There is a technology war coming. Actually it is already here but most of us haven’t yet noticed. It is a war not about technology but because of technology… The early battles are being fought in our schools. And I already know who the winners will be… This is a war over how we as a culture and a society respond to Moore’s Law. — Robert X. Cringely
…who offers a couple of important points in his latest PBS column [and podcast], both rooted in the idea that broad adoption of a new technology takes about 30 years — a generation for social adaptation. [Robert X. Cringely is the pen name of technology journalist Mark Stephens]. Mark is prone to hyperbole, so bear with me for a moment.
1. Mark credits the widespread adoption of ISO 9000 certification with enabling the substitution of foreign manufacture for components previously supplied by U.S. manufacturing. I’ll grant that ISO 9000 was an enabler, without getting into how significant a factor that was in the shift towards global supply chains.
2. Mark then extrapolates the ISO 9000 certification idea to a future where students are certified — not schools, but students.
The latter smells like a Big Idea to me. I believe that the existing state-monopoly approach to education is certain to be displaced by free-market competition — where education resources compete for parents’ selection. This is already happening everywhere the legal shackles have been loosened to permit parents to choose ["school choice"]. Of course, for decades parents have been making a very expensive choice — to send their children to private schools even in the absence of financial relief via vouchers, tax rebates or charter school options — therefore paying twice for the education service.
But why does educational certification necessarily require that the student spend 100% of her time in a physical, accredited institution? I’ve written several times about such innovations as the Open Courseware movement, symbolized by MIT’s free internet offering of their entire curriculum.
Suppose that a fraction of the $Billions squandered by the educational establishment were instead invested in both Open Courseware, AND a robust methodology for certifying that a student actually can DO what is needed to succeed? A significant part of the latter evaluation should be possible via online methods. To the extent that both the learning and certifying resources evolve into “Information Technologies”, they become subject to Ray Kurzweil’s Law of Accelerating Returns. Imagine the future children who are products of a learning path that is improving like Moore’s Law! It’s a good thing I don’t have to compete with those kids!
To motivate you to “read the whole thing”, here’s a few excerpts from Cringely’s “War of the Worlds“:
…we’ve reached the point in our (disparate) cultural adaptation to computing and communication technology that the younger technical generations are so empowered they are impatient and ready to jettison institutions most of the rest of us tend to think of as essential, central, even immortal. They are ready to dump our schools.
I came to this conclusion recently while attending Brainstorm 2008, a delightful conference for computer people in K-12 schools throughout Wisconsin. They didn’t hold breakout sessions on technology battles or tactics, but the idea was in the air. These people were under siege.
…I live in Charleston, SC where the public schools are atrocious despite spending an average of $16,000 per student each year. Why shouldn’t I keep my kids at home and online, demanding that the city pay for it?
Because that’s not the way we do it, that’s why.
Well times are changing.
…Technology is beginning to assail the underlying concepts of our educational system – a system that’s huge and rich and so far fairly immune to economic influence… We are nearing the time when paying dues and embracing proxies for quality may give way [to] having the ability to know what kids really know, to verify what they can really do…
Mark doesn’t get into other important benefits of bricks-and-mortar education institutions — like learning from peers. But I can imagine innovations that preserve the institutional benefits while liberating students from failed institutions that are motivated primarily by union and bureaucratic incentives.