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Every country on earth at the moment is reforming public education. There are two reasons for it. The first is economic. People are trying to answer the question, how do we educate our children to take their place in the economies of the twenty first century. How do we do that, given that we can’t anticipate what the economy will look like at the end of the next week? The second is cultural. Every country on earth is trying to answer the question: How do we educate our children so they have a sense of cultural identity that enables us pass on the cultural genes of our communities while being part of the process of globalization.

The problem is we are trying to meet the future by doing what we did in the past. On the way we are alienating millions of children who don’t see any purpose in going to school. The story is just the same. Go to school, earn a degree and get a well-paid job. Parents unknowingly kill the creative genius and the future of their children well before they become part of the modern education system that even does more damage to their creative genius. As a result, PNG Universities creates tens of thousands of graduates every year that are nothing but simply EMPLOYEES of the poor government and rich multimillion corporations here and abroad.  Our universities should be creating more EMPLOYERS instead. Only then, will we achieve true economic independence.

“Go to school, get a degree and earn a well-paid job”. To which I say wake up and smell coffee PNG! Many of our children don’t believe that and they are right to by the way. “You are better having a degree than not, but it is not a guarantee any more, particularly not if the route to it marginalizes the things you think are important about yourself. Every academics in all universities around PNG are saying we have to raise standards as if this is a breakthrough. And yes we should – why would you lower them?

The problem is the current system of education was designed, conceived and structured for a different age. It was conceived in the intellectual culture of the enlightenment and in the economic circumstances of the industrial revolution. Before the middle of the nineteenth century there were no systems of public education, though you could have been educated by Jesuits if you had the money. Public education paid for from taxation, compulsory for everybody and free at the point of delivery was a revolutionary idea.

Many people objected to it. It is not possible for many street kids and children from working class backgrounds to benefit from public education. Many thought their children were incapable of learning to read and write, so why spending time on them. There were a whole range of assumptions about social structure and capacity built into this thinking. It was driven by an economic imperative of the time, and running right through it was an intellectual model of the mind, which was essentially the enlightenment of youth intelligence. Real intelligence consists of a certain type of deductive reasoning and knowledge of the classics, what we have come to think of as academic ability.

Deep in the gene pool of public education is that there are two types of people – academic and non-academic, smart people and non-smart people. The consequence of that is many brilliant

people think they are not, because they have been judged against this particular view of the mind.

Twin pillars, economic and intellectual

We have twin pillars, economic and intellectual. My view is this model has caused chaos in many people’s lives. It has been great for some: many people have benefited wonderfully from it, but most people have not. Instead they suffered what I term the ‘Modern Education Epidemic’, which is as misplaced as it is fictitious. This is the plague of the current modern education system. I am not qualified to pass judgment on the modern education system but I do know a great number of Melanesian thinkers Like late Dr. Bernard Narokobi and as well as Dr. Steven Winduo and Sakarepe Kamene of UPNG have disused this a great deal in their writing.

What I do know for a fact is the modern education system is not an epidemic. All I can say is that our children are being medicated as routinely as we have our tonsils taken out. On the same whimsical basis and for the same reason – medical fashion. Our children are living in the most intensive and most stimulating period in the history of the earth. Dr. Robert Rosen described this economy as young and borderless in his book Global Literacies. Our children are being besieged with information and calls for attention from computers, iPhones, advertising hoardings and from hundreds of television channels and then being penalized for being distracted. These are distractions from the most boring stuff – at school for the most part.

It seems no coincidence to me that incidences of the modern education system have risen in parallel with standardized testing. Unfortunately and quit logically, true intelligence has no tangible standard of measurement. It helps to note that most of the very successful people in the world have never completed their college education. Are their lessons to learn from these genius lot?

Metaphorically speaking, our children are being given Ritalin and other quite dangerous drugs in order to get them focused and to calm them down. The Arts in particular are victims of this mentality, though it is also true of science, language and math. The Arts especially address the idea of aesthetic experiences. An aesthetic experience is one in which your senses are operating at their peak, when you are present in the current moment, when you are resonating with the excitement of this thing you are experiencing – when you are fully alive. An anesthetic is when you shut your senses off and deaden yourself to what is happening. A lot of these drugs are an anesthetic. We are getting our children through their education by anesthetizing them with the standardized education system. We, the parents and even the ill-informed teachers from play school up to university professors are telling misguiding our children by telling them “To be successful in life, you must pass the exams and score good grades”. This shallow and stupid advice, however, has become generational.

Instead of anesthetizing them with the prospect of well-paid job which turn out to be a pay check to paycheck struggle for most of our children, we should be waking them up so they can see what is inside themselves. I am talking about self- awareness or self- realization, a subject which is less well taught by the Buddhism religion and poorly taught in our education system as and even our churches. Children of this age are more informed and display greater creativity and talents.


We have a situation where education is modeled on the interests of industrialism and in the image of it. For instance schools are still pretty much organized on factory lines, ringing bells, with separate facilities and specialized subjects. We still educate children by batches and by age groups. Why do we do that? Why is there this assumption that the most important thing children have in common is how old they are? It is as though their date of manufacture is the most important thing!

I know children who are much better than other children at the same age and different disciplines, or at different times of the day, or better in smaller groups or large groups. Sometimes they just want to be on their own. If you are interested in the model of learning, you don’t start from this production line mentality. It is essentially about conformance and it is increasingly about conformance when you look at testing and standardized curriculum. Instead of it all being about standardization, I believe we have to go in the opposite direction – that is what I mean about changing the paradigm.

Divergent thinking

There was recent study into divergent thinking. Divergent thinking is not the same thing as creativity. I define creativity as the process of having original ideas that have value. Divergent thinking is not a synonym. It is an essential capacity for creativity. It is the ability to see lots of possible answers to a question and lots of ways of interpreting the question. “As Edward De Bono says it is the ability to think laterally – not just in linear or convergent ways, to see multiple answers, not just one. For instance, how many uses can you think of for a paper clip? Most people will come up with ten to fifteen uses, while people who are good at these types of exercise might come up with two hundred. They do that by asking, “Could the paper clip be 60 meters tall and made out of foam rubber? Does it have to be a paper clip as we know it?”

In a book titled, Break Point And Beyond, one thousand-five hundred kindergarten children were tested for divergent thinking and if they scored above a certain level they would be considered geniuses. Sir Ken Robinson, an internationally recognized leader in the development of education, creativity and innovation posed an interesting question about this test. He asked

“What percentage of the people tested for divergent thinking do you think would return a genius score?” Amazingly ninety-eight percent returned a genius level score. This was a longitudinal study, so the same children were tested at a later at five-year intervals when they were aged eight to ten, and again when they were aged thirteen to fifteen. Many readers will not be surprised to learn that the results deteriorated as the children grew older.

Here is the critical observation: As the children grew older their education levels increased and they were taught at school that there was just one answer to every question, usually at the back of the text book – ‘but don’t look and don’t copy because that is cheating.’

Firstly, outside of schools and in the real world, there are infinite answers to one question. In the world of business, one can always copy or duplicate a successful business concept or model as long as it fits your situation. In the world of business, Law of Opposites come into play. That one can challenge long held beliefs of wealth creation. For example. Buying a car on loan for personal use is buying a liability since it takes money out of your money through bank deductions. On the contrary, buying an investment property on loan is buying an asset since it puts money back into your account when all debts are cleared. Therefore you can say, then banks definition of a car being an asset is a lie since it takes money out of your pocket for fuel, tyre repairs and general running cost. Isn’t that simple enough to help you understand the pitfalls of our modern education system?

It isn’t because teachers want it that way, it’s just because it happens that way – it’s in the education gene pool. We have to think differently about human capacity. We have get over this old conception of academic, non-academic, abstract, theoretical, vocational and see it for what it is – a myth.

Secondly, we need to recognize that most great learning happens in groups – collaboration is the stuff of growth. If you atomise people and separate them and judge them separately we form a kind of disjunction between them and their natural learning environment.

Thirdly, it is crucially about the culture of our institutions, the habits of our institutions and the habitats they occupy.”

Paradigm shifts

A Paradigm Shift is a change from one way of thinking to another. It’s a revolution, a transformation, a sort of metamorphosis. It just does not happen, but rather it is driven by agents of change, such as: when hunter-gatherers learned agriculture, the development of the wheel and of Architecture, the use of currency, and the printing press, which enabled the Scientific Revolution.

These paradigms and the ones ushered in by Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, Darwin, and Einstein, each progressively diminished our identity and at the same time increased it. We no longer perceive ourselves as being the center of the physical universe, and in fact there apparently is no center.

A paradigm gives way to another. Something is taken away and something new comes into being, both are vital parts of the human landscape, determining how we are identified–deeply affecting how we perceive who we are, and our sense of entitlement.

The historian of science Thomas Kuhn defines a scientific paradigm as: Universally recognized scientific achievements that, for a time, provide model problems and solutions for a community of researchers,” i.e.,

  • What is to be observed and scrutinized
  • The kind of questions that are supposed to be asked and

probed for answers in relation to this subject

  • How these questions are to be structured
  • How the results of scientific investigations should be


  • Alternatively, the Oxford English Dictionary defines paradigm

as “a pattern or model, an exemplar.”

Thus an additional component of Kuhn’s definition of paradigm is:

  • How is an experiment to be conducted, and what equipment

is available to conduct the experiment?

 Paradigm paralysis

Perhaps the greatest barrier to a paradigm shift, in some cases, is the reality of paradigm paralysis: the inability or refusal to see beyond the current models of thinking. This is similar to what psychologists term Confirmation bias. Examples include rejection of Galileo’s theory of a heliocentric universe, the discovery of electrostatic photography, xerography and the quartz clock.

Authors note: This paper was selected as opening address during the 2013 Literacy Conference hosted at University of Papua New Guinea, PNG.

More of Ian’s work can be read here at HUBPAGES