Friday, November 10, 2017

When reforms are due, too much of experience may be as bad as too little of it.

When reforms are due, having too much of experience in the field may be as bad as having too little of it.
Recently, all type of news outlets informed about new $1.7 billion initiative of Mr. Bill Gates.
In his speech Mr. Gates said: “We will let people come to us with the set of approaches they think will work for them in their local context.”
Everyone who dreams of changing education should keep it mind - it is not about money per se, it is about how to use those money. For example, it is a well-known fact that many countries whose kids are at the top of the list in STEM spend much less per a pupil than U.S.

BTW: even in politics the amount of money does not guarantee the result! 
Reforming education of a large country is not an ordinary problem.
One cannot solve an extraordinary problem using standard means.
New type of solutions start from rethinking the old paradigm. It requires time, effort, imagination, and willingness to reject well-established views.
In times like that people with well-established views may become an impedance, an obstacle.

Some of the most amazing breakthroughs in business have been done by the outsiders in the field, or by the people on the fringe. Everyone can offer many examples, but my personal favorite is Netflix, because it also demonstrates the devastating effect of a short-vision (a.k.a. Blockbuster). A searcher for a new paradigm should attract, embrace, be looking specifically for people which views are outside of the mainstream opinions. There is however a methodological problem – in the flow of ideas pouring down from all over the world, how to separate strange/unusual/counter-intuitive but promising ideas from truly foolish/crazy/irrational ones? There is no scientific answer to this question. However, what usually helps is looking at the professional or personal history of the author (there are different approaches based on the Activity Theory, which in part have been used in education:
“In my whole life, I have known no smart people” who didn't question themselves. My best teachers and mentors deliberately demonstrated that they did not know everything, and taught us how to deal with our limitations. Logical disagreements were embraced. A good teammate should have been smarter that we were! Inside the team, when with each other, we were as open as it was possible (but when needed to defend the team, we would present the united front). I believe, in any professional field, this type of professional relationship is the most fruitful for a team aiming at making a breakthrough.
People with well-established views may become an impedance, an obstacle, but people with no knowledge in the field may be pushing towards disastrous actions. How to solve this conundrum?
Well, searching for solutions of a new type always starts from rethinking the old paradigm, which starts from reading, and writing, and talking with each other. However, it is not about being different from others, it is about accepting a possibility of being wrong; it is not about convincing others to agree with you, it is about asking others to find mistakes in your own thinking - people with such an attitude make the most creative teams. 
Please, read some of the posts indicated below, and feel free to point at all the mistakes you find in them, as well as in this post!
In my reflection on "Backpack Full of Cash":
I write: “speaking about Bill Gates and other billionaires trying to reform education; the biggest problem they have (among many other) is how other people perceive them. For many people Bill Gates (for example) is (a) a guru and they take his every word without any doubt; or (b) a nice-to-hangout-with-celebrity; or (c) simple a "cash cow" who is "always right" as long as he gives money. I would like to ask Mr. Gates, how many times since his installation of his foundation, after giving a speech he would heard back: "No, that's not gonna work"? (an example of a conversation with a mogul:”
Mr. Gates wants to achieve drastic changes in education as a whole.
When a large system experiences a systemic change, a physicist calls it “a phase transition”.
If the system is social, the systemic change is called “a revolution”.
Like phase transitions in physics, social revolutions also have different types; not all of them are bloody (fortunately!); but all of them follow a similar pattern.
In order for a transition to happen, a system needs to pass through at least two distinctive stages:
1. The old state of a system should be weakened in some sense (which depends on the system); usually there is at least one parameter – the transition parameter (like, magnetization, or core beliefs), such that the all parts of the system had the same value of that parameter, but now different parts of the system can have different values, which also change in time (one says that the system exhibits strong fluctuations in its order – in space and in time). This stage is defined as the stage when the chaos in the system increases.
For a social system, such stage may be seen as reached, when people in many different cities and towns begin sporadically (a.k.a. randomly, chaotically) gather together to express themselves, to demonstrate their dislike or demand, or support to some ideas or people (often, completely incoherent, or even opposite).
However, the presence of the chaotic stage does not guaranty the presence of a transition to a new state.
For example, “Occupy Wall Street” did not lead to any structural change, neither social, nor political.
2. To finish the transition into a new state, the system has to undergo through another stage, when a new ordered state is emerged from the previously chaotically disturbed state. That means that all parts of the system should achieve a new stable state with a new – but the same for all parts of the system – value of the transition parameter.
There are two possible outcomes: the transition to a new state may not happen, and the transition to a new state may happen. However, there are four possible final stages.
(a) The transition did not happen – the system as a whole goes back to the original state (“Occupy Wall Street”).
(b) The transition did not happen – some parts of the system may go back to the original state; other parts may transit to a new state (or states; e.g. dissolution of USSR).
(c) The transition happened due local interactions, which led to local correlations, i.e. when neighboring parts of a system gradually balanced out with each other; this process usually is very long.
(d) The transition happened due to global correlations, e.g. due to an external field (“mass medium”, or “mass media”) applied to the whole system at the same time (watch a short video for an example:
In his speech, Bill Gates repeated the general sentiment of every philanthropist: “The role of philanthropy … is … to fund pilots, to fund new ideas, to let people … try them out and see what really works super well and get those to scale.”
This approach is not new, it has been used for decades, and so far,
it has not led to systemic changes in education.
The reason for not leading to a systemic change is that this approach does not go further than the first stage. This approach helps to create a “chaotic” state, when people at different locations can try different ideas.
Which is great!
But this approach does not lead to a formation of a new state.
Which is completely different from another big Gates’ projects, like eradicating poliomyelitis.
The difference is simple.
One project leads to a transition from a clear state “the world with polio”, to a clear state “the world without polio.”
The goal is tough, difficult to achieve, but measurable.
On the contrary, the “goal” of
“Every student should get a great public education and graduate with skills to succeed in the marketplace”
is not measurable.
This statement does not describe a goal; it describes a wish, a dream.
Having a dream, a vision, is great! A dream helps to establish a general direction for the future actions.
One can see a big shift in Gates’ approach to reforming education; from pouring millions into charter schools and essentially abandoning regular public schools, he finally turns to public education as a whole, which means he acknowledges the core role of public schools.
However, he does not know yet what specifically does he want to achieve. The hope is, that in the pursuit of the dream, the view of the goal will be gradually becoming clearer and clearer.
Gates is not alone in his fuzziness on the path to the new state of educational system. All other philanthropists use their money in exactly same way as he is: i.e. supporting local initiatives.
They give generously via or to different charities.
But they do not invest their money into large scale educational projects.
Because they do not know how to state a specific goal.
Because they do not know how to assess if the result has been achieved.
There is a general approach which will change this.
It has been discussed in this publication:
There are some specific projects in this venue, for example, discussed in these publications:
There is, of course, a natural question - why would anyone want to listen to me talking about education?
A short answer - because I am GOOD at teaching (I have a proof :)
For my credentials, please follow to:
(a short version)
Thank you for your time,
Dr. Valentin Voroshilov

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