Reinventing Society ─ One System at a Time

As the Greek empire began to widen its sphere of influence into Asia Minor, Mesopotamia and beyond, their people were smart enough to accept and acclimate all the useful elements from the societies which they conquered. Have a brief look at the history. Ancient Greeks have made some significant contributions to the field of mathematics. During the time of the ancient Greek civilization, several of their arithmeticians became famous for their work. People like Pythagoras, Archimedes, Euclid, Posidonius, Hipparchus and Ptolemy brought new fundamentals of thinking to society, fostering the field of math, and building on the earlier work of Egyptian and Babylonian mathematicians.

A few generations later, the Romans became the intellectually dominant society on the planet. But unfortunately, and surprisingly, the one characteristic that pulled-down the “intellectual” Roman society was the dearth of Roman mathematicians. Rest assured, very soon the scholarly members of Roman society came from a good gene pool and they were every bit as gifted and talented as the Greeks. But then, Romans were held hostage by their own learning systems, which restricted them from thinking innovatively. One of the primary culprits for the lack of Roman mathematicians was their renowned numbering system.

Roman numerals and its lack of numeric positioning were actually a disaster. Romans were so engrossed in their numbering system that they had no clue that it was averting them from doing even elementary mathematics such as simple multiplication or adding a column of numbers or division, a feat still handled by abacus. It’s easy for us to make a negative judgment about the Roman numerals, but the real fact is that it was just one of many inferior numbering systems used in ancient times. Distinctively, the feature that made Roman numerals so bad was the fact that each number lacked specific numeric positioning and was in fact an equation, and this extra layer of intricacy prevented people from attempting higher math. Roman numerals were a system problem, and a huge one at that, which prevented an entire civilization from advancing through the elemental field of math and science.

Fast forward to today. We are living in a society where nigh on everything is different from the days of the Roman Empire. But the counterintuitive fact is that we are even more dependent today on our systems than the Romans ever were. Examples of such system that we take for granted ─ systems for accounting, banking, procurement, weights and measurement, traffic management, and so on. Much like the Romans, we are immersed in the use of these systems to a point where we hardly ever step back and question the reasoning and logic behind them.

Believe it or not, our systems virtually govern every aspect of our lives. They determine how we live and where we live, where and when we travel, what we eat and where we work, how much money we will make, the job we do, the friends we have and even how long we will live. Nevertheless, though subconsciously aware of the fact, we seldom step back to fully understand the context of our existence. Quite similar to how a fish is unaware and disregarded of the existence of water.

Our systems are what control the flow of commerce, govern our effectiveness as members of society, and create much of the stress we face on a daily basis. There are a number of restrictive systems that are preventing us from doing great things. One prominent example is the Keyboard – We use keyboards that were intended to slow the speed of typing by placing the most frequently used keys randomly across the face of the keyboard. Keyboards in any configuration are an extremely inept way to transfer knowledge from one person to another.

After studying American systems and applying the “equivalency to Roman numerals” test, it is quite evident that we, as a society, are operating at somewhere around 5-10% efficiency, or even less. Some of the other examples of restrictive systems include the Half-Implemented Metric System, Income Tax System, Laws etc.

Lest you think the U.S. is the only country with system problems, consider some of the major issues afflicting other countries. For example, consider the Chinese Alphabet system, the number of Chinese characters contained in the Kangxi dictionary is approximately 47,035. Although a large number of these are rarely-used variations accumulated throughout history.

We are on a long way from optimizing the systems that administrate our lives. The freedom and potential that we value so much, is only a fraction of what it can be if we begin to seriously reinvent society; one system at a time. And the system that we see as the highest leverage point for revamping society is our education system.

Some of the advancements in the society and system could impel the change in the world of education. These factors will eventually define the speed, scope and size of the emerging new system along with the individualities needed for a global-scale adoption. Read on further for an undercurrent of the influencers, and perceive the need to understand the radical shift than will occur in the world of education.

The Changeover from Emphasis on Teaching to Learning

Traditionally, Education consisted of two fundamental elements ─ teaching and learning. But the system emphasized heavily on the teaching part. Throughout history, the transfer of information from the teacher to the learner has been done on a person-to-person basis. This is referred to as the “sage on stage” form of education, since it required the teacher to be skillfully proficient with every topic that they teach.

But today the scenario is quite different. With advancements in technology and new things to learn, the traditional system ends up being a highly inefficient system, equivalent of using “Roman numerals” in many respects. For any new topic to be taught, a new expert needs to be created, and this widespread necessity for more and more experts has become a serious chokepoint for learning.

There is indeed a grave need for the education system to undergo a transition from a heavy emphasis on teaching to a heavy emphasis on learning. Envisioning the advancements, experts ought to create the courseware for the students to learn anytime or anywhere at a pace that is comfortable for them, and learn about topics that majorly interests them.

In the future, instead of perceiving the lecturer as a topic-expert all the time, we would see them more in the roles of guides and coaches.

Exponential Growth of Information

Years ago, the flow of information was controlled by just a few elite members of society, and they implicated well the theory of knowledge equating power. To the time where information was precious and few, to today, a time where information is so plentiful, we have gone a long way. There is so much data and analytics at the end of our palm that we feel like we are sinking in it – information overload.

However, we still see many of the same “information control” issues pervading the society today. Perpetuating the notion that only doctors can understand medicine, only physicists can understand how the universe works, we can still say that only elite members of society control the flow of information. But it is also very important to pay attention to the changing dimensions of information and the sheer volume of it. Today, information is not just text-based, but also graphical, audio, musical, and visual.

Interfacing with the Society through the Classroom Touch Point

It has always been the universal notion that learning can take place only in a classroom. Classrooms are designed to create a controllable environment where learning can take place through well-directed focus. Using classrooms as the primary “touch point” for learning creates many hitches. The system that regulates the classroom also controls the time when learning can take place, the students who will participate, the media used, the tools, the pace, the subject matter, and in most of the cases, the results too.

However, the classroom-centric education system does not necessarily define a robust learning environment. Learning takes place from the moment a person wakes up in the morning until he/she goes to sleep at night. In fact, learning continues even while a person is sleeping.

Certainly, some topics like math and science require a more structured form of education for some students to grasp the information being conveyed, but learning is not solely dependent upon a classroom. In some cases the classroom may be an optimal environment for learning to take place, but most often it is not.

To inculcate knowledge faster and better, some of the new and important touch points for our mind include our computers, video magazines, handheld televisions, electronic newspapers, cellphones, video games, MP3 payers, artwork, and much more.

The pace of change around us is mandating that we produce a smarter, faster, and a better grade of human being. Existing old conventional systems are preventing that from happening. Future education system will rise-up with the advent of a uniform and rapid courseware-builder along with a single point global distribution system. Typically, students are required to achieve both breadth of knowledge across disciplines and depth of knowledge in a particular chosen subject area, particularly known as a major. For this reason, students studying Arts or Humanities are required to take science courses, and vice-versa.

There is a dire need for a standard architecture defining an organic courseware module. The software needed to build such courseware is also required. Technologically thinking, one solution to these could be a participative courseware-builder that allows the general public to create courses on any conceivable topic. We expect many companies will attempt to solve this problem, but the market will quickly gravitate towards the one it likes best, and yet again, we’ll bound ourselves to a system, though a re-invented and a better one.

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