Education in the ever-changing world

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Mr Vladimir G. Kinelev

(former Minister of Education of the Russian Federation)
UNESCO Institute for Information Technologies in Education
Russian Federation
Esteemed Mister Chairman!

Ladies and gentlemen, colleagues!

The Second International Congress "Ethical, Legal and Societal Challenges of Cyberspace" is held at the dawn of the third millennium and therefore we have perhaps the last chance in this century for us to gather here today and jointly try and take a look into the future in an attempt to define the key features of the human civilisation in the coming 21st century.
The advent of the new millennium should not be perceived as just another divide in the calendar of history. It is a major divide, which urges us to reflect on the past and on the meaning of life, to try and discern the contours of the future, and, most important of all, to unite our efforts to create a better future for all those living on this beautiful and unique planet Earth.
When discussing global issues of social development, including education, that humanity will have to address in the 21st century, we shall first of all answer the question: What is the significance of the age as the prelude for the new era? Which part of its legacy will be carried over into the future and which will be left behind?
I would hope to be right in suggesting that one of the defining features of contemporary life, and increasingly of the future, is the accelerated pace of change. The world never stands still. Its swift changeability has turned into a constituent feature of global historical development. Even in private life, change tends to oust continuity and stability. We have entered a transitional period marked not just by the calendar watershed but by a historical divide beyond which there lies a lot of uncertainty.
The current pace and magnitude of change break the traditional framework of historical gradation. The essence of our era can no longer be conveyed by the same category of era as implied in 'the era of steam', 'the era of electricity', or 'the era of great geographical discoveries'. For the first time in the history of our civilisation, generations of products and ideas come and go faster than generations of people succeed one another. Moreover, changeability reveals itself through unparalleled diversity, thus making it impossible to define our era through any single event or development in the life of society.
One of the most complex contemporary problems to be solved by humanity is Man in the changing world. Today, Man has become the main factor of development as well as the main risk factor. For centuries people had to adjust to nature and social changes, accumulating in the process institutional, technological and intellectual potential. As a result the magnitude of this potential has reached global proportions, and people have been taken hostage of the artificial nature created by them. Consequently, a fundamental and equally destructive incongruity between human existence and the global scale of the supernatural powers and possibilities available to people has become apparent.
The degree of success in solving this problem, as is generally believed, largely depends and will increasingly depend, on educational and cultural standards in society. By the end of the 20th century there has developed an awareness of the profound intrinsic dependence of our civilisation's progress on the qualities and competencies shaped by education. That applies to all aspects of life - economic, political and social. Democratic participation and responsible political decision-making will bear fruit provided the debate on genuine education is won.
The thing is that the instrumental possibilities of modern thinking have acquired global proportions. They contain both, unprecedented potential and new threats. Which of the two will prevail in reality largely, if not decisively, depends on education and educational institutions. Here lies the risk. But it is here that there is hope!
The historically unprecedented combination of changeability, fast growing technosphere and new risks and contradictions in the development of human civilisation sets the task of searching for a new world order. Many modern thinkers contend that humanity is undergoing a phase of cultural transition. It is characterised by the following significant factors. First, humanity is striving to forge a new basis for unity. It involves not only a single world market or a unified political order. It embraces a growing spiritual unity within diversity of peoples and cultures. Second, a new image of science is taking shape. Science attempts to find a new basis for universality by overcoming the traditional alienation of the natural sciences from the humanities. Third, the relation between the artificial and the natural, that is between the human civilisation and nature, is being redefined. And, finally, fundamental restructuring of education is taking place world-wide. Trying to meet the requirements of the cultural transitional period, the educational sphere absorbs and passes over to the younger generation the characteristic elements of this transition, such as new humanism, a new image of science, and a new understanding of the relationship between civilisation and nature.
Therefore, I believe, it will not be an exaggeration to contend that the creation of the educational system capable of preparing humanity to life in the changing world is one of the most crucial and urgent tasks of modern society. Education is the only saving grace in overcoming the global crisis of modern civilisation, creating necessary conditions for its survival today, and its sustainable development in future.
Hence the question: What will the 21st century education be like? What demands shall be made on education to help people adjust to the new, swiftly changing conditions of their life? What can be done today to meet those demands adequately?
It is my opinion that the key features of the evolving educational system shall be:

  1. Switching over from 'teaching' to 'education'.

  2. Stronger bias towards fundamental knowledge and development of an individual's creative potential.

  3. Utilisation of new information technology in the selection, accumulation, systematisation, and transfer of knowledge.

To educate or to teach? Present-day educationalists often use these terms interchangeably as if they were absolute synonyms. In fact, 'educating' is not identical with teaching, the difference lying in the quality of the result achieved. 'Teaching' is geared towards transfer of particular and therefore limited knowledge and skills. This approach has a long-standing tradition. The contemporary version of this type of school instruction can be defined as algorithmic-instructive method. The use of this method in conjunction with modern information technology has not helped free up talents and aptitudes of school students so far, which is indicative of the fact that teaching as a form of transferring and accumulating knowledge is naturally handicapped. In other words, traditional teaching as a form of communicating knowledge is running out of potential. It is high time we looked for new solutions.
In this context education, if broadly treated, may release new sources of comprehensive development of an individual and help the progress of science. To this end, the information block of science should be divided into a few intersecting units. One of them is the traditional communication of knowledge about the universe arranged in an orderly manner. We call this kind of knowledge 'knowledge as description' for it contains information about individual objects studied, and as such either sidetracks or completely excludes the idea of holistic knowledge. But there exists another kind of knowledge, 'knowledge as an instrument' which incorporates cognition strategies and shapes thought adequately reflecting the whole of the environment, and not just its individual objects of study. This type of knowledge cannot be confined to a single science framework. It is trans-scientific for it rests on the methodological groundwork and meets humanitarian ideals. 'Knowledge as an instrument' opens up new opportunities to create a holistic picture of the world which is the reflection of 'knowledge as description'. The former cannot be automatically assimilated. Nor can it be just passed on by the teacher to an inactive student, for it is generated by the student himself as a result of his inner creative activity. It is the product of evolution and self-orderliness of the human intelligence. The teacher's role is to awake the student's intellect and to show him or her models of holistic thinking.
Unlike traditional teaching, education aims at mastering 'knowledge as an instrument' and forming a holistic picture of the world, thus shaping the versatile mind to respond adequately to the non-classical complexity of the world. It is this type of knowledge that will enable Man to perceive himself as an integral part of the environment responsible for the harmonious relationship between Nature and himself and to appreciate science as a tool to achieve harmony. The new educational paradigm can consequently be defined as a logically connected triad 'From a holistic world to holistic knowledge, and via it to a holistic personality'.
One of the major objectives in the development of education at its new stage is to overcome the historically formed alienation of the natural sciences from the humanities. The two culture components should enrich each other to ease the search for establishing holistic culture at the new stage of civilisation development.
Scientific knowledge as a constituent element of culture comprises objective data of the world, whereby Man who possesses cognitive power acts as a collective explorer of its laws. Consequently, science can be identified with culture as the content of the former reflects and reproduces Man's potential to use his knowledge of the Universe via education. On the other hand, it is necessary to point out that cultural milieu is formed and reproduced by people who were not trained but Educated. A Personality is born and develops as a result of this interaction.
The new socio-economic situation makes it also possible to find new resolution of the eternal controversy over basic education and vocational training. The emphasis laid on training students in particular speciality reflects the level of understanding of social security in the previous decades. The situation is different today. Knowledge and professionalism as products of quality education leading to success in life, tend to give way to the development of an individual's creative potential. As development based on the predominant use of an individual's abilities to do physical work is being supplanted by that relying on the use of the individual's cultural and intellectual potential, education is gaining pre-eminence.
Social security can be guaranteed only to a comprehensively educated person capable of doing different jobs in order to meet the requirements of the latest technologies and the market. Specificity of new educational system should consist in its ability not only to transfer knowledge to the student, but to enable the student to keep abreast with the ideas and discoveries, and develop his ingenuity through self-education. That becomes particularly evident with the development of Lifelong education which is getting more fundamental and universal.
Also it is very important to point out that the content of education needs innovation to allow adequacy of one's perception of modern science development. I would compare the content of present day education with 'Ariadne's clue' that may lead us out of the labyrinth of demands and pressures of everyday life.
In this context both disciplinary and trans-disciplinary courses of study acquire paramount importance. They contain most fundamental knowledge on the basis of which one can mould his or her general and professional culture, promptly adjust himself or herself to new occupations and professions, as well as new specializations. In fact, knowledge contained in the new courses of study is, first, designed to develop an encyclopaedically broad and holistic world outlook in an individual to let him gain a foothold in this world. Second, it helps bridge the gap between various disciplines.

Eventually education will become a social institute providing people with various educational opportunities. With this end in view school and university curricula should be diversified to enable everyone to make up their own educational trajectory in compliance with their aptitudes, thus creating the basis to implement the principle Education for all.

So, at the turn of the century the task is to search for an adequately structured educational system and its institutions to secure transition from the principle 'Education for life' to the principle 'Education throughout life'.

State-of-the-art methods of information technologies permit of successful application in education to release the creative potential of the student. It is the new information technologies that will help us to build up an open educational system. The open educational system will bring about dramatic change in the technology of obtaining knowledge owing to more efficient organisation of students' cognitive activities. This change is effected through the use of computers and their very important didactic characteristic of individualising the classroom work without disrupting its entirety, via programmed and adaptable curricula.
I find it necessary to point out that transition to cyberspace shifts the basic educational reference points: from the linear to matrix presentation of information, from live mathematics to image-bearing, semiotic and linguistic mathematics, to mathematics of thinking and communication. Parallel to education as a means of preparing students for life, cyberspace, as another educational milieu, is developing. The basic works of Vygotsky, Piaget and Bruner gave rise to the term interiorisation of physical objects, which suggests our creating 'psychic' equivalents of the latter as 'conceptual' models to be further used to construct variants of our own internal reality or virtual realities. Cyberspace prompts a reverse process, which could be called exteriorisation: models of the physical world build up in the human mind and are let out into cyberspace.
Telecommunication technologies based on tele-networks and intellectual computer systems open up new opportunities for both teachers and students. Amalgamation of these networks and systems make up the basis of Infosphere, the planet's new infrastructure. The infosphere envelops the whole of civilisation and fills its every pore. It also shapes its own, rather exclusive world and a community of those initiated. The makers of the infosphere share a new way of thinking, new ethical norms, and transformed culture of understanding. The advance of infosphere gets us to face the phenomenon of super-biological and, probably, super-psychological change in a human being. The computer and information technologies do not merely enhance intellect, they designate new dimensions of the human mind. Live communication, inseparable from information technologies, binds these dimensions together to produce an orderly system of new culture.
Computer technologies facilitate educational opportunities and assist an individual in perfecting his perceptions. Computer technologies have become instrumental in the rapidly developing art of filming the world's masterpieces, thus making them available to millions of people throughout the world. Colourful pictures of works of architecture, sculptures and paintings, grouped thematically and accompanied by cleverly made up texts and beautiful music make a strong emotional effect on the student, develop his or her artistic taste and at the same time enable the student to learn more about culture, arts and the history of humankind. It goes without saying that all these advantages are to be made use of in education of the future.
At the same time we should proceed on the understanding that it is necessary to develop in an individual a very special perception of his or her habitat, which comprises both objects of the physical world and the ideas of these objects in the human mind as well as the system of ideas in information space. It is the most interesting and mysterious interaction that is going on between the psychic space and cyberspace.
The present level of development of information and communication technologies provides a realistic basis for creating a global system of distance education. Regardless of the physical distance, new information technologies ensure the kind of direct communication between the teacher and the student, which has always been characteristic of full-time education as well as its undeniable advantage. In future the development of distance education shall result in the set-up of the so-called electronic distributive libraries and universities as a basis for a single educational space serving the world community and, in particular, those of its members who are for that or this reason are deprived of free access to education. In this context the UNESCO Learning Without Frontiers programme the main goal of which is preparation of people for living in the learning societies of the 21st century is of paramount importance.
At the closing of the second millennium the words said by Ch.M.Talleyrand almost two hundred years ago have not lost their significance:
Education is a truly special State, the influence of which cannot be defined by a single person, and even national authorities are unable to delimit its frontiers: the sphere of its influence is immense, it is infiniteā€¦
Today this great State reveals to the world its high standards of 'statesmanship', which is capable of mediating rampant passions and intractable contradictions not by the means of weapons but intellect.
When assessing the important role of UNESCO in development of information and communication technologies Director-General of UNESCO Mr Federico Major pointed out that:
In all UNESCO's fields of competence, the new information and communication technologies constitute a major opportunity and major challenge for international co-operation.

They are an opportunity for the increased exchange of knowledge and know-how, for the promotion of creativity and intercultural dialogue, for enhanced civic participation, and for greater understanding among nations. The new technologies don't allow to increase the gap between the industrialised and developing countries.

In order to exploit effectively those opportunities, such new fields as computer psychology, computer didactics and computer ethics shall be better explored and employed by educationists. Already at this stage developers of new and promising information and communication technologies shall be oriented towards the practical application of the results focusing not only on their technical possibilities, but also on broader cultural, educational and ethical goals.
Evolution of information society will entail a dramatic change in production and business activities, as well as in a larger social context. Succeeding generations will face the challenge of adjusting to new social environment wherein information and scientific knowledge will replace the matter and energy as its pivotal factors and will define both society's strategic potential and prospects for its development.
A new millennium is nearing. How will our civilisation meet this new millennium? In an attempt to answer this puzzling question I would suggest we remain mindful of the paradox: the future of humankind is the reflection of their children's present. Awareness of this truth shall motivate and guide us in our efforts to carry out the laborious but rewarding task of educating the new generation, the future of our planet.

Thank you for your attention.

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