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Tuesday, November 26, 2019

The Road To World Domination Lies Through Mass Education; Part II

Note: this post is a part of the series:

China v. The U.S.: The Battle Of Strategic Thinking


How can Microsoft keep growing if the market for office software and electronic devices is saturated with cheaper but yet high-quality programs and devices (e.g. from China or India)? The severe competition brings  profit margins to almost zero. The cloud business is still growing, but it also shows signs of saturation.

The answer is simple – do not look for new market areas, look for new market regions, where technologies that are abundant in developed countries are still in greatly underdeveloped state.

Africa! The place where Bill Gates already has set his foot.

Yes, there is a problem with Africa - Africa is poor. Not many people can afford a computer or a tablet.

Hence, give them something they can afford, something cheap, or even free. But what can be used like a computer or a tablet.

You got it!

A phone!

There are very cheap smartphones. Cellular infrastructure already exists and in a state of a fast development (a good area for an investment). What is needed is an ability to use a smartphone as a computer. For that, make a phone to be a remote terminal for connecting with a computer. Naturally, that requires development of interconnected cloud centers. And cheap but effective software (e.g. a lighter version of an existing remote desktop).

That will be a solid investment in the future infrastructure that will keep clients within its framework.


If you do it right, you can even revive a Windows phone (or a Fire phone, for that matter, if Jeff Bezos would be (a) fast enough to make the first move, and (b) had left any business interest beyond his idea-fix, i.e. leaving this planet for good).

The business project I just described illustrates the difference between “simple” and “easy”.

People often don’t see the difference between these two terms. But it is huge.

“Simple” means “the strategy to solve a problem and achieve a goal is clear”. The solution may have many steps, it may require a large volume of recourses, but it does not require a complex analysis for establishing what to do, and how to do it. The vast majority of actions are based on the existing experience, and require mostly just a certain modification of the previous experience to tune it up for the current situation. But the execution of the steps may not be “easy” because it may require a large amount of work of different type: organization, cooperation, coordination, etc.

“Simple” is opposite to “complex”, and “easy” is opposite to “hard”.

“Simple” and “easy” do not belong to the same axis. “Simple and “complex” represent two opposite extremes of one axis that describes a parameter called “complexity”.

“Hard” and “easy” represent two opposite extremes of one axis that describes a parameter called “difficulty” (or “effort”).

A problem can be simple to figure out how to solve it, but hard to execute the solution.

For example, development of a settlement on the Moon is a simple problem that is hard to solve. The development of a settlement on the floor of the ocean is a hard problem. Harder than a Moon mission. But still it is a simple problem. Scientists and engineers know - in principle - how to build complicated systems that can sustain pressure difference of one atmosphere (on the Moon), or even several atmospheres (in the ocean).

A complex problem is such that requires special mental activities leading to designing a possible strategy for solving that problem, because this particular problem or a similar one has not ever been solved before. “Complex” means “needs a lot of figuring out”.

Terms “simple” and “complex” or “complicated” are the terms that describe the type of mental work required to solve a problem and achieve a goal. “Simple” is based mostly on retrieving and repeating. “Complex” requires designing a solution to a problem (by figuring things out).

“Easy” or “hard” describe the amount of work and effort, the number of steps and actions, the volume of resources required to solve a problem.

Of course, there are gray areas where “hard” and “complex” overlap. And some problems that in principle are simple still may need a lot of figuring out on lower more detailed levels.

The point is that humans may be involved into two very different practices (sometimes at the same time):

·     A practice when activities are based mostly on retrieving from a memory (a.k.a. Google) an already existing strategy and then reenacting steps that has been used before for achieving a similar goal in a similar situation.

·     A practice that as a major activity requires initiating and conducting a process of designing a strategy that can be (hopefully) used to achieve a goal.

In order to be able to participate in these different practices, i.e. to enact activities required by these different practices, people must be immersed into different educational practices.

In simple words: an ability to participate in a specific human practice is defined by the education one receives.

Unfortunately, in the U.S. vast numbers of people, including politicians, parents and educators, simply have no idea what education is, what is it about, why it's important, and how to make mass education sufficient and efficient.

People who run different organizations or projects related to education very often have a very primitive view on education.

The vast majority of people, including general public, educators, administrators, businessmen and politicians confuse “I learned” with “I heard”. They don't know the difference between education and enlightenment.

For them “you are learning” means “you are listening/watching/reading”, and  “you learned something” means “you have received some information you have not had in your memory before”. How can that new information be used - that doesn't matter.

But what is the purpose of information if one cannot use it for anything?

Presenting new information to people is not education, it is enlightenment.

Being enlightened may feel good, but unless that enlightenment alters in any way existing activities, helps solve a new problem, helps achieve a new goal, or helps with achieving an old goal but in a better (more efficient, faster) way – those feelings are irrelevant.

Education must result in a new ability, a new skill. An educated person is a person who can perform new skills and demonstrate new abilities, skills and abilities the person did not have before the education happened. “I learned” means “I can demonstrate how I do something I could not do before”.

An educated person is more than just and erudite with an encyclopedia in his/her memory, more than just a knowledgeable person who can quickly retrieve from a memory various facts (people call this person “smart” and that is also a wrong term: What does it mean to be "smart?"). An educated person is more than someone who knows how to do things. An educated person is someone who can do things.

Remember when I wrote: “vast numbers of people have no idea what education is, what is it about, why it's important, and how to make mass education sufficient and efficient”?

There I used a tool writers call “exaggeration”.

Of course, there are people who write about education and say that education is not just about memorizing facts, it is about becoming a competent person. That is why those people invented a new term “a competency” to describe the learning goals and outcomes of education. Educated people are people who have specific competencies, who are competent in a specific professional areas.

But when we ask – how do we know if someone is competent?; how do we know if someone possesses required competencies? The answer inevitably goes down to asking a person “what do you know?”, and “what can you do?”. “Asking” means “testing”, “assessing”, “measuring”. That’s why it’s clear that any competency is just a set, a combination of specific knowledge and skills.

In theory, everyone immediately agrees that educated people – as the result of an educational practice – should be knowledgeable and skillful. But in reality, the vast majority of educational institutions focus much more on enlightening students than on developing a specific skill set. And this is a serious issue of the contemporary education.

Proponents of “knowledge economy” point at another serious issue; they stress that one of such skill sets that should be required for every graduate is to be composed of skills that allow graduates to manage knowledge, i.e. to manage information flaw; graduates need to be able to search for an information required for achieving a goal, and then to use that information for achieving a goal.

My distinction between “simple” and “easy” points at another, the third one, and the most serious issue of the contemporary education.

Even if all graduates will possess skills required to manage knowledge, they will be at risk of being replaced by “knowledge machines” (e.g. think Google AI that can do a search for an answer to any specific question).

Even though the knowledge economy has not yet taken over the large part of the largest economies, it has already become obsolete. At least, ideologically.

Existing vast data bases eliminate the need for very knowledgeable people, because anyone who can type in a question can find an answer to practically anything. And with the rise of AI, relatively soon the bulk of knowledge management will be done without human interaction (this side of the future is discussed in other posts, starting from The Road To World Domination Lies Through Mass Education; Part I).

A practice when activities are based mostly on retrieving from a memory (a.k.a. Google) an already existing strategy will be transferred over to AI. A practice required reenacting steps that has been used before for achieving a similar goal in a similar situation will be transferred over to robots.  

Any practice that is based on a search and application of existing patterns (mechanical and mental) eventually will be transferred over to machines.

The only human practice that will remain human will be a practice that as a major activity requires initiating and conducting a process of designing a problem-solving strategy.

Hence, the goal of all educational institutions will be (and already should be) helping students developing skills required for designing a problem-solving strategy required for achieving a specific goal or set of goals.

In a design economy all graduates will have to be designers (in their professional fields).

To achieve this level of education students have to go through specifically designed training.

Training people helping them to develop a set of specific professional skills (make them competent in a specific professional area) essentially is not much different from training circus animals do tricks; show, explain, repeat.

Training people how to design solutions to problems they have never solved before is very much different from training circus animals do tricks.

The way educators teach today will never help students to develop an ability to design solutions to problems they have never previously solved. For every individual, the process of learning evolves through three main stages: at first it is based mostly on receiving and processing information; then education requires practicing in using that information for achieving specific goals. This leads to the formation of specific professional competencies. But how to make the next step, how to transition to the third stage?

The answer is simple and it is based on one of the laws of TeachOlogy (“Fundamental Laws of TeachOlogy”).

People do not learn by watching, they learn by doing.

People only learn by participating in a practice they have to learn.

To learn something, one needs to be immersed in a practice one is learning.

Learning is not about how intelligent one is. Place a baby Einstein in jungles and let him be raised by monkeys. He will become the smartest monkey in the jungle. But he will remain a monkey. 

To learn how to talk one needs to talk. To learn how to swim one needs to swim. 

To learn how to design a solution to problems one has never solved before one has to be designing solutions to problems one has never solved before.

Teaching as a human practice that has been evolving for hundreds of thousands of years. The first type of teaching was a face-to-face demonstration of specific operations a master would show to a student - how to operate with given things, objects and then student would be practicing with operating those objects, and the master would be guiding, correcting student’s actions. This type of teaching is very well known and a still is broadly spread everywhere around the world – it’s called coaching, or a master class. The invention of writing, and then printing allowed masters to describe all their experience and detach that description from their personality. Books could represent knowledge, like names and pictures of things use for specific operations, the description of the steps in such operations leading to achieving specific goals. Such texts would be basically a collection of a recipes for specific actions in activities. Using words and diagrams would allow students to learn some skills without a face-to-face interaction with a master. Books allowed to significantly scale up the process of knowledge transfer. That has led to a significant increase in the speed of human progress.

One of the functions of education as a human practice is to establish sustainable transfer of knowledge from previous generations to a current generation. One of the main reasons for inventing education was simply to keep people from reinventing the wheel.

Let's say that everyone in the world is the absolute genius, but at the same time, every person is absolutely illiterate, meaning knows nothing. Since they all are geniuses, theoretically they could reinvent all the human knowledge. But that would take way too much time.

Over the period of decades, hundreds or even thousands of years, education practitioners streamlined the process of transmitting  knowledge; made it much more efficient than the process of reinventing that knowledge again. And now, the vast majority of educators spend the vast majority of time on making students to memorize facts and practice specific skills. Proponents of knowledge economy want teachers to focus their effort on training students how to manage information (e.g. how to search, organize, classify information).

But for the future economy, for a design economy, that is far from sufficient.

Since an ability for designing a process that will lead to achieving a specific goal will be becoming much more important than an ability to retrieve knowledge or to demonstrating a specific skill, educators must change the way they teach. And for that, teacher professional development field must also be transformed; at the minimum, it has to set aside significant amount of time for a teacher to practice in Professional Designing.

Learning has to lead to development of a strong ability for designing solutions to new problems.

As for any ability, the development of an ability for designing solutions to new problems has to start early. Sport coaches know that for many people starting late is too late (that is why many parents bring kids to a tennis court, or a swimming pool at a very early age).

This is because any human practice involves specific organs in a human body, and every human practice inevitably result in the use and development of those organs.

When one starts running, his/her legs get stronger, lungs get larger, a hart gets stronger. And, in turn, this allows one runs faster. There is a feedback circle between using body organs for some activity and developing those organs during that activity.

This shows another extremely important role of a learning process, i.e. to expand abilities of people via developing abilities of organs involved in those activities.

In part, learning expands an ability to learn.

Learning is happening in a brain (among other organs). Learning is affecting a brain, its structure. Essentially, learning is changing states of existing neural elements and connections, and making new neural connections between existing elements (more on that is in "Three Lessons From Neurology To Science Teachers", and "What Does a Teacher Need To Know About a Brain?").

A brain is a physiological basis of learning (like legs are physiological basis of running); it acts like a muscle, it evolves like a muscle, it improves like a muscle, it can be damaged like a muscle, it ages like a muscle.

The process of learning affects how brain functions, affects its structure.

Different learning exercises, different learning activities advance a brain in a way, similar to how different physical exercises advance physical state of a human body, affect different organs of a body.

This role of learning is absolutely crucial for the development of a design ability.

At an early age, during the first fifteen to twenty years, child development goes naturally fast; all organs in a body, including a brain, can be easily formed and developed. With an age muscles, bones, and brain become stiffer and stiffer. Developing all organs, including a brain, becomes harder and harder; most efforts go into keeping organs in a good shape, preventing organs from regression, degradation.

A mental activity of designing a solution to a problem one has never solved before, and representing that solution in textual and/or symbolic form, inevitably involves manipulating with a variety of mental objects, including creating and assessing various possibilities for future actions. That activity simple cannot be conducted in a brain, by a brain that is incapable of manipulating with several mental objects at the same time. 

When after a third statement a student  forgets what was the first one, this student will not be able to design a complicated train of thoughts. 

Another important professional ability - multi-tasking - is also based on the highly developed brain structure. Multi-tasking is merely an ability to switch between different mental tasks. When a brain is processing information related to one task, the regions in a brain devoted to another tasks remain idle. When needed, one can make a switch, make another region idle. But that is possible ONLY when a brain has such a capability. If switching to another task erases information about the previous task it only leads to a growing number of incomplete tasks.

And the ability to become a moral person is also available only to people with a developed brain. In order to follow "The Golden Rule" one needs - at the minimum - to be able to place himself/herself in someone else's shoes. That requires imagination. Imagination requires developed brain. In general, imagination is the most important mental ability of all. No type of designing is possible without imagination. Unfortunately, mass education not just ignores development of imagination, it stifles it. And watching TV shows, movies, or paling video games do NOT help ID (imagination development). The best three practices for ID are (1) reading, (2) writing (or story telling), (3) games required role playing (e.g. a theater).

Every healthy person, if starts learning early, can learn how to juggle with two or three balls. Learning that at an old age is much harder, and for some people even impossible.

Every healthy person, if starts learning early, can learn how to juggle with many mental objects. Learning that at an old age is much harder, and for some people even impossible.

The 9th Law of TeachOlgy states: “If the only exercise students had been doing for 12 years is squats, they will not be good at push-ups and pull-ups. Do not expect from students an ability to think if all the had to do for 12 years was memorizing facts and rules.” 

That is why schools must start teaching students how to design solutions to new problems at a very early age. If it’s late, it is too late.

Education for the future must begin today.

Nowadays only elite schools can offer the type of education required for succeeding in design economy.

In regular schools the main learning practice is memorization, and because of that a brain does not get to develop structures required for ability to design solutions to new problems (on the TOP of required knowledge and skills, not instead of those).

In elite schools, children may be involved in many different activities, including learning how to play a music instrument, participating in a school theater, joining a fencing team, etc.

The more different activities – the better for a brain development. It’s no coincidence than many famous physicists also plaid some music instrument.

The race for economic prosperity will be won by a country with the best system of mass education. And that system must teach students important facts and skills, but also should help them develop an ability for designing solutions to new problems.

As I mentioned in The Road To World Domination Lies Through Mass Education; Part I, the central figure of such education system is to be a good teacher; i.e. a teacher who himself/herself possess the knowledge of important/required facts and skills, but also has a developed ability for designing solutions to new problems.

By the way: the obsession of our Earthy billionaires with a space exploration only proves again the fact that they always focus their attention only on simple problems, at least simple in principle. Because they all have a very primate view on education (“Learned” = “Heard”), they just cannot envision the complexity of the education system. If they could, they would share some of their attention to at least one of the projects critical for reforming education.
This is also a proof of the fact that “rich” does not necessary mean “smart”. As Bill Maher said once: “People have to get over this idea that because the guy is rich he’s that smart”.

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