An inspiring video labled Noam Chomsky – Purpose of Education from Learning Without Frontiers. I have roughly paraphrased what I believe Noam Chomsky expresses in the video. The video is segmented into 4 parts, ‘Purpose of Education,’ ‘Impact of Technology,’ ‘Cost of Investment,’ and ‘Assessment vs Autonomy.’
Purpose of Education
There is the interpretation that comes from the enlightenment, which holds that the highest goal in life is to acquire and create, to search the riches of the past, and to internalize the significant parts for a quest of understanding.
The purpose of education from that point is to help people learn on their own.
The other concept is essentially indoctrination, where young people are placed in an existing framework, accepting orders, and not challenging existing frameworks. There are movements in society that prefer indoctrination in our educational systems over the concepts of traditional enlightenment. Indoctrination is the opposite of the traditional enlightenment form of education.
Does one study for passing tests, or does one study for creative inquiry?
Graduate school and general research tend to follow the ideas of the traditional enlightenment. It should be like this all the way down through kindergarten, but there are forces in society that would rather people not ask too many questions, to be indoctrinated, and obedient.
Impact of Technology
There has certainly been very substantial growth in new technology, technology of communication and information, and it has helped change the culture of society. But we should bare in mind that the current technological changes, while important, have nowhere near the level of impact that the technological changes of about a century, or so, ago have had. The shift from a typewriter to a computer, or a telephone to an e-mail, while significant, do not begin to compare with the shift from a sailing vessel to the telegraph. And the same is true with other technology, such as plumbing, where it has had a huge impact on the overall health of city when compared with antibiotics. So while current technology is extremely important, we should not forget the changes that have already taken place.
As far as technology and education is concerned, technology is basically neutral. Technology is like a hammer, a hammer doesn’t care how you use it, whether it used to build a house or used to hurt someone, a hammer can do either.
The internet is extremely valuable if you know what you’re looking for. If you know what you are looking for, and you have a framework of understanding, which directs you to certain information, then it can be very useful. Of course you always have to question the framework of understanding, and modify it accordingly through the research and learning process. For example, a person will not become a biologist just through having access to a biology library, with no other guidance. With out guidance and direction, the internet can become just the process of picking out random factoids that are meaningless on their own, without proper context.
A person who wins the Nobel Prize in biology is not the person who reads the most journals and has taken the most notes, it is the person who knew what to look for. And cultivating that capacity, to seek what is significant and always being willing to question whether one is on the right track, is what education is going to be about; regardless of the technology utilized in the learning process.
Cost or Investment
Education is discussed in terms of whether it is a worthwhile investment, does it create human capitol that can be used for economic growth, and so on. It is a very strange distorting way to even propose the question.
Do we want a society of free, creative, and independent individuals, able to appreciate and gain from the culture achievements of the past and to add to them? Or do we want people who can increase GDP? They are not the same thing.
Educational systems should create better human beings.
Assessment vs Autonomy
There is an increasing importance on passing examinations when compared to earlier forms of education. Taking tets can be of some use, for both the learner and teacher, but beyond that tests do not tell you much.
A person can do magnificently on every test, and understand very little. You can be in some course that you have no interest in, and you can study hard for the test, and you can ace it, and a couple of weeks later you forget what the topic was.
A test can be a useful device, if it contributes to the constructive purposes of education. If it is just a set of hurdles it can be meaningless, and divert you from what is more important, your passions.
The current system is geared to have students pass hurdles, but not geared to help students learn, understand, and explore. Tests should be ancillary, not the primary form of assessment. Passing tests don’t even begin to compare with searching and inquiring, and to pursing topics that engage us and excite us. That’s far more significant than passing tests.
A renowned physicist once said to a student ‘It does not matter what what the class covers, it matters what you discover.’
Education is really aimed at helping students get to the point where they can learn on their own. Because that’s what one does for their life, not just absorb material and repeat it.
I found the entire video inspirational, but those were just some of my favorite parts. Watch the entire video below:
I personally believe that technology will enable greater democracy for education. The platforms that are being built now, such as Kahn Academy, Lynda.com, and Coursera, will enable students to have access to valuable information with the assistance of guidance, direction, and the ability to customize their own learning framework. And I do believe that a greater education can solve many of the worlds existing problems.