Current Problems Of Education CURRENT PROBLEMS OF EDUCATION It seems reasonable to begin a discussion of the future of computers in education with considerations of the current problems of education. Then we can direct our use of technology to improve education. I do not mean to imply that there would be universal agreement on these problems or that this list is exhaustive; but these serious problems deserve careful preliminary consideration in restructuring our educational systems. They are worldwide problems that affect all levels of education. I begin with what I regard as the root of many of the grand problems of today: the problem of population.
The number of people on earth is growing rapidly with no sign that we will be able to stop this growth. Indeed, many powerful people and groups encourage this growth. Educators often do not see this as an educational problem, but I believe this view to be wrong. World Population: The Grand Problem At the beginning of this century, the population of the earth, after thousands of years of development of civilization, reached one billion people. At the beginning of the new century we will have about six billion people on earth, and this number continues to grow rapidly — presently at ninety million people per year. A scenario from the United Nations gives the world population in 2150 as 694 billion, based on current growth rates in the different parts of the world. This is very unlikely, but it shows the serious nature of the problem.
I regard this rapid growth of population as the root problem on earth today, not just for learning but also for many other aspects of modern society. Attempts to control population in countries such as China and India have met with only partial success. In most of the world there is only an inadequate attempt at population control. A rapidly growing population means that with today’s methods of learning many people will receive no or inferior education. Schools and other educational institutions cannot handle, in their present mode, even in highly developed countries, the ever-increasing numbers of students, and they change only slowly.
Very few of the people on earth receive an adequate education even today. How has our education system changed as population has increased? Unfortunately, it has changed little in this century, in spite of the six-fold increase in population. Classes have grown, particularly at the college level. But the educational materials have varied only slightly, and our major learning problems remain unchanged. Universal Education Increasing population is not the only problem contributing to greater numbers to be educated. A greater percentage of this growing populace needs education.
This is partly because of the rise of democratic states, and partly because our society changes rapidly. We also have rising expectations for schools, assigning them new tasks. We increasingly see education as a critical component of democratic society. For intelligent decisions in democratic society we need an educated population. Furthermore, we increasingly see the need for lifelong education. Society changes faster, so what is learned when we are young is fast outdated.
So this need for universal education further complicates the problems created by growing populations, by increasing the numbers we must consider. One of President Clinton’s points of emphasis in the 1996 U.S. Presidential election was that everyone is entitled to two years in community college, again increasing the need for education. Lack of Individualism One aspect of education that must be considered is that all students are DIFFERENT, with different backgrounds, knowledge, interests and learning styles. Each student should be treated individually.
But our current modes of learning provide little individualization. Every student tends to be provided with the same learning experiences focused around an white Anglo-Saxon curriculum. This cookie-cutter approach to learning works for a few students, but many do not learn, or learn only partially. Our classes are already too large to provide individualized learning. Domination of Lecture and Textbook The major learning modes in schools and universities are the lecture and textbook.
Lectures date at least since classical Greece, 2,500 years ago; textbooks come from a more recent technological development, the printing press. Both textbooks and lectures provide little individualization, so neither work well considering the wide range of background and experience found with students today. The advantage of books and lectures is that they can provide integrated whole courses, not just fragments. Information vs. Learning A major problem with learning today is the increasing tendency to confuse information with learning. This is particularly a problem with the use of the World Wide Web in learning, although it is an older problem, predating the Web’s existence. Textbooks and lectures are primarily sources of information, rather than learning media.
This confusion of information and learning is particularly important with areas that depend heavily on problem solving. It is also of major concern because it is immediate information, not problem solving and creativity, that is most easily tested. Low Quality of Individualization A problem often stressed is that our students are all very different. But almost all the curriculum approaches we have now (books and lectures) treat them alike. So it is not too surprising that existing computer learning material does the same. We need learning that is individualized to the needs of each student.
The key to achieving effective learning is to use the interactive capabilities of modern computers. If computer learning material is to consider and assist with individual student problems, it must be interactive, probing to find what the student needs help with and providing that help. Only highly interactive learning approaches can discover individual problems and offer relevant learning experiences. As I stress, little such material exists. But there is enough to show that we can prepare such material.
Lack of Interactive Curriculum Material What we have so far in the way of computer learning material could best be described mostly as bits and pieces, small isolated components of material, seldom individualized. But full learning demands whole courses and full curricula, sizable chunks of material. Very few interactive courses have been produced. THE NEXT 25 YEARS OF LEARNING How can we use computers to make major improvements in the educational process, for all students worldwide? I argue that this is possible, but only if we consider carefully the problems of education (already mentioned) and the capabilities of interactive technology in solving them. Although we have major problems in learning, we now have the technology to solve these problems, the interactive technology provided by the computer. But new approaches are needed; learning materials, schools and universities in their current form m …