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KACA MATAKU: Which Way Future Learning?

By Dzulkifli Abdul Razak

The 2023 Nobel Prize Dialogue was held in Seoul, under the theme: Future Learning – Exploring Science and Technology.

It contemplates what the future holds for fellow humans in the era of digital transformation. What educational reform is necessary and how does it impact the human being?

The symbiotic relationship between homo sapiens and ‘robo’ sapiens, each with its own merits.

The former with human emotions like empathy, insights, and wisdom. The latter with hyperconnectivity, super (artificial) intelligence, and meta-convergence to meet the challenging, creative, and caring spirits for brighter days ahead.

Not only at the interdisciplinary nano-, bio-, info– and cognitive levels, but also systems levels of the physical, cyber-, and biological. All these require an educational reform of a different kind. A whole-brain approach that diversifies STEM.

Ending up with specialization in the non-STEM, like STEAM with A as Arts. This is where the question of the heart of education comes into being.

According to Plato, education without the heart is no education at all. For others, the heart of education is education of the heart! Hence, the values of being human take precedence, namely education with soul, a departure from what it is today.

From this follows a million-dollar question: ‘What is the Purpose of Education’? Giving the impression that the ‘purpose’ has somewhat been hijacked or confused. Otherwise, why bother?

Simply put, going back to the basic to re-purpose education that has been short-changed by the Industrial Revolution beginning in Europe in the 1700s.

Back in the days of the Greeks, and before, it was centered on the Self, namely, to know thyself. This is now amiss when education is made to function like an assembly line in churning out ‘product’ for the marketplace, reducing it to a ‘lifeless’ experience.

The ultimate unintended consequence is ‘inequality’ since education and learning is unevenly spread and distributed. And turning the popular tagline ‘no one left behind’ into a cliché. In fact, a dehumanizing one swept under the digitalization mode, as the sole technology-centric one-size-fits-all process.

The issue gets even more critical in trying to fit technology into learning. Not forgetting education by then has been further reduced and dehumanized as mentioned above.

With the Fourth Industrial Revolution to boot, digital approaches to learning are more pervasive given the active role of artificial intelligence (AI), and more recently ChatGPT throwing learning as we know it off balance.

An early indication of this could be discerned from the latest development in Sweden (where the Nobel Prize Foundation is located).

In the article “Sweden Brings Books, Handwriting Back to School” by Dan Novak (Sept 26), as children returned to school in Sweden last month, many of their teachers were putting a new importance on some traditional skills.

These included reading printed books, quiet reading time, and handwriting practice. Teachers were spending less time with digital devices, online research, and typing skills.

The return to traditional ways of learning allegedly “might be the answer to questions raised by politicians and experts. They have questioned the country’s dependence on electronic technology in education.”

For example, Swedish schools have introduced tablets at the level of preschool, but critics say students are not learning basic skills as well.

Lotta Edholm, the Swedish Minister for Schools, who took office 11 months ago as part of a new government, was one of the biggest critics of the level of technology in schools. Contrast this to her Malaysian newly minted counterpart’s agenda over almost the same period in the new government, the differences are poles apart.

“Sweden’s students need more textbooks,” Edholm said in March. “Physical books are important for student learning.”

Last month, she announced that the government wants to reverse the decision made by the National Agency for Education to make digital devices required in preschools. In fact, the ministry told the Associated Press that it plans to stop digital learning for children under the age of six.

Sweden’s students score above the European average for reading ability. But, an international test of fourth-grade reading levels, the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study, showed Sweden’s children had lost ground between 2016 and 2021.

Is this also a cause of concern in Malaysia? What are we doing about it? According to education experts, an overuse of electronic devices during school lessons may cause kids to fall behind.

“There’s clear scientific evidence that digital tools impair rather than enhance student learning,” said Sweden’s Karolinska Institute, a renowned medical research centre. The institute added that schools should instead centre on teaching using printed textbooks and teacher knowledge.

Warning that information from digital sources may not be accurate. The expansion of digital learning tools in schools also has drawn concern from the United Nations’ education and culture agency, UNESCO. In a report published last month, UNESCO issued an “urgent call for appropriate use of technology in education.

While the report urged countries to speed up internet connections at schools, it also warned that technology in education should be used in such a way that it never replaces in-person, teacher-led instruction. Future learning may not be as easy as it is made to be!

  • The writer was a speaker at the 2023 Nobel Prize Dialogue

BacalahMalaysia Team

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