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Education in post-internet world

The internet has been the greatest single disruption in the way we create, organize, access, process and recirculate knowledge. The idea the knowledge could be accumulated, assimilated, stored permanently, and made accessible free of cost for the most part, at the click of button anywhere in the world, is a truly radical one.

When such a discontinuous new mode of knowledge gathering and sharing becomes so widely available, one would expect, even without being an expert in the field, for it to have a far-reaching impact on a whole range of human endeavours, particularly those that have something to do with knowledge gathering. It is curious then that the way children are educated in this country has not changed significantly, even after the advent of the internet.

To be sure, there are many schools that use computers, and several which encourage students to take up projects which call for the use of the internet, but few fundamental changes have been made, and the classroom of today does not seem to have changed all that much from that of an earlier generation. Take, for instance, some of the questions that were asked in the Class X social science paper for CBSE students in Delhi last year. ‘’When did the United Nations adopt the guidelines for consumer protection ? Was it 1983,1984,1985or 1986?’’ Mention any two inland waterways of India.

Write any three characteristics of each. “ ‘’Explain any three facts about the new economic situation created in India by the World War I.’’ Explain any four points about Gandhiji’s ideas of satyagraha.’’ The implicit mental model at work here seems to be of education being a collection of discrete factoids, that can be counted and objectively reproduced. The idea that knowledge about satyagraha, for instance, can be summed up by’ any four points’ about it tells us that in this world view, knowledge need not rest within any larger context, nor must it help in building any perspective or point of view.

The current education system has been founded on some assumptions about the nature of knowledge and its availability and the need to create it anew for every successive generation. Apart from its more functional use, that of making individuals suitable to pursue professions later in life, the role of education, in particular school education, is to give the newer generation a map of the world-not merely one that is physical and temporal, but one that gives a sense of its shape and its mechanisms, an understanding of how things work and how they fit together and how one is part of a larger reality.

The reason why all subjects are studied up to a point before specialization begins to occur, is that a fundamental grasp of the world in its entirety is thought essential. School education is an elaborate form of baton-passing from all the preceding generations to the latest one. The only way so far to download previously gathered understanding about the world into the ‘blank slate’ that is the mind of the younger generation was by breaking up knowledge into subjects, creating a sequential hierarchy of information, drumming in facts by repetition, and testing for knowledge retention by way of exams. New technologies that made some aspects of this learning redundant. .

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