Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Will Technology Alter Traditional Teaching? Series: WORLD MEDIA EDUCATION. Part 3. in the Last of 3 Special Reports, Writers for the World Media Newspaper Network Peer into the Future of Education, Especially the Effects of Computers, and They Contrast the Ways in Which Two World Leaders - the US and Japan - Have Structured Their Systems of Learning. the Preceding Parts Appeared Sept. 8 and Sept. 15 (World Edition, Sept. 10-16 and Sept. 17-23). First of 5 Articles Appearing Today

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Will Technology Alter Traditional Teaching? Series: WORLD MEDIA EDUCATION. Part 3. in the Last of 3 Special Reports, Writers for the World Media Newspaper Network Peer into the Future of Education, Especially the Effects of Computers, and They Contrast the Ways in Which Two World Leaders - the US and Japan - Have Structured Their Systems of Learning. the Preceding Parts Appeared Sept. 8 and Sept. 15 (World Edition, Sept. 10-16 and Sept. 17-23). First of 5 Articles Appearing Today

Article excerpt

ARE we nearing the end of traditional education? Will computer networks, multimedia capabilities, and "virtual reality" make schooling obsolete? Will schools still be around 30 years from now?

World Media asked these questions of Lewis J. Perelman, senior researcher at the Discovery Institute in Washington, D.C., and Neil Postman, chairman of the Department of Communication Arts and Sciences at New York University.

Mr. Perelman has no doubts about the future: A learning revolution is under way, and school as we know it is dying, he says.

Professor Postman is skeptical. While he does not oppose the introduction of new technologies in the classroom, he worries about people embracing this technological revolution without adequately reflecting on its deeper consequences. Why do you say schools are doomed to disappear?

Perelman: In pre-modern societies, education served to create a core of literate bureaucrats to run states and empires. Even in modern industrial societies, education was meant primarily to manufacture people who could perform bureaucratic functions. All bureaucracies, as we know, are rooted in the idea of controlling people's access to knowledge by concentrating it at the top and distributing it very parsimoniously to those at lower levels. But this is precisely what is becoming more and more difficult to do in this new Age of Knowledge, which we are right now entering.

The rapid growth of both computing and communication technologies is causing a true revolution, which will eventually be more radical than the agricultural or the industrial revolutions. A fundamental implication of this revolution is that the creation and transmission of knowledge will no longer move vertically, from the top down. It will move horizontally, among many people, at a tremendous speed. This will undermine the foundation of every bureaucracy, including schools. What will take the place of schools?

Perelman: The very notion of traditional education will become obsolete. The new technologies that are now being developed will enable people of all ages and social conditions to learn anything, anywhere, at any time. Learning will not be based, as it is today, on mechanisms of selection and exclusion. Diplomas will disappear. Instead, people will get certificates (the same way we get driver's licenses) to show potential employers that they have specific skills, talents, or knowledge. What makes you think this is going to happen?

Perelman: In the United States alone, education costs $450 billion a year. It is a huge burden, yet almost everybody agrees that schools are failing. The system I foresee and advocate has two great advantages: It works better and costs less.

Postman: Between information and knowledge, there is a great difference. What makes you believe that our growing ability at generating and storing information will translate into knowledge? Aren't we facing the risk of an information glut?

Perelman: One of today's fundamental technological developments is the creation of intelligence built into our machines and networks. By intelligence, I mean the ability of these machines to filter the huge ocean of available data and to present it in a way that makes sense to the human mind. In this respect, the possibility to "visualize" information and to create virtual realities is of crucial importance. That's what makes me believe that we are not going to face an information glut, but that we are instead entering into the Age of Knowledge. You seem to view technology differently.

Postman: When I look at today's major problems, I find that they have nothing whatsoever to do with technology. If there are children starving in Somalia or dying in Bosnia, if crime is terrorizing our cities, and if families are breaking down, it is not because we have insufficient data, information, or even knowledge. Something else is lacking. …

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