Thursday, August 12, 2010

Politics, Education, Terrorism, and putting all our eggs in one digital basket.

Yesterday there was a lot of discussion about the two main party's education policies.  I'll say it out loud (and risk losing readers), I wouldn't vote Liberal if you paid me (well, maybe if you paid me a LOT, but then only if Tony Scabbott wasn't front and centre - or in Parliament at all, for that matter).

The Labor Party has put forth two main education policies.  One is the National Education Policy, which I think will certainly help unify Australia educationally and make it easier for students and teachers (and prinicpals) to know what's expected and to be able to move around the country without too much fuss and confusion.  The Labor party doesn't seem to be putting a lot of emphasis on this policy, but it is there...

Their second policy area is called the Digital Education Revolution, and it is this policy that has me thinking that as far as Education goes, the Liberals might actually have the more interesting and useful agenda...

The following outlines the Digital Education Revolution Policy:

Digital Education Revolution
The Labor Party claims the aim of their Digital Education Revolution (DER) is to contribute sustainable and meaningful change to teaching and learning in Australian schools that will prepare students for further education, training and to live and work in a digital world. Through the DER, the Government has pledged $2.2 billion over six years to:

• Provide for new Information and Communication Technology (ICT) equipment for all secondary schools with students in years 9-12 through the National Secondary School Computer Fund;

• Support the deployment of high speed broadband connections to Australian schools;

• Collaborate with states and territories and Deans of Education to ensure new and continuing teachers have access to training in the use of ICT that enables them to enrich student learning;

• Provide for online curriculum tools and resources that support the national curriculum and specialist subjects such as languages;

• Enable parents to participate in their child's education through online learning and access;

• Support mechanisms to provide vital assistance for schools in the deployment of ICT.

I have to say, when it comes to education, the Labor approaches have actually always been very "Keeping up with the, Joneses". Only problem is, they've never ACTUALLY kept up - neither have the Liberals for that matter.  The Australian Education system is a little, dusty old backwater on the global stage.  We're always accepting other country's cast offs, and it shows.

The Labor Party may think that "going digital" will solve all our problems, but they've thought this about many educational approaches that have been found lacking by other nations, usually BEFORE we took them up.

I suggest going digital might be a big mistake...

I'm a nobody, really, and these are just my thoughts, but many really good leaps of logic have come from nobody's, so I'll share if only to get these thoughts out of my head!

Educational problems with relying on technology to solve our education problems:

  • Julia has repeatedly said technology will open all door for Aussie students.  Our kids will be able to access the best thinkers, scientists and learning venues, just like kids in the rest of the world.  Now, besides suggesting that Australia is indeed a backwater and all the best minds and places are "out there", she's also suggested that a "virtual" tour of The Smithsonian will be just like being there!  Well, except that is won't, Julia, and do we really want to teach our children that a SYNTHESIS of reality is as good as reality itself?  If we teach our children that going somewhere virtually is as good as having been there in person, why would we expect they might be motivated to strive for REAL, FIRST HAND experience?
  • Another problem is that technology in the form of a computer screen and modem hook up to the world only further entrenches the visual-auditory teaching methods that have failed so many of our children in the past.  We had started to move away from this extremely narrow and ineffective mode of teaching, but a high reliance on net based technology is going to send us BACKWARDS all over again.
  • Furthermore, technology is impressive sounding because it's quasi-scientific - as in science fiction come to life - but computers and satellites and modems and wifi are all science END PRODUCTS.  They can not imbue a student with flexible intelligence any more than putting a pair of nylons on a child would (nylons being another science end product).  Technology is only as intelligent as the user employing it.  If our children can't read, no technology, no matter how whiz bang fantastic it is, is going to fix that problem.


Ok, that title might seem to be coming out of left field, and no, I'm not about to suggest that information technologies are going to turn our kids into terrorists...

What I'm going to suggest is that information technology while be the next big battle field of terrorism.  Back in June there was a big international fuss because some news media suggested an American senator had asked for the President to have an Internet Kill Switch in case America was ever under direct threat.  It turns out that under a US communications Act, the President already has the power to shut down all US media in case of a national threat.  The senator was asking for the internet to be formally identified as American national property and for the private sector to reassess their risk for technological terrorism, and for there to be a plan in writing about how to deal with such an event.

Now, even if there isn't an Internet Kill Switch (and the paranoid conspiracy theory believer in me questions why there wouldn't be if it is at all possible, we just wouldn't be told about it - for our own good), I'm willing to wager that terrorist groups are making future plans for exactly this form of terrorism.  They may well be biding their time until we're all so heavily reliant on technologies that it'll have the deepest and widest impact.

What happens to our children if their entire education is based on using computer programs to format and sort information for them.  I mean, and this reflects pretty poorly on me, the last time my internet connection died, it took me a few hours to remember I could actually just CALL Metlink to find out which buses would get me to my destination...  I have become so used to the net doing my work for me, I'd start to forget how to be resourceful without it.  I don't want my children to never have even known there was another way do things not involving super-speedy net connection!

If we put all our education eggs in one digital basket, what happens when that basic goes offline?

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Good Job!