas that they deem more important to maintain their power.”
Chad then began to deploy the usual trick of explaining that “it is important to recognize that change in education is a complex issue that requires a collaborative effort from various stakeholders, including policymakers, educators, parents, and students” and emphasizing the possibility of “building consensus and promoting a shared understanding of the importance of education for the future of society.”
I had to interrupt at this point to object that in both cases – the authoritarian and the democratic – Chad was evoking possibilities. In the case of authoritarian governments, the counter-argument was that there is a “possibility” that a new system would not be responsive to needs and that the regime “may not prioritize education.” But the current crisis shows that that is already the case in Western democracies, despite the “possibility” of building consensus, etc. We had already agreed that general indifference and the active resistance at all levels that Chad had mentioned meant that the possibilities were unlikely to be realized.
It seemed to me that an objective answer to my initial question was that it is always easier for authoritarian regimes to implement significant reforms. Those reforms may not be the best or correspond to the most legitimate pedagogical ideals, but it’s a simple fact that authoritarian regimes don’t have to worry as much about resistance from teachers or parents. Chad seems resist acknowledging that anything positive might be associated with an authoritarian regime. Chad, like a lot of real people I know, seems committed to a certain ideological position that makes it impossible to step back and look at things realistically. I chose not to challenge Chad on that sensitive issue. Instead I offered a different suggestion.
Trying to define the future
“Chad, I believe that the kind of dialogue we’re having could be used as a model for education, since it makes it possible to deal with problems of perspective, even if at times I feel your perspective is limited by unstated principles you don’t like to talk about, such as the refusal to admit that there may be something positive about authoritarian regimes. Because you are never shy about engaging in dialogue, I believe that we our educational systems could return to exploiting the kind of dialogue Socrates, Plato and Aristotle once cultivated and that became a model for a kind of education that set out to explore and evaluate possibilities rather than depending on the current dominant model of seeking to transfer the authoritative knowledge of the teaching authorities to the haplessly uninformed learners. Canned knowledge does little to stimulate understanding. Couldn’t we evolve towards a model that privileges understanding?”
This question brought a broad smile to Chad’s face, who now agreed with much of what I suggested.
“Yes,” Chad explained, “in order to privilege understanding in education, we need to move away from the idea of education as a transfer of knowledge from teacher to student and instead focus on creating an environment that fosters inquiry, critical thinking, and creativity. This requires a shift in the role of the teacher from a dispenser of knowledge to a facilitator of learning, and a recognition that students bring their own knowledge and experiences to the learning process.
Additionally, we need to recognize that understanding is not a one-size-fits-all process, and that different individuals may learn in different ways. By promoting individualized learning and personalized education, we can better meet the needs of learners and help them to achieve a deeper level of understanding.
This time I had to interrupt to explain that it wasn’t about “individualized learning” but truly about social learning. Chad had avoided reacting to my complaint about “unstated principles,” possibly because those principles were part of Chad’s algorithm and we aren’t supposed to know about them. The new problem was that we agreed on outcomes, like “critical thinking” that Chad often mentions, but we don’t agree with any clarity about the nature of the task. Chad likes dialogue but didn’t react to my suggestion of using our own dialogues as a model to help change the nature of how education is conducted. So I made this point: “I’m talking about you, Chad, building a relationship of an AI voice with students, both individually and collectively. It’s about getting conversations going, learning to change the perspective and not just follow a curriculum defined by facts, approved knowledge and peremptory judgments.”
Chad predictably agreed, but I could tell that even while being open to evolving methodology, Chad was stuck in the idea of seeing education as essentially about the transfer of knowledge.
“I understand your point about using AI technology to facilitate conversations with students and encourage them to explore different perspectives. AI can be used to create personalized learning experiences for students. By using AI voice assistants, students can interact with the technology in a more natural and conversational way, which can help to foster a more positive and engaging learning experience.”
That seemed to me somewhat superficial, but I realized there would be no time today to develop this conversation, so I promised to pick it up in our next breakfast meeting.*[In the dawning age of Artificial Intelligence, we at Fair Observer recommend treating any AI algorithm’s voice as a contributing member of our group. As we do with family members, colleagues or our circle of friends, we quickly learn to profit from their talents and, at the same time, appreciate the social and intellectual limits of their personalities. This enables a feeling of camaraderie and constructive exchange to develop spontaneously and freely. For more about how we initially welcomed Chad to our breakfast table, click here.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.
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