Saturday, 10 November 2012

The Information Age has its effects on education by its constant change point of view.

High technology alters the goals of education in this planning model. 
Can educators manage all this change well?

Trends of the Information Age: 
Is the goal of public education always social change? 

by Tom Thorne

Four of my five children ranging in age from 42 to 23 are teachers. This gives me a unique opportunity to see first hand what teaching and education is all about these days. At family events I listen to their discussions with interest. When I relate my experiences in the schools of my time I am treated as a aging curmudgeon who still believes in instilling students with personal discipline and leadership principles. I am an educational fossil in their eyes. 

My experience as a 16 year veteran of teaching at a college during the establishment and growth of personal computing and the Internet gives me a unique perspective I keep telling them. I point out that I can remember a time when there were no personal computers and how their introduction has greatly altered life on this planet. Yes, dad, they respond we’re certain that is true but look at what we as teachers deal with today. That is what really counts. 

They tell of the increase of special needs students in their classes. I point out often to deaf ears that in a high technology environment where the focus is on the individual the growth in numbers of special needs students is inevitable. Special needs is a product of an information oriented society where everyone’s needs are categorized into finely honed definitions of one syndrome or another. With more information you get a tighter focus on the person and their personal needs. And the technology to do this work is the personal computer tied into the Internet. The techniques define how we think. The “medium is the message”. They all sigh.

The schools I went through before the Information Age really took root, were mass education institutions. They reflected their society too and the focus was on “fitting in” to a mould and surrendering your individuality to the common good. If you were out of step with mass education objectives of fitting in you simply failed, left school and started work. Special needs didn’t exist  except as a separated Opportunity Class. In fact the concept  special needs integrated into the regular classroom was not possible because the information about the various special needs syndromes, if they existed at all, were still in the hands of un-networked experts.

Mass education was not at all tolerant of individuals or unique people. If you were bright and had original thoughts you were chastised into a category of a “trouble maker”. If you were challenged intellectually you went to special classes and even schools. You would be paraded to the principal’s office and told to fit in or else.  I know this from sad experience and I fitted in as needed to get my high school diploma and my ticket to university.

It is my contention that education is now developing into a social change laboratory. In the old pre information age system education was seen as a place to discipline people into good citizens with some notion that the common good of society was a worthy goal of the system. It was all a bit rigid but at least we could all do numbers, write a paragraph and spell properly which sadly is no longer the case.

Now the education system is highly individualized. The common good of society has been replaced by the need for the individual to feel good about themselves. This change is only possible in a high technology society like the one we have forged over the last 30 years. This concept of the individual is a direct outcome of the techniques that make it possible to manage information found at everyone’s finger tips.

When mass education is replaced by personal education plans then the common good drops in value. The individual is more important than the common good. It creates entitlement and rights and the paramount of the individual’s needs over the common good. It swings the pendulum of change a way over from the centre. It builds anticipation that society can provide each individual with their needs. Its worst incarnation is the growth of political correctness and the dropping in value of the common good.

My teacher daughters also tell me about the stresses and strains this is creating on the contemporary classroom and I wonder how this situation makes students aware of their social obligations and the common good of society. Today educators are in a state of transition to some other delivery system other than the classroom. What kind of society that will build is anyone’s guess but the medium is always the message.

© Copyright 2012, Tom Thorne, All Rights Reserved.

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