How can we revolutionize education?

How can we revolutionize education?

Education is an important factor in improving intelligence. Therefore, it is not wrong to say that intelligence cannot be exercised without education.

I have many questions about education. Can education be accomplished by anyone?

I consider education to mean developing the ability to acquire information. After all, being taught by someone means acquiring information just like learning from reading a book.

Therefore, nurturing the ability to acquire information should be the most important part of education.

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Your posts are very interesting and cover important topics. Education is possibly the most important topic of the last millennia, since the emergence of writing, and perhaps even before that.

I don’t think education should focus on transmitting knowledge, information or data (and these 3 levels of data organization are quite different). I think we can distinguish between education, training and dressage. We can consider other levels as well, of course, but I think these 3 cover a large part of the cases.

Dressage is used in most universities (in my country, at least) and in the most basic courses. The person gets some rewards for repeating some tricks. It’s a little worse than real training, because in training the animal usually remembers the tricks, but at school and university a person just pretends to have memorized the trick to pass an exam, then the vast majority of people (much more than 90%) forgets and never uses it again in more than 95% of the contents. This is a complete disaster, because there is a huge waste of time and resources with people pretending to teach and others pretending to learn, but in reality they are only acting to meet bureaucratic demands and to do well in UNESCO rankings and political propaganda.

Training (training) can be similar to dressage, I find it difficult to specify the difference, but I would say that dressage has a more primitive level, more wild animal, while training (training) is closer to the human level or machine learning, in some ways is more “civilized”. But I don’t know whether this distinction is appropriate. For example, an MMA fighter or a soldier is trained, while a dog or a horse is trained. But what fundamentally differs in training and dressage? In my opinion, the difference is that the dog and the horse receive rewards and punishments associated with certain behaviors and tasks, without explicit language that communicates exactly to them what they should do to receive the reward. Instead, they try to infer which behaviors generate rewards and which behaviors generate punishments. They don’t understand the meanings of instructions, words, they don’t understand a phrase like “roll over on the floor”, but they memorize the sound “roll on the floor” and associate the fact that after hearing this sound they need to perform a certain task , and so they will receive a cookie, otherwise they will get a lash.

If you use the words “role” and “floor” in a different context, they will not be able to understand, these words do not have an intelligible meaning for them. In this training process, there is a very elementary association between two elements of two sets. One element is the phrase “roll on the floor”, it is an indivisible element, the separate parts of which have no meaning for them. And the other element is the motor action they need to have in response to that stimulus. It is different from the soldier, who learns the meanings of gun, carbine, revolver, ammunition, kitten, aim, shoot, etc., and he is able to combine these words in different ways to understand different instructions. If he receives the instruction “roll over on the ground” or the instruction “lie down on the ground and then rotate the body around the longitudinal axis” or just “lay down on the ground and then rotate the body”, the soldier will know what to do. do, but the dog does not. This allows training to reach a level of sophistication, depth and complexity greater than dressage. In addition, it allows the reuse of what has been trained for application in situations other than those in which the training was performed, while dressage is less versatile. A dog trained to help a blind person cross the street can be trained on just a few streets and know how to behave on a wide variety of streets different from the ones it was trained on, but if it changes small details that require a little more thought for the adaptation, he may have great difficulty adapting what he has memorized in training to deal with the “new” situation.

In general, I would say that training allows broader generalizations to deal with new situations more different from those in which the training was carried out, while training is much more limited to make efficient generalizations in new situations.

Incredibly, much of what is done in universities (at least in Brazil) is training. The person can use a formula and perform some arithmetic operations, can repeat some tasks, but he does not understand what he is doing, nor can he associate the numbers in the formula with the corresponding physical entities, nor does he perceive the relationships between the elements of the formula with physical processes and natural phenomena. Of course, she knows the names of the physical entities being represented, but she doesn’t really understand almost anything, it’s all an act to make it look like she’s learning something, when in fact she’s just repeating tasks she’s been trained to do. . She literally doesn’t understand what she’s doing. This happens with much more than 90% of Physics and Engineering students in the largest universities in Brazil, and much worse in other courses. I used Physics and Engineering as examples because maybe they are the courses with the most sensible students. Of course, there are sensible students and professors in Medicine, Chemistry, Mathematics, etc., but my impression is that in Engineering and Physics there is a higher percentage of people (perhaps 5%) who understand what they are doing, rather than just mechanically repeating tasks. . Even so, those who understand what they do represent a very small portion of the total.

While this problem is obvious, it took many years before anyone realized the disaster and made a review that received attention. Probably several have been critical but have been ignored, because most academics don’t like to admit these things, preferring to sweep the problem under the rug rather than accept the facts and try to fix it. When Feynman was in Brazil in the 1950s and criticized this, there was no way to ignore his statements, so they pretended they were outraged, made some shallow speeches of empty rhetoric, and it all stayed the same 70 years later. Here’s a summary of the problem, from Feynman’s point of view: THE PROBLEM OF TEACHING PHYSICS IN LATIN AMERICA but it’s a pretty generous summary and full of understatements. The real situation is much worse than what is described in this text.

So we come to the point where I would like to comment. I don’t think education is “transmitting information” or “transmitting knowledge”. I think that’s part of it too, but it should be a secondary part of that process. I think education is (or should be) something similar to Socratic maieutics, in which the person is encouraged to think, understand and discover. She may be given some guidance in this discovery process, but she should not be given ready-made information. He must first make some effort to try to deduce how the world works, because in life that is what he will need to do to contribute to the development of Science and the evolution of civilization. Learning is very important, because she shouldn’t waste months or years trying to reinvent fire-producing techniques, if solutions already exist. But she needs to get used to thinking scientifically, to create heuristics, strategies, processes that help to find solutions to what she would like to know or what she needs to know. Did the person in ancient Egypt or ancient Greece look at the Moon, the Sun, the stars, the clouds and wonder how far away these objects were? What are they made of? Why don’t they fall? Why do they move? Why are the motions reasonably regular but not perfectly regular? That is, why are they not well described by a simple model that allows them to accurately predict their positions?

A person can just look and admire the beauty of the Moon or the Milky Way and compose poems for his girlfriend, that’s the most natural thing. But it’s not the most important thing. The important thing is to try to understand how things work and why they are the way they are, to try to generalize and predict behavior. Agriculture exists thanks to the understanding of the rules that determine the apparent movements of the Sun; communication satellites, TV, the Internet and the globalized world exist thanks to a more complete and deeper understanding of the apparent motion of the Sun and planets.

So the person in ancient Greece realizes that clouds can pass in front of the Moon, but the Moon never passes in front of the clouds. Mountains can be in front of or behind clouds, but the Moon can never be in front of mountains or clouds. This could lead to an initial hypothesis that clouds are always closer than the Moon. It is noticed that some clouds pass in front of the others, therefore they must not be at the same distance, but they all pass in front of the Moon. This interpretation that closer objects must pass in front of more distant ones is “naive”, but at first we have to start with something. This assumption implicitly assumes that light always moves in a straight line, which is false, but it applies to the vast majority of cases. If there were a supermassive black hole nearby, and we could look at the light emitted by the superheated plasma in the accretion disk around it, we could see the part of the disk that is on the back side of the event horizon, because the light has curved and gone. turned towards our eyes. So the fact that we see clouds always in front of the Moon or mountains always in front of the Moon is not a guarantee that the clouds are closer. But for an initial stage of more basic analysis, we can assume this hypothesis, and later recap it to see if this hypothesis remains consistent with progressively more sophisticated models of representing reality.

We can do some tests to investigate whether light actually moves in a straight line, at least in our immediate surroundings. Just put your hand in front of the sun, or in front of a fire, and project shadows, many shadows with different configurations of the fingers, and check if the projected shadows were images consistent with the hypothesis of linear propagation of light. After many tests, it can be assumed that this is a very reasonable hypothesis. Then one can make other conjectures, about how the “size” of the white part of the Moon varies as a function of the angular distance to the Sun, and one can assume that it does not emit light, like the Sun, but only reflects its light. During eclipses, this hypothesis could reasonably be corroborated. Combining this knowledge with a little Geometry, one can deduce Hipparchus’ method and calculate the distance from the Moon, with an error of less than 15%. There are several criticisms that could be leveled at Hipparchus’ method. For example: when trying to catch a fish with the hand, after several attempts, it is noticed that the real position of the fish is different from the position we see where the fish would be if the light always propagated in a straight line. When you put your hand in the water, you can see this effect. Refraction was not well known at that time, but it was already known that such phenomena could occur in different transparent media, and it was also known, since Ctesibio, that we are immersed in an atmospheric fluid, and this could arouse suspicion that there is refraction, and this refraction could be more intense near the horizon, since the air mass is thicker, so Hipparchus’ measurements with the Moon near the horizon could present distortions.

Not only that, but a number of other points could be criticized, as in Eratosthenes’ famous experiment, and many others. But it doesn’t matter so much that there are some imperfections. The important thing is that the method is both ingenious and fundamentally valid, making it possible, for the first time, to determine the correct order of magnitude of the distance to the Moon, based on a concrete calculation, rather than a random guess or philosophical speculation. This is the main point, which shows a way to discover probable “truths” about the world, solving problems that were open, that many others had already thought about, but had not found an answer, or that many had dealt with. that, without realizing that there was a problem to be solved. Hipparchus determined the distance of the Moon, something that might seem impractical, since you can’t stretch a tape there to measure, and more difficult than that, there were no accurate and precise clocks to make a measurement by the parallax method ensuring simultaneity of the measurements. comments. So he took advantage of the occurrence of an eclipse, which “guaranteed” a satisfactory level of simultaneity.

Education should primarily help people to do this. First, they should ask themselves how things work. Formulating hypotheses, testing those hypotheses, selecting the most plausible hypothesis in best agreement with observation, maintaining skepticism about the extent to which the hypothesis is valid because it has been corroborated in some experiments, relating some knowledge to others, and using this to discover new facts about how everything works, and thus expand knowledge.

Of course, only a very small fraction of the population would ever use education at this level. Most would work at the plow, trade, weave, repeating manual tasks, etc. This is also important and necessary for the civilization mechanism to work. If there is no one planting and transporting the food, the scientist will not have time to produce Science because he himself will have to spend his time planting and harvesting. If there is no one to produce experiments and do the tedious work of tabulating the data, as Tycho Brahe did, that data would not be available for Kepler to test his hypotheses and do his calculations, so Kepler himself would need to collect and tabulate the data, and a lifetime might not be enough to complete both works, including because it would need to build the instruments used to collect the data, among other things. That’s why everyone’s collaboration, in different roles, is very important. But the big problem is that the university does not deal precisely with the part that should receive the most attention, which is intellectual creation. The university trains and trains people in the manual work of building houses, buildings, automobiles, computers, writing and transmitting news, writing and enforcing laws, etc., but it is not concerned with stimulating and guiding the production of innovations that are engine of progress, and it was thanks to this engine that we left caves to explore other planets, to transplant organs and build synthetic intelligent organisms. If humanity did exclusively what is “taught” in universities, we would still be living like nomads, just repeating what our ancestors told us, without even checking if what they “taught” are good representations of reality.

That’s why education, in my view, should primarily focus on understanding the importance of invention and discovery, with constant incentives for solving problems that involve deep thinking and creativity. It should not fail to promote other training activities, as it has been doing, as these are also necessary. The problem is to focus exclusively on these mechanical tasks of repetition of information, completely neglecting the promotion of innovation.

It is interesting that the main discoveries of Newton and Einstein took place outside the University, while Newton was at the farm, while Einstein was working in a patent office. Perhaps a systematic statistical survey shows that most innovative intellectual production takes place within universities, I would not be able to say. But even though most intellectual creations take place within universities, there are MANY great discoveries taking place outside the academic environment. When Stephen Smale was on the beaches of Rio de Janeiro, he commented that he had made some of his main discoveries. Serendipity is a very common phenomenon, but much misunderstood and misused.

Education is a topic that concerns me a lot, and I think it is conducted at a very low standard of quality. A lot would need to be changed for the quality to be considered “low”. The current quality is much worse than that, it’s something that maybe doesn’t even have a name, or has a name so ugly it’s better not to say.

There is a lot to be modified, from the most fundamental foundations. Debureaucratization is perhaps one of the most important items. A comprehensive distance learning program as well. One of the points cited by Kim is precisely “Can education be performed by anyone?” I think so, but with very different levels, both the teacher and the learner, there is a very wide distribution of skill levels. And one of the great advantages of distance learning is that 10 or 20 excellent teachers can teach billions of people, or at least millions. In a classroom with 30 to 300 students the limitation is much more severe. There are not enough excellent teachers in the world to serve in every school.

Another big advantage of distance learning is the elimination of the need for school. Why a school? People can learn in a discussion group, with some reference videos or reference texts. This avoids many mistakes and vices that often occur in classrooms. I will describe how a class works in Brazil: there is a table and a chair for the teacher. This is already absurd. This chair shouldn’t exist. The teacher should not be seated. But I will continue the description: the teacher enters, greets the students (not always), sits in the chair and spends a few minutes doing nothing. Then he spends a few minutes checking which students are present in the room, chatting a bit about irrelevant topics. Then he opens the book, tries to locate where he had stopped in the previous “class”, and calls a student to go and copy the contents of the book on the blackboard, while the other students copy what is written on the blackboard in their notebooks. This is called “class”. To me this is a fraud, a complete deception. This has examples of real classes: For the Love of Physics - Walter Lewin - May 16, 2011 - YouTube but you don’t see anything like this in “classes” in more than 99.99% of schools in Brazil and maybe the world. I’m not saying these video lessons are good or great. But at least they have the didactic structure and dynamics of a real class. It’s not a fraud. What I consider a good class is this: Cosmos - Carl Sagan - 4th Dimension - YouTube

Without much antics, without much spectacle or jokes, without wasting time, focusing on what needs to be explained, a didactic, clear, concise exposition. How many classes are like this? Very few. And those few should be recorded and broadcast all over the world. The number of people who prepare classes with this quality standard is very small, so there would not be enough teachers for all universities or colleges. So teaching should be at a distance.

There are several other points I’d like to address, but I think I’ve devoted quite a bit of time to that today. Maybe next time I’ll comment more.

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Revolution in education is already happening due to internet penetration. While previous generations grew up in conditions of information hunger, the mind of today’s youth has become a battlefield for their attention. When social media alhorithms value user’s engagement, the most emotionally engaging content propagates better. Fake news and propaganda leaves little space for useful knowledge.
The informational hygiene and critical thinking is of outmost importance now. And the beauty of the situation is that the necessity to avoid biases and simultaneously ponder multiple versions directly helps in forming scientific mind.