My teacher is an app

Did you know that Rupert Murdoch has a Head of Education? My Teacher is an App just finished on BBC Radio 4. Thanks to a colleague I didn’t miss it.

The brain-based learning side of things is really promising but the big business ‘vultures’ (as Sarah Montague called them) are frankly disturbing. This is one example of what another colleague and I often debate – I tend to argue (too vaguely) that in societies like ours technology, unless open, is prone to replace people because it is cheaper (doesn’t need holidays, benefits, sick leave, etc). My Teacher is an App provided a good example in the Rocketship school (charter school run by a business, a bit like a Free School in the UK)  in a poor part of San Jose which was experimenting with classes of 100 students, 3 teachers and many computers.

It’s a basic Marxist* tenet that people, being ‘variable capital’, are always vulnerable to being replaced with ‘fixed capital’. Software is more predictable than people and doesn’t require sleep, weekends, compassionate leave or holiday.  This displacement has happened ever since the industrial revolution and is always very hard for the cottage workers or equivalent – this is why workers campaigned for and won a welfare state.

Now though I’m wondering (not for the first time, but more so in this credit crunch time) where on earth, in a capitalist society, is the ‘added value’ of educating a society in geometry if that kind of knowledge can be replaced by machine knowledge? My neighbour has just returned from Gujarat where the state education system there doesn’t even nearly accommodate all the kids – education is a luxury outside a skills-based or knowledge economy. So are pensions, incidentally. For a long time the UK has been among the few knowledge economies – but what about now in this newly multi-polar world? Are we moving into a post knowledge economy? What will work look like? And if we don’t have jobs in a world where only big business owners and their few workers have money, then will we become a non-working non-class?

Watch the Google and Yahoo workers closely and you soon pick up that the best start you can give their kids will by by rationing computers. You can bet the Waldorf school where those same Google and Yahoo workers send their kids – the school without a single computer – was a private school.

*Don’t be alarmed – think of Marx as a knowledgeable and firmly establishment commentator.


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