Monday, May 27, 2013

On learning

For several years now, I have noticed that systems of formal education globally appear skewed. Specifically, interests in "learning" do not seem to match interests in "managing education".

Today I came across an article in the Economist from 2010 titled The disposable academic: Why doing a PhD is often a waste of time. It discusses the contention between academia and productive work particularly from the perspective of PhD programs.

Here is one quote:
There is an oversupply of PhDs. Although a doctorate is designed as training for a job in academia, the number of PhD positions is unrelated to the number of job openings. Meanwhile, business leaders complain about shortages of high-level skills, suggesting PhDs are not teaching the right things. The fiercest critics compare research doctorates to Ponzi or pyramid schemes.
Either my eyes are opening up to global debates, or this debate is getting louder globally. Whatever the situation, it is encouraging to see the concern being recognized at different levels - in this article's case, at very advanced levels - of academia.

I imagine that the following questions could be asked to potentially yield some solutions:
  1. What does the industrial world want to know?
  2. How do academic systems and employment systems communicate?
  3. What industrial examples or cases are provided in academia?
  4. Where do find the "real world" as opposed to the "non-real world"?
  5. Why do we learn?
Question 1 concerns demand for knowledge. In what areas are new knowledge needed most? Why are these areas in the greatest need for new knowledge? How will new knowledge help us advance as a society in those areas?

Question 2 concerns how academia understands employment and how employment understands academia. Do career experts in schools and universities have a keen eye of where students can be most productive? Likewise, do HR managers keep in touch with schools to either recruit or suggest curriculum changes to suit industry standards?

Question 3 concerns how curriculum relate to where people work outside schools and universities. If they are unrelated, how do students bridge the gap between school and the street? Where they are related, do they relate geographically, chronologically, scientifically or otherwise?

Question 4 concerns the definition of "real world". We have all heard this term being used in situations of learning. But is learning itself not an everyday, physical, observable and therefore "real" pursuit? If not, what distinguishes the "non-real" from the "real"?

Finally, question 5 concerns the definition of learning. From what I understand, we learn to be productive citizens in society. We learn so we can create valuable things for society. But where students - even those who are the best in their class - fail to directly contribute to society, we must ask ourselves, what did they learn for? 

My suspicion is that the business of schooling is a thriving business and will not cease to exist in the next 10-25 years. It may evolve in this time, however, into something that is more demand-driven. It may take into account both, the demands of students on what and how they want to learn, and the demands of industrial society on what they need learned. In this time, I hope we can find a way to bring schooling back to learning for doing rather than continuing to make school a divergent kind of work in and of itself. 

Friday, May 10, 2013

Replicability implies continuity

The scientific method ensures that the system of building knowledge respects what has been built already; what continues to prove existing theory is retained, what breaks it is further investigated.

The further investigation aspect has to do with replicability. A scientific experiment should be able to be tested repeatedly, otherwise it is merely a one-off activity that cannot do much to established knowledge.

But replicability is often taken for granted. Our experiments assume that our version of time is continuous, ever-lasting and indefinite.

Can we help it?

Even under the assumption that time is continuous, things change over time. Value increases or decreases based on prevailing circumstances.

Does this change affect any part of the scientific method?

There is a clause in proofs - "ceteris paribus" or "all other things being equal" - that is a slight fix for the assumption that time will not change value. But this clause is also the extra, unexciting part of proofs.

Why, then, are we convinced that tomorrow will come and we can continue as we have done today?