Moving from Study, my boy to Choose, my boy

ODYSSEIA

Network and Computer Technologies

for Secondary Education in Greece

Computers and the Internet in 385 Greek secondary schools,

for exploratory learning, for teaching, for culture, for administration

1996 2001

Why computers in our classrooms?

Why connect our schools to Internet?

The mere fact that computers and networks are playing an increasingly important role in our daily lives is not enough to justify their introduction into our schools in general, let alone our basic education programme.

When lathes and looms entered human society, reading, writing and arithmetic entered its schools. In our automobile-and-telephone society, it is not traffic education or telecommunications that hold pride of place in the schools, but physics, literature and biology.

So why should we be introducing information and communications technology into our schools?

Because, unlike radio and television, which have had a minimal impact on school education, computers and networks can be a real educational tool, offering new possibilities for teaching, learning and communication possibilities very difficult to realise through classical means.

The object here is not mastery of Word or Excel, nor fulfilling the needs of the labor market: Basic education does not have short term goals. We must prepare the citizens of the Information Society for the next fifty years.

The how and the why are neither obvious nor simple. One of the answers is illustrated in the text that follows.

(Valetas Junior High School, Eos)

(2nd Junior High School, Samos)

(Rio Junior High School)

 

In the beginning human communication was by spoken word alone

- plus singing, dancing and music playing.

But there was no writing,

and so everyone could only communicate with those nearby

- spatially and temporally.

Only the priests and the poets had a far reaching voice,

Homer or the priest of Isis alone could say things, which, although somewhat distorted, would keep going for many thousands of kilometers and many centuries.

- while of their music and their dance, very little is known.

Enter writing.

A very small minority

- but more than just the priests and the poets -

were able to express themselves in a medium that reached far into space and time.

And a broader minority could read what was written

- for themselves and, selectively, to pass it on to others.

But the preservation of the written works required the Libraries of Alexandria

- which occasionally burned down -

and armies of monks to copy them out (not always too faithfully).

Enter printing.

Now many can write, and almost everyone can read. Written works were readily propagated in space and preserved across time. This was what provided the foundation for the broad, secular, almost universal education that we know today. Along with printing, however, came the publishers: the printing houses of Venice, the Press of the Patriarchate in Constantinople, Cambridge University Press, the Academy of Sciences of the USSR, or the Greek Organisation for the Publication of School Textbooks decided what books would be printed, and where and how they would be circulated.

Soon afterwards came the phonograph, the tape recorder, the cinema, the video tape.

Thus we could record not only our words but also many of our other intellectual creations, including song, music and dance.

- we are the first generation to have heard the voices of men and women who died before we were born.

A new wealth of intellectual riches, a whole new set of possibilities for education, and of course, it was once again Deutsche Grammophon, Paramount and Time Warner that decided what of all this wealth of intellectual creation would be published and circulated.

- mechanisms of power and authority, just as before, but much more democratic and socialised than the monastic libraries or imperial collections, no doubt.

And recently, enter the Web. The world-wide information web on top of the world-wide computer internet, where can record all kinds intellectual creations: the written and the spoken word, music, image, dance and song and can do so, moreover, without anyones permission!

A medium suitable for the recording of all forms of human intellectual endeavor, capable of transmitting them instantaneously all over the world

- as a technological potential, of course, for the social reality is that the Internet today reaches only a small fraction of the worlds population -

and of preserving them without limitation

- although this too remains to be seen.

But the Web has soon been. Not in the technological sense, or because of limited telecommunications capacity such can be fixed. No, it has been overwhelmed by sheer volume of information, and it has lost out on quality. And anyone who thinks he has found a way to escape from the so-called poverty of school textbooks soon runs into the problem of the 17,352 documents

- the web search answer to what he thought was the problem: that printed books were allegedly few, poor, biased and out-of-date

Suddenly, its no longer a question of Read, my boy, read, followed by:

What shall I read?, which in turn elicited an answer on the lines of:

Read pages 37 to 41 in your textbook, check the encyclopaedia, and maybe one other book on the subject

- in any case, it was something feasible, even if it was going to take you all night.

Now, its 17,352 documents, which nobody can ever read .

This means that you have to choose which of them you are going to read, which means that you and your neighbour will choose differently, which means that the answer to the question will depend on whether you did it yesterday or today, and in the end the educational result (for examinations purposes? for professional purposes? for intellectual purposes?) will depend less on how hard you study and more on what you choose to study.

- which is something that all Information Society workers know and for which our educational system does not prepare us at all.

The Web and the Odysseus Project school computer lab constitute a unique educational environment, not for the wealth of information they provide

- the information contained in any encyclopaedia is more than sufficient for the scope and the requirements of school work -

but for the opportunity for practice in the exercise of choice.

Thus, if the challenge to education was originally how to teach the new members of society not only what their parents and neighbours knew but also the words of Homer and the priest of Isis

  • because that was the epitome of the then social knowledge

and if later on the challenge to education was to multiply the number of those who were able to read and write

- because that small minority formed the critical mass necessary for the accumulation, preservation and increase of knowledge,

and if later still the challenge before education was to print suitable books in sufficient numbers, to train capable teachers and to teach everyone to read,

- because books were the printed record of the sum of knowledge, technique and social wisdom, and knowing how to read meant being able to learn,

the challenge facing education today is to prepare citizens who are not simply literate, not simply equipped with specific knowledge and a certain set of skills (that in any case are no longer sufficient for a lifetime), but who are in addition able to learn by choosing what to learn and what to read in order to learn it

- for the only thing we know about the society in which todays students will be living is that it will be different from todays.

In what we call the Information Society

- which we still understand so little -

the ability to choose what to learn will be more important than the ability to learn, and much more important than any factual knowledge.

Democratic education should not be judged at the input but at the output. Democratic is that education which results in increasing popular participation in authority, in decision-making, in the creation of social wealth and the distribution of its surplus. That equality of opportunity can enhance the democratic and popular character of our education, seems to be a reasonable assumption.

Equality of opportunity, however, does not mean identity of representation. The ability to produce intellectual work in an environment at once collegial and competitive and on the basis of differently selected and individualised representations seems to be a critical faculty in the information society. The ability to choose and to evaluate knowledge and information sources, to form and support an opinion on the basis of sources chosen by oneself, appears to be an essential part of ones mental equipment

- and only sufficiently well equipped citizens can be active members of a democratic society.

The Odysseia school computer labs, then, are in-school facilities where, in a protected environment, youngsters will begin to learn how to choose what to read and what to learn. And as they cultivate collegiality through working necessarily in small groups, they will also be cultivating difference and noble emulation. The fact that they will not all choose the same material, and that the result of the specific educational process will depend chiefly on personal choices of this sort, will be a lesson of fundamental importance for the rest of their lives.

P.S. I acknowledge the impertinence of comparing intellectual achievements of millennia such as writing - or of centuries such as printing - with a technology that - like the World Wide Web - is still being developed and may be gone tomorrow. My only justification is that we are living on an exponential curve but one lifetime is not long enough to determine the values of its parameters.

 

 

Thanasis Hadzilacos

                                                         Odysseia programme manager

 

These pages are edited by the Computer Technology Institute. For further information please  contact the Odysseia Information Center. This page last up-dated on:30/11/2000