Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Economics Of Education I

Education seems to be a favourite topic of public discussion. This is good because it shows that we are concerned about the quality of education and the great expectations that we have placed on education to show the many problems of society as well as the individual well-being - by which I mean in both cases the issue of national and personal survival.

That concern is often expressed as a criticism - that the present education is not as good as the education in the "good old days" - and how that deterioration in the education standard has led to the deterioration of the economy and society that we are now stuck in. While I read with great amusement the seriousness by which the arguments are being made, this is the same line of judgement that has been put out by all successive older generations on their respective younger generations. I am sure that there must be a certain element of generational ego coming into play here somewhere.

This probably unintentional generational condescension could the result of the general dislike that every generation of democratic societies must have, in their hearts, on their own governments.The loathsomeness may have been generated by the troubles that we see everywhere in our societies - the crimes of private citizens, the daylight robberies by public servants not excluding politicians, the general sloth that we see everywhere (felt after having witnessed how hard even buffaloes in China, Hong Kong (if any), South Korea and Japan have to work), the untouchability of private housing by fresh entrants into the labour market (now matter how clever they may be), the growing cares and worries of modern life especially when we see on the media how Mother Nature can do more harm than any industrialist on the environment, the anger we feel of how repressive regimes are in other parts of the world and how the ordinary hapless people suffer, and all those "goodies" that the mass media churn out in order to keep themselves in business by making us all stare blankly at the TV screen.

We have to vent all that frustration at someone and something. The old favourite is the government and the system. The unintended victims are the students of today.

I am sure parents in all ages feel an intense amount of anxiety for the future of their children. This is why we have greedy businessmen and corrupt politicians who work so well together as a team to squeeze every ounce of profitability (or rather, unearned and undeserved income) from the societies in which they are so intent on dominating. In this brave old world of Adam Smith, everybody must compete. The businessmen and polticians are doing just that, not necessarily among themselves (although it does seem that way) but against the ordinary citizens who must now pay and pay in order to live, and pay more and pay because inflation is a market-determined means of exhortation from everyone, including the old and infirmed, if they are to live at all - this is why the many who cannot afford the cash to live simply jump down sufficiently tall buildings or hang themselves with a sufficiently strong piece of string.

Because parents see the great achievement and success of the businessmen and the politicians, parents push their children to work hard and be like these examples of the worst that modern civilisation can produce. After all, no parents want their children to be failures, for then, they will be extra burden in an already high cost living environment. For hapless parents, they allow their sons to be gangsters and daughters to be prostitutes - which are just ugly names for things that rich parents who want to condition their children to do but in better disguised forms or in better dressings.

But, really, I do not think that current education is as bad as many of us who imagine it to be. For one thing, kids really do know a lot more, can do a lot more, and can talk back a lot more. Don't imagine that a repressive education system produces repressed kids - it produces rebellious kids. The kids may not want to communicate that to you (the repressive regime) but they will do their revenge on the social media in the best way that they know how and you may not approve their language - but that does not meant their language is not good - they can perfectly understand well among themselves but you can be merely grasping.

Whatever the education they are receiving, they will reinvent their own world. They will have their own culture (or you want to demote that to sub-culture), and they will live longer than we the older ones will. They will inherit our properties and tear them down and may even build ugly ones in their place (like we do to old architecture). Their culture and society will evolve into one where the cleverness that we now cherish so much may be redundant and their lives will go on and on so long as there is sufficient battery life to power their computers (computers? not entertainment centres?). They will live contented lives entertained by flashes of tiny electric currents while we the older one see our beautiful but dirty industrial complexes being shut down one by one.

Our old world was a world built on stringent logical human thought, as our enlightened leaders where leading us to get out of the dark ages of mysticism and theology into the brave new world of bright sparks. We eschew hearsay and rely on our own senses to observe and conclude for ourselves using our own heads. So our heads must be conditioned to think in a certain way so that we have a precisely communicable framework to transfer a piece of thought from one person to another. Because even logical thoughts are prone to errors of logical because of the instability of the human thought process, we have strict rules of logic. In the process, we have amassed huge library of scientific research some of which have proven to be useful and is now modifying our world, while most of that scientific research is now just a load of rubbish of errors and blind alleys. Nobody needs to read them anymore.

Instead, the whole body of logical thought by humans, in the last couple centuries, can be transferred and encoded in the electronic processors that we now call computers. After having done that, we really do not need logical thinking anymore - the computers can handle that logical processing. In other words, human are now redundant insofar as logical processing is concerned. Human beings must find a new role for themselves in the new world of computers that we have created.

Of course, the cleverest answer is that we have to be creative. Which is not the same as being innovative. Innovation is just like renovation of a house - you do not knock down the structure. Creation is like building something different not done before - a new house with a different shape from others.

For modern kids to be creative, they must be off their minds. For them to be completely creative, they must be totally off their minds. They do not need logic. The more complete they are without logic, the more complete they are creative. Ideas fall logically into place when they are being processed by the computers which will check for logic.

Just imagine the kids being constantly bombarded by all kinds of images and ideas at a certain numbers of images per second and they have to absorb all these in their little heads and make sense of them. It will be a wonder when they do make any sense of that. At most times, I imagine that these images will float in their minds like a primordial soup waiting for an interaction to occur. I am surprised that so few modern kids go mad.

I pity the teachers who should be totally unprepared to cope with the new environment or society. What is the role of the teacher? The teacher cannot merely dispense facts - the kids can google that. The teacher cannot just talk logic - that can be checked with the computer. The only thing that the teacher can do is to present ideas in pictorial form so that the kids can have fun piecing the pieces together. The new role of the teacher is to present new ideas - or more specifically, old ideas in new forms or old ideas with a bit of innovation. At least, the teacher can then have a chance to play that role properly. The other role for the teacher to do to motivate the kids to be interested in the subjects that they are teaching - because their are many extra-curricular subjects on the computer that the kids can explore. To do that, the teacher must be in good health and not be depressed. I propose that teachers should be given allowances to join gyms.

The last thing I probably which to recommend is that the kids should be made to feel a bit hungry. We should not overfeed them so that they will not be so lethargic. A little hungry will make the fast and processed food taste better, and a little more hunger will probably help to direct their minds (I am so sure about their energy) to things in which they have an interest and in which other people may also have an interest. A little hunger in the modern world may not bad thing at all. It may not be easy to do. We have to go from obesity, to normal, trim, lean and then maybe a little hungry. With this little hungry, I think the economics of education may also improve.


walla said...

It is puzzling.

If students these days know, do and interact more, it must mean students those days knew, did and interacted less in which case it should have been easier for those in the past to score more easily in their exams since they would have had less to study and more time to be less distracted by other preoccupations.

Furthermore, many students in the past have had to work for pocket money or walk long distances to school because not only was the infrastructure not fully developed but economic and learning supports were somewhat lacking for most.

Yet the trend is in the opposite direction. It was much harder to get an A in the old days than now where getting strings of them are a cinch.

Short of saying exam standards have declined, shall we then say students these days are more examinations- savvy and brighter than students those days?

That could be true but only because we don't have comparative records of how students those days would have done in international tests to dispel our belief that now is better or no worse than before.

Yet the recorded scores in the tests taken these days have consistently been downright embarrassing as indicators not only of individual performances but also institutional rankings against respective peers in other newly-emerging countries which are in the economically deprived situation where we were before.

So how can students deemed brighter these days do worse than their peers who don't have the benefit of an annually RM30 Billion public education industry, for that matter the comforts of a more modern life?

That's why it is puzzling.

Next, the observation that we tend to vent our frustration over all things on the prevailing government system.

That could also be true but if more and more parents and citizens have come to the same conclusion on their own, it behoves the government concerned to pay serious and, more importantly, real attention to make honest improvements.

Not pay lip-service today and revert to orgies of public spending that not only do nothing to stem declines but also omit to address the root of the problem through solutions which must reside in a global-centric rather than an ethnocentric domain.

If this is not so, then it must be sheer coincidence so many have come to the same level of frustration at the same time and on the same target. However one can't use the student-t test to disqualify the common process through which they have derived the same conclusion.

Nevertheless, let's for argument's sake say we remove the education exponent from their frustration equation. In other words, it is not important to be educated with knowledge in order for most to do well in life whichever the era whatever their circumstance. In some such cases, luck does indeed play an eminent role but then again one needs to work hard in order to earn luck which also takes its time to come.

There are many others elsewhere in the world hungrier to work harder. They can easily displace locals and the only way locals can displace them in the imaginary hypothetical world of no-education is to be more cunning and to take short-cuts, many a time by replacing know-how with know-who.

Needless to say, such a solution is only practical if the numbers are manageable. Ten hungry men to know one influential man can lead to ten short-cuts.

Alas, reality is closer to one million hungry men but still one man of influence in which case the influence will be made more piece-meal or there will be so many short-cuts created that nobody ends up working hard which will of course siesta any market down to a comatose state.

That, incidentally, describes ultimate state corruption which coincidentally and most unfortunately seems to be what has been suggested as due to more progress-propelled education.

walla said...


Perhaps it can be suggested education must consistently aim for continuous improvement not only in the skill of acquiring practicable knowledge but also in its application by ethical means for more honest material progress in order to earn real relief from frustration, for that matter hunger, crime, self-sacrifice, even clever provocations.

Since that would suggest a return to meritocracy, it is just another 'suggestion', to borrow a word from one grise eminence. Or is it 'greased'?

It remains to make a remark or two about education in a computerized world.

We are not talking here about education technology, or the use of computers as learning aids.

Rather, we mean the whole paradigm of how people can still have the hunger to think creatively in an information overloaded clicky world engorged with sensory stimuli.

The crux challenge is not to just find solutions using the computer as information-miner or to mix and match ideas from all over. It should be to create ideas in the mind and build new knowledge therefrom.

Take the recent Uniqlo advertisement. It proudly storied its ten thousandth successful attempt to make a warm garment that is lightweight and wearable.

The whole purpose of practical science is to reduce the number of attempts needed to achieve a successfully testable result.

Such a reduction saves effort, resources and time, presumably economic factors for enterprise, if one would care to notice.

If the company had people more steep in material science, perhaps they would not have needed that number of attempts since they would have engineered a workable product with less trials guided by more scientific principles.

The whole corpus of scientific literature is a recorded history of attempts which others can use to find more optimal paths to surer results.

Indeed, a computer processing such an archive can cut short the path to surer results but it will still need the archives to exist and be loaded first and an algorithm written by a logical human mind searching creatively through the interstices of knowledge deficits.

Not everyone is born a genius to delve immediately into the heart of the matter; most will have to depend on the plodding process of elimination.

At this juncture, we can make a jump in premise building. Instead of using the left brain, let's use the right brain to say it is not inconceivable all the knowledge we have accumulated and tested so far in any field can be rounded down to perhaps no more than two dozen basic principles common to all other fields. In short, a unified theory of principles for all subject matters.

Our right brain also says other things as well. In the words of Pink:

not just function but also design;
not just argument but also story;
not just focus but also symphony;
not just logic but also empathy;
not just seriousness but also play; and not just accumulation but also meaning.

Noting that, we can pose the question of who has not used her right brain in the recent Listenx11 forum that was recently youtubed.

Yet both are products of the same education system. But only one was a product of the government. Make an educated guess.

The economics of education can be understood by all intelligent and sensible people. They need not even be educated in the traditional sense. They just need to have their minds balanced in the right place.

This post, for that youngster who sat on the carpet deeply engrossed in the pages of a book on particle physics, oblivious to the world walking past him. Unfortunately for us, it was Borders Orchard Road 1993.

By the way: