WorldWideFuture Weblog

the future of education, politics, science and art

Education Gone Wrong?

The students of Carleton University here in Ottawa, like most universities in Canada, run a fundraiser campaign for Cystic Fibrosis research, called Shinerama, during orientation week (Shinerama has been run annually since 1964, includes 35,000 students in 60 university and college campuses). This week, the Carleton University Student’s Association controversially voted to pull out of the fundraiser because they said the disease “has been recently revealed to only affect white people, and primarily men”. The rationale was that they decided their efforts should be more “inclusive” and be directed to a more “diverse population” (CBC report).

Of course, their information about the disease is untrue. They found their information “on the internet”.

This example of a lack of academic integrity highlights some problems with our education system which does not bode well for the world wide future. First, how can a group of university students, (arguably brighter ones probably heading for a future in politics, public administration or business leadership), base their decisions on erroneous information from the internet, without any further research or even contacting the Canadian Cystic Fibrosis Association, StatsCan, or local medical establishments? Isn’t the declared reason for universities supposed to be to provide academic scholarship in training future citizens? Secondly, how far can “political correctness” go in affecting rationale decision making? (The lone student voting against the measure called it “political correctness gone horribly wrong”). Aren’t universities supposed to teach their students to critically consider information sources, to carry out research and debate ideas based on facts?

Maybe this is all making mountains out of molehills, but it is a story on the national stage, and I believe, just another example of an education system gone wrong. After all, this is a group of students making a deliberate decision that did not happen overnight. We may be seeing many examples of an education system wrongly rooted in the past: from business leaders or governments that seem to have never learned basic accounting (think Enron et al or the recent global economic calamity), to engineering mistakes that cause bridges to collapse from basic design flaws to very bad decisions concerning the environmental crises (think ethanol from food sources).

The question of the day is: how can we expect the right decisions to be made by politicos and business leaders when we can’t depend on tomorrow’s leaders having the right stuff to critically consider complex issues in an accelerated future? How do we know that decision makers will have the necessary scientific and technological literacy to make the right choices for the world wide future?

November 28, 2008 Posted by | education, future | , , , , , | Leave a comment

A call to arms for change in education

We live in a scientific and technological world…one affected daily by innovations in manufacturing, transportation, medicine, communications…every facet of our lives. In order to survive and thrive in today and tomorrow’s economy one must be scientifically and technologically literate. Scientific and technological literacy is about understanding how technology affects our society and our lives, and is about learning the skills to utilize technology effectively. It is about being better-informed consumers and producers; it is about finding one’s role in the infrastructure that makes our society run; it is about ensuring our economic future.

The consequences of a scientific and technological illiterate population are profound. Governments and corporations can “pull the wool over your eyes”, can obfuscate facts and get away with lies and misrepresentations. Look into any political campaign, and you will find loose facts and catering to the uninformed masses. The media can either be fooled, or can fool us, as to the workings of society, government and the planet. A looming environmental catastrophe can be glossed over a la whispering Jedi knight style: “There is nothing to be seen here, move on”. Statistics can be used and abused in endless ways; the daily news is full of so-called facts that the untrained eye or ear might not pick up. Look into the recent political campaigns in the US and Canada, once the ill managed banks and brokerages broke down everyone scrambled to play messiah…we will bring jobs! It is all about jobs! We will fix the [name your crises here]. Hard not to be cynical.

Without scientifically and technologically knowledgeable citizens, industry and businesses cannot find skilled employees. Without skilled and knowledgeable managers and administrators, companies lose direction or are misdirected. Money is wasted or lost, jobs are lost, and the economy suffers. Innovation goes elsewhere, and the best and the brightest goes where innovation lives. The right talent is not connected with the right career. Opportunities for the young in all destinations disappear; society lacks the means to maintain and grow.

Society has a role to play in preparing young people to be successful scientific and technologically literate citizens. (And yes, it is society, not just education that needs to play the role. If industry and business needs strong workers, then get involved and help teach, provide opportunities for experiential learning.

Through a strong and sustainable technological and scientific education, we can strengthen and build the human infrastructure of our society, and ensure a strong economic future. The old Industrial Age model of education, the well-oiled cookie-cutter stamping machine called public education has to finally go and be replaced by a future-thinking, adaptable, multi-pathway and experiential approach where learning the tools of inquiring science and technology is not optional.

Great grandmother and grandfather

My great grandfather, school headmaster Robert McAlister of Balleyclaire, Northern Ireland. Would he understand the needs of today's student?

We must take the necessary steps to ensure that all students have the opportunity to participate in a robust, consistent and sustainable technological and scientific education. A bright future for tomorrow’s leaders will be the result of concerted effort to provide a 21st century education that teaches today’s student to be adaptable, to be discerning, to be inquisitive. (Just ask the tigers and dragons of the east what that entails).

At least in America they have a “change they can believe in”, (we here in Canada have another 2-4 years of the same old story). Hopefully soon we will have a President Obama making the Dramatic Difference. Will it happen? Will the west return to historic engineering and heroic science? Will we go to the moon or remain stuck in the sands of the desert?

November 14, 2008 Posted by | education, future | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The 21st century can begin now

The Americans finally got it right. It seems that for a long time now we have lived in a world of deception and greed and suspicion and dirty tricks. The Bush years should be known as the Fortress America years. It felt like intelligence crawled under a rock and the sun was going to be forever hidden by cloud. But did you hear that? It was the collective giddy excitement felt around the world: the Americans got it right and elected someone we all felt they never would, an African-American clearly not of the ol’ boys club and a man of vision and hope for the future.

Remember the questions: “where were you when Kennedy was shot?” or “where were you when the planes hit the towers?” We will be saying “where were you when Barack Obama was elected President of the United States?” I have to beg forgiveness if it all sounds over-dramatic. Perhaps I am reading too much into it, but in talking to people one comes away with the feeling that the world has suddenly shifted. Only this time it suddenly radiated hope that the future is going to be brighter.

I envy the Americans and their history. Born in revolution against the rule of empire and a history lived through a spirit of individualism and freedom, their story is something to marvel at. But their recent history…the cynicism and pessimism of Nixon’s Watergate and Vietnam, of Clinton’s executive privilege and especially Bush’s unjust and unjustified war in Iraq had dimmed Liberty’s torch. It seemed to signal the end was at hand for the American century, and it was only a matter of time before a new world order, a dark one at that, would be taking over.

Obama ran a positive campaign of hope and promise, not once stooping to the negative sarcasm that characterized the Republican’s messages. Some people never learn. Whether Obama can live up to the image and the promise remains to be seen of course. But the tears in the eyes and the cheers worldwide and the joyful look of the people of Chicago that night in November said it all… at least for now we can all imagine the heavy weight has been lifted and the world-wide future awaits in anticipation. Perhaps we can now see the promise of the 21st century.

“If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time, who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.”

– Barack Obama November 4, 2008

Bravo Barack!

November 7, 2008 Posted by | politics | , , , , , | 2 Comments