Thoughts On Education, Knowledge, Learning and the Internet

By Mario deSantis, January 24, 1999


the World Wide Web should become embedded in our educational system

The development of the Internet and the applications of its technologies continue at a breathless pace
and are the most significant components of the ever changing Knowledge Economy. I wrote some
articles(1)dealing with the new Knowledge Economy and the consequential policy directions we
should be taking in Saskatchewan. For most of us, the Internet and the browsing of the World Wide
Web (WWW) has become a daily routine such as walking, working, studying, driving the car; and it
is time now that such technologies become embedded in our educational systems.

knowledge has become one of the most important equalizers

Education is life itself

Yesterday night, I was reading the February 1999 issue of the "Popular Science" magazine and my
attention focused on the letter to the Editor "Free Books for All". This letter makes reference to the
Web site Project Gutenberg(2), a site where people can have free access to an electronic library
containing some 1, 600 books, from Shakespeare's plays to early 20th century fiction. These ,
electronic books would be very helpful in complementing the libraries of our schools; in so doing the
schools would be able to provide these books to their students at no cost, increase the awareness of
using the WWW for research purposes, and tap, by hyperlinking, into additional educational
resources. In today's global economy, knowledge has become one of the most important equalizers;
as a consequence, I have been trying to inculcate to my sons, James and Eric, and contrary to
conventional wisdom, the notion that Education is life itself(3). Notwithstanding my current
disappointing life contingencies, I am happy to see that both of my sons are embracing education as
an on going process for their growth, and I hope eventually that we all can appreciate the sometime
intangible rewards of a continuous educational approach to life.

we have moved away from the stable and predictable social system of the past

I have been reading recently the articles in the Star Phoenix in regard to the declining standards of
our high school students in mathematics(4) (5) and English(6). Different remedies have been
suggested to overcome such deficiencies, and all of them refer to the old good times when students
were strapped, worked harder, had more home work, and studied phonetics. This educational mental
model to go back to the three Rs (aRithmetic, wRiting, Reading) is an understandable paradox as we
have moved away from the stable and predictable social system of the past. The solutions to these
educational deficiencies should not be found in the old ways(7), but in the new wealth of
opportunities(8) presented by the emerged Knowledge Economy.

knowledge is not an absolute reality to be transferred into the minds of our children

We need to change our mental model to regard knowledge as an inner sanctum for the privileged(9).
When I was in Weyburn, Saskatchewan, school kids were given IQ tests and the most intelligent
were placed in the so called enrichment courses. This approach to divide young children in
accordance to their tested intelligence is wrong, first because the timing of the mental development of
children is different, second because children must not be labelled, third because everybody learns
from each other, etc. Today, in Saskatchewan, there are some 110 school boards and a number of
them have not abolished the strap as a method to discipline our children. We must change this
privileged, fragmentary, parochial, and disciplinary approach to educate our children and I believe that
the understanding of Maturana's theory(10) (11) (12) of the biological origin of cognition can be of
great assistance to our policy makers, school administrators and teachers. We must appreciate the fact
that knowledge is not an absolute reality to be transferred into the minds of our children and
people(13). Instead, knowledge is developed through relationships and sharing of information, and in
  this respect, a formidable tool for learning and enhancing knowledge is the use of new technologies

the World Wide Web can provide a unique multidimensional opportunity, transcendent of time and georgraphy

compatible with the Internet(14). We have already mentioned that through the Internet we can access
electronic books and texts; in addition, we can chat with each other, and communicate through the
different mediums: text, video, music, sounds, and pictures. The World Wide Web, along with its
hyperlinking feature, is one of the closest technological network model able to simulate our mental
processes and provide at the same time a unique multidimensional opportunity, transcendent of time
and geography, where students can enhance their capacity to learn and be creative. Let us hope that
our educational systems will soon embrace the educational implications of Maturana's theory of
cognition, and support the widespread use of the Internet technology so that as Michael Hart, the
founder of Project Gutenberg, wrote in a past newsletter:
"we have the capability for everyone on an Universal scale, literally, to have information, education, and literacy at their fingertips, should they choose to be informed, educated, or literate.... Perhaps the best use of the Internet is to fight this epidemic and to make the cures for illiteracy and ignorance available so cheaply that there can never be again any excuse for ignorance and illiteracy - - forever"(15)

1. Refer to the articles by Mario deSantis, published in North Central Internet News
Project Gutenberg is the site founded by Michael Hart. Hart founded this site under the premise that "...everyone in the world, or even not in this world (given satellite transmission) can have a copy of a book that has been entered into a computer..."
Unconventional Knowledge, by Mario deSantis, July 19, 1998. Published in North Central Internet New
Article: College tackles tough math problem, by Gerry Klein, StarPhoenix, January 12, 1999, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. An excerpt from this article: "...Last year some (university) students were given a 60-year old exam meant for Grade 10 students. The majority failed..."
Article: Math debate sparks spirited response, Straight Talk, by Randy Burton, The StarPhoenix, January 23, 1999, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
Refer to the discussions at the Saskatoon School Board Meetings pertaining to the teaching of Phonetics, December 1998. Such meetings were reported inThe StarPhoenix, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
Refer metaphorically to the article There Is No Going Back by Timothy Shire, January 21, 1999. Published in North Central Internet News
The study of mathematics can be enriched with the classroom use of mathematical software such as Mathematica
9. Intellectual Capital, by Thomas A. Stewart, Doubleday/Currency, 1997, Foreword XIII
Need of Transformational Changes in Saskatchewan: The biological origin of cognition and implications for Education, by Mario deSantis, Sunday September 27,1998. Published in North Central Internet News
Maturana's Biology and Some Possible Implications for Education, by Joy Murray,
An Interview' with Dr Humberto Maturana, by David Mendes, February 1997,
What it is to be human - Notes by Humberto Maturana
Since knowledge, and therefore people, have become the most important asset, many companies and educational institutions leverage knowledge and learning by establishing networks of information systems using Internet/Intranet technologies