Wednesday, October 9, 2013

A (partial) response to Viplav Baxi's "The Outcomes of our Educational Systems"

I'm responding to Viplav Baxi's post, The outcomes of our educational systems where he ponders over the relationships between educational systems, outcomes and the larger social/cultural contexts in which these systems and learners are embedded.  He asks:
Does a particular type of education system tend to produce the same outcome irrespective of the underlying environment?
Or is it that the underlying social, economic and political environment will cause pretty much any educational system to tend to produce the same outcomes?
Or is it that the outcomes emerge as a result of the interplay between the educational system and the components of the ecosystem it lives in?
The simple answer, of course, is 'yes' - in other words, 'all of the above - and more'. First, the one about, from General Systems Theory, the concepts of Equifinality and Multifinality: in complex, non-deterministic systems, the same antecedents can produce different consequences; also, the same the result can stem from different causes.  Second, while different societies might use similar terms for the problems their educational systems might be facing, they might, in fact, actually be referring to somewhat or significantly different problems. My experience is with K-12 as well as university ed in India and the US. The problems that are similar are because human beings are involved in both cases, and fundamental human behavior and needs are context invariant. Where the problems are different it is because the educational systems as well as the socio-cultural contexts are different.

Modern educational systems employed throughout the world bear a similarity - they are based on a paradigm that evolved in Europe in response to rapid industrialization over the past 200 years. The systems replaced learning paradigms that were developed natively and in context in all cultures. The ideal form learning process is one that is tuned to needs of each individual but such a system is unaffordable and not scalable for masses of learners. Hence modern educational systems are inherently compromised by design. An even more insidious problem with these systems is that were designed for largely stable learning environments where societal needs and structures did not change rapidly. We are are faced with a context where an inherently compromised educational system operates in a context that changes far more rapidly than the educational system is capable of adapting.

In a situation where an education system is out-of-sync with its context, the outcomes are naturally going to be determined by environmental forces. 

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