Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A school system of my dreams ...

While wandering (not aimlessly) in the wonderland of WWW, I ran into Joseph Weizenbaum's (The ELIZA creator) thoughts (from 1985) about problems with educational establishment. Read them here first. My modest observation has been that they are applicable today just as well.

Paraphrasing him (bold casing mine):
Q: What are the problems of the educational establishment?

A: The first priority has to be, it seems to me, to lend to those to be educated a mastery of their own language so that they can express themselves clearly and with precision, in speech and in writing.That's the very first priority. The second priority is to give students an entree to and an identity within the culture of their society, which implies a study of history, literature, and all that.

And the third, very close to the second, is to prepare people for living in a society in which science is important, which means to teach them mathematics, or at least arithmetic, and the fundamental skills important to observing the world.

A school system which meets these main objectives might think about introducing something new. Meanwhile, researchers should certainly work on innovative education -- including computer-aided education. But we ought not to use entire generations of schoolchildren as experimental subjects.

In part, this response is based on my belief that what primary and secondary schools teach about computers now is either wrong or can be learned by a reasonably educated person in a few weeks.

Now, I do believe that somewhere, there is truth that unifies all these subjects. But this is pretty close to what I'd like to build, some day.

Monday, November 01, 2010

On problem solving ...

Professor Bob Palais has written an interesting article on problem solving. His arguments are not only motivating, but also enlightening. They make you believe that it is belief that you will be able to solve the problem that plays a major role in actually solving it.

You may wonder if you have the capability to solve it. But here is a simple trick that should help. It has helped me. Let us say you tried (for some time) to solve the problem and got nowhere. Then you read the solution or someone tells it to you. Now, ask yourself if you are able to understand the solution and how it solves the problem. If you really understood the solution, my argument is that you are (and were always) in a position to solve it all by yourself. It is not a silver bullet, but something that has worked for me. Of course, the concentration (that problem solving itself requires) is a must.

My argument can be supported (not proved) thus. If one is not able to understand the solution to a problem, we know that it can be concluded that he or she would not have been able to solve the problem. For example, I don't understand the Theory of Relativity yet and that is evident only because I don't understand the solutions to most of the problems in it.

I understand that converse is not true, but I am not proving anything anyway.