The Impact of Computing on Culture and Education: One Brazilian's Point of View (*)¹

Eduardo O C Chaves


I. Introduction

II. The Brazilian Project for Informatics

III. Informatics in Education: Foes and Friends

IV. Education, Information and Informatics


I have been asked to speak on the impact of computing on culture and education. It was indicated that, since I am Brazilian, and this is an international track, I should concentrate on the impact of computing on Brazilian culture and education.

Yet, the expression "the impact of computing on culture and education" does remain somehow open to more than one interpretation.

First, should I place emphasis on the impact on culture and education that computing has had, probably will have, or should have? Since this was not defined, I feel somehow free to choose. Being a philosopher, and not a historian or a futurist, I will give more emphasis to the impact that computing should have on Brazilian culture and education - - although I cannot neglect the impact it has had and probably will in any case have.

Second, it is not clear whether I should concentrate on deliberate attempts to bring the computer to bear on culture and education or whether I should try to unveil the subtle, and often unrecognized, forms in which the computer may be shaping them. It is much easier to concentrate on the former, since these attempts are often documented. On the other hand, the subtle impact, although more difficult to detect, is often more interesting to discuss. I will try to do a little of both in this conference: to talk about official projects, without neglecting altogether the more subtle impact.

Before proceeding, I must warn you of two things, one about myself, the other about Brazil.

First, I am, as I mentioned, a philosopher, and so my philosophical positions will inevitably color much of what I have to say. Were I instead a sociologist, my remarks would certainly be different.

Second, Brazil may not be sufficiently exotic for me to give you a picture of the impact of computing on culture and education that is entirely unique and essentially different from the one you have in this country. In fact, but for some comments on the role the Brazilian military in this issue, most of my observations may be relevant, I dare think, to issues in other countries (including this one).


To understand what has taken place in Brazil in the area of what we call "informatics" (computers and related digital technology [1]), one must go back to the beginning of the seventies. Brazil was, then, and had been since 1964, under military rule, its economy was booming (at growths of almost 10% a year), and the national soccer team had just won the World Soccer Cup for an unprecedented third time in four tries.

If one were capable of ignoring the direst aspects of the military regime, one could even begin to believe that Brazil had finally come of age and was ready to assume the place that history supposedly had in store for it. "The giant is finally wakening" was a favorite metaphor at the time.

The tendency to believe in a rosy future was particularly strong among the military, who viewed themselves as saviours of the country. They generally thought that the cost for the people, in terms of the limitation of individual and political freedoms, was small, indeed, when compared to the benefits the regime was magnanimously bringing to the nation. Their favorite phrase was: "Now, nobody can hold this country back". This was supposed to mean that, after the military takeover, and as a direct result of it, the country was finally moving into First World territory, leaving behind the embarrassing company of Third World countries.


Among the fetters that, according to the military, were holding the country back was technological dependency, especially in strategic areas such as weapons and armaments, and, of course, computers, broadly conceived (or informatics). Brazil lacked technological autonomy in these areas. If it was ever to emerge as a world power, this autonomy had to be obtained at all costs.

Do not be misled. Though far to the right, and generally supportive of the United States rather than of the Soviet Union, most Brazilian military were nationalists who were unhappy with Brazil's technological dependency upon the United States. They gradually became convinced that Brazil could confront its big Northern friend and should start dictating some rules.

It was at this time that Brazil denounced military treaties with the United States, began developing an independent weapons industry, refused to sign international treaties limiting the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and signed a treaty with Germany for the development of nuclear energy.

A well known Brazilian military man -- a colonel who was the head of the Special Secretariat for Informatics in the Federal Government in the eighties -- asserted the following, in a book in which he defended the thesis that Brazil should become autonomous in the area of informatics:

"Among nations, there are only wolves. It is this fact, more than ideological considerations, that leads them to ambition and domination, that makes them use their force to enlarge their influence, to create markets, to colonize, to domesticate, to subjugate. ... A country such as ours [i.e., Brazil], that has immense resources in agriculture, minerals, rivers, forests, that has a young population, born already in the age of technology, ... a country that is still in its industrial adolescence but aims high at a destiny among the strongest and the most influential, a country that is moving from the third to the first world -- this country, I say, needs to have its own knowledge bases, its own industries, its own market. Informatics, if well and intelligently used, will help us achieve that" [2].

The same tone is struck by a senator of the Republic, a civilian from the main opposition party (which goes to show that, on this question, civilians and military, situation and opposition were united):

"In the relations between nations ... all situations are characterized by confrontation and conflict. As there is no guarantee of perpetual peace, it is illusory to suppose that the plans of central nations to penetrate the markets of those in the underdeveloped periphery will respect their hopes of sovereignty. Among developed and underdeveloped nations, especially in relation to informatics, there are no neutral relationships" [3].

According to this view, in order to confront, fight and eventually beat the enemy -- the developed nations -- it was necessary for underdeveloped nations to dominate their language and their technology. The same senator continues:

"The barbarians that renewed civilization by facing and beating the old empires were much more than semi- civilized. Before they conquered these old empires they mastered their language, their arts, their processes of production, they became familiar with their social organization, with their technology" [4].


Brazil began defining what became known as its informatics policy in this climate. In its final form, this policy, based on the contention that the Brazilian market was national property, determined that, in the area of computers and related technology, the market be not only protected by import tariffs but fully reserved for 100% Brazilian companies -- unless these companies admitted being unable to meet its needs.

It was defined, around 1979, that computers, up to the size of what was then called super-minicomputers (i.e., everything but mainframes), would only be manufactured or commercialized in Brazil by companies totally owned by Brazilians. Peripherals were also included under the "market reserve law", as it was called. As a consequence, computer manufacturers who had been in Brazil for a long time, such as IBM, were kept out of the more dynamic segments of the market, being only allowed to manufacture or sell mainframes.

Since, at the time, there were no 100% Brazilian companies that had the technology or the resources to manufacture this line of equipment (supermini-, mini- and microcomputers), the government sought to create conditions for their emergence. This was done especially through the guarantee that foreign or multinational companies were not allowed to compete, but subsidies, fiscal incentives, and other measures were also used.


Among the measures taken by the Brazilian government to produce a Brazilian informatics industry was the attempt to create a market for the products of the companies that were supposed to emerge. Government bureaucrats defined four market segments that could eventually help boost the production of the soon-to-appear industries: agriculture, small and medium-size enterprises, health services, and, naturally, education.

In 1980 the Special Secretariat for Informatics of the Brazilian Federal Government -- an agency controlled by the military, who considered informatics a strategic resource -- began inviting groups of educators to discuss the introduction of informatics in education.

In August of 1981 the first Brazilian Seminar on Informatics in Education took place, with the presence of educators representing most of the country's best universities. The French were called to enlighten the natives about the merits of centralized initiatives [5]. The experiences then taking place in the United States were too decentralized and uncontrolled to please the Brazilian military. And, in any case, the government also wanted to show autonomy in relation to the United States, to dispel fears, undeniably present in the minds of many, that this was merely another US-AID initiative, duly infiltrated by CIA agents, trying to find an outlet for outdated equipment or surplus production.

There were several mistakes in the way the project was started and that help explain its failure.

First, the pressure to introduce informatics in education came from the top down. Educators were mostly uninformed about informatics and unimpressed with its educational potential.

Second, the pressure was exerted by military authorities, not by educational ones (though more than once, during this period, the Minister of Education was a military man). It is doubtful, however, whether educators would react any better had the pressure come from bureaucrats in the Ministry of Education.

Third, the project was conceived in the context of industrial, not educational policy. The problem was being discussed as a supposedly noble solution for creating a market for Brazilian industries, not as a possible solution to the problems of Brazilian education.

In this context, it is no wonder that many educators understandably reacted negatively. Opposition grew when it became obvious that any project that might emerge from the discussions with educators was going to be closely supervised, if not totally controlled, by the military.

To shorten the story, a Brazilian project for the use of informatics in public education (originally grades 8 to 12, later expanded to include grades 5 to 12) was created in 1983, receiving the name of "Education by Computers", or EDUCOM [6] (the same name of the organization that exists in the United States). Based on proposals submitted by 26 Brazilian Universities, five were chosen as sites for Pilot Centers of Informatics in Education [7].

Political disputes between the Ministry of Education and the Special Secretariat for Informatics over which one was going to supervise the project, and interminable fights, within the Ministry of Education, about which organ was going to control the centralized funds for the project, ended up producing a virtually still-born initiative.

The Ministry of Education won the fight by 1985, when the military were on their way out. But it was a pyrrhic victory. With the military out of government, the idea that informatics was a strategic resource lost force, and likewise any project associated with it.

At that time, also, many people were realizing more clearly that the policy adopted by the government in the area of informatics was producing dubious results: Brazil was still lagging behind in technological development, the quality of the products was low and the price high.

In this context, EDUCOM was all but totally dead. But I will speak more about it shortly.


In spite of all this, the national policy of informatics has remained in effect until now. However, it will come under review in October of 1992, when it probably will be completely abandoned, under protests of nationalists, xenophobes and others of the same species. (In the area of software it has already been totally abandoned in practice, even if not in theory).

However, a realistic evaluation of this policy forces us to recognize that, despite its enormous negative aspects, it did produce some noteworthy results:

a. It did call general attention to the serious problem of technological dependency.

b. Though the adopted policy did not bring technological autonomy, it did allow the appearance of a genuinely Brazilian industry in the area -- an industry of assembly only, specialized in making clones, when not downright copies, but an industry, nonetheless. There are today more than 50 Brazilian companies that manufacture PCs and over 200 that make parts, components, peripherals and supplies. It is true, however, that when the present legislation is revoked next year, probably not more than one or two hardware manufacturers will be able to withstand international competition.

c. In some selected segments of the market, Brazil became highly "informatized", as we say it. This is true especially of the financial sector. We do have huge banks in Brazil -- huge, that is, in terms of the number of branches, clients and employees, not, necessarily, in terms of the amount of money they handle. Some private banks in Brazil have over 2,000 branches, spread throughout the Brazilian territory (which, I remind you, is larger than the U.S. territory, if you leave Alaska and Hawaii out). The major banks created their own hardware and software companies and are, today, almost totally automatized: they have their own private communications satellites, so that a cash deposit made in your account in a branch in the midst of the Amazon is immediately available, through a magnetic card, anywhere in the country. And vice-versa. Commercial automation begins to follow the same course of financial automation. Industrial automation lags somehow behind, except in the large multinational corporations.

On the negative side [8], one must point out the following:

a. This policy kept important investments and much needed technology out of Brazil.

b. This policy forced consumers to buy very expensive and not state- of-the-art equipments, restricting their access to technology they needed.

c. This policy prevented Brazilian industries from becoming truly modernized and so decreased the participation and competitiveness of their products in the external market.

As far as education is concerned, I must say that, given the dismal results of the effort to bring informatics to the schools, and given the relatively great success of financial and commercial automation, one can reasonably predict that the greatest impact of computing on Brazilian culture and education will take place in an informal manner, without any control -- or even awareness -- of educators. I, for one, do not think this is entirely too bad.


But let me go back to discuss the nature and the content of the attempt to use informatics in Brazilian public education. (Of Brazilian private schools, which are few and much better equipped than the public schools, I will only take passing notice, because their number is so small and their projects merely repeat what goes on abroad).

My experience with trying to introduce informatics in Brazilian public schools has brought me in contact with foes and friends of this initiative. I am convinced, in retrospective, that some of the friends did more to damage the credibility of the project than did the foes.

Those who were against the project, by seriously criticizing it, generally raised real issues that should be taken into account. (It is true that there were many who made irresponsible criticism, but these I will ignore).

On the other hand, those who were favorable to the project, seeing the challenge that they had before them, tended to narrowly and myopically focus on partial or small issues, neglecting the larger and more important questions.

I will illustrate.


Among the important issues raised by serious critics, and not really faced by the proponents of the use of informatics in schools, were the following:

a. What important educational problems can be solved with the help of informatics that could not be solved equally well, or perhaps better, by other means, provided the same amount of financial resources and political support was given to those in charge of solving them?

b. Supposing a list of these problems were produced, would the items included in it be more important and/or urgent than other issues, not included, that might compete for resources and attention?

c. The introduction of informatics to automate teaching and learning tasks in the school could help perpetuate ineffective or even condemnable pedagogical practices by giving them a second hold on life, or even a boost, through their association with supposedly highly effective and prestigious technological tools.

The proponents of the use of informatics in education were divided in two large groups -- those who defended programmed instruction and those who defended discovery learning.

The issues raised by them that I consider problematic were the following:

a. On the one hand, defenders of the programmed instruction model tended to view the educational process as nothing but an exchange of information from those who had it to those who needed it (even though these might not be aware that they needed it). For them, dispensing information is teaching and receiving it is learning, and the computer is viewed as the ideal teaching machine. More about this later.

b. On the other hand, defenders of the discovery learning model seemed to think that human beings do not learn anything through teaching, and must discover by themselves anything they learn. All learning takes place by discovery, they say, and what is often called teaching is not really teaching at all, but only facilitation of learning. For them, the computer is a fabulous learning tool (and should not be viewed as a teaching machine). To use the computer as a learning tool was, however, viewed as equivalent to learning how to program it -- in fact, to learning how to program it in LOGO. But more about this also later.

In this context, even though I have been an early proponent of the use of informatics in education, I must admit that, on all these issues, I side with the enemies, not with those who profess to be on my side. I will explain why.


Let me take, first, the three basic points made by the critics.

I do think, first, that, in a country such as Brazil, where there is a chronic scarcity of resources for education, either because there are no resources or because, by political decision, they are allocated somewhere else, the introduction of informatics in public schools is only justified IF there are important educational problems that can be solved with the help of informatics and that cannot be solved equally well or better by other means, given the same amount of resources and political support.

Be reminded that I am not denying that there are such problems. I, myself, do believe there are. What I am claiming is simply that the existence of these problems must be shown, not simply taken for granted, before we embark on massive projects of introducing informatics in the schools (especially in a country with the socio- economic profile of Brazil). Otherwise public support will be lacking.

I do think, second, that, before informatics is introduced in the schools, there must be a long process of discussion and negotiation with the educational community, during which it is shown that the educational problems informatics helps solve are more important and/or urgent than other issues that compete for resources and attention.

When discussion and negotiation do not happen, the projects of introduction of informatics in the schools, even if technically perfect, will fail because they will be boycotted by teachers, school administrators, and government bureaucrats, especially when they are involved in other educational projects and fear that money will be taken away from their projects to be allocated to informatics in education.

I do think, third, that there is no sense in introducing informatics in schools merely to make more efficient what already goes on there. What takes place in most public schools in Brazil (and in most other countries, for that matter) is nothing short of shameful, perhaps the greatest waste of resources, financial and human, that has ever been allowed to take place. Teachers are ill-prepared, contents are out-of- date, teaching methods are infamous, simpler technological support non-existent. The introduction of informatics in schools with these characteristics will only give them a longer hold on life that they do not deserve.

In relation to our schools (Brazilian schools, but I think the same is true of most other countries), I am Illichian -- we must deschool society -- and this because I thoroughly concur with Karl Popper, when he says (of our schools in general, not of Brazilian schools):

"It has been said, only too truly, that Plato was the inventor of both our secondary schools and universities. I do not know a better argument for an optimistic view of mankind, no better proof of their indestructible love for truth and decency, of their originality and stubbornness and health, than the fact that this devastating system of education has not utterly ruined them" [9].

In all these respects, I think that the critics are right, and we must thank them for, sometimes swimming against the current, reminding us of things that we might easily forget in our haste to see informatics resources available to every school child.


With respect to the arguments of the proponents, I disagree with both of the models used for the introduction of informatics in the schools: the programmed instruction and the discovery learning models.

The defenders of the programmed instruction model are right in emphasizing the importance of teaching, but do not realize that the teaching that is needed is not one centered on transmitting the content of the conventional academic disciplines -- but, rather, one centered on the development of the abilities necessary to find, evaluate, relate, classify, retain and retrieve information.

The defenders of the discovery learning model are right in emphasizing the importance of learning, but they neglect the fact that the learning abilities that are needed do not evolve spontaneously through the actions of programming the computer -- but must, instead, be learned through (some form of) teaching.

Let me go in more detail into this -- fully aware that I am now leaving the rather secure land of what has been done to enter the dangerous waters of what should be done.


In Brazil, most applications of informatics in education, in the rank-and-file private schools, followed the programmed instruction model. The reasons for this are apparent.

First, informatics in education is something relatively new. As is well known, the first applications of a new technology generally underutilize its potential by using it to do the same conventional things, only a little better and more efficiently. It is only after the technology has been in use for a while that innovative applications are discovered or invented.

Second, educational software of the programmed instruction model, by following closely what goes on in the non-informatized (non- computerized) classroom, is less intimidating to teachers, and so more easily accepted and assimilated.

However, there are several problems with this kind of model.

First, programmed instruction applications are often limited to using the computer as an electronic book without search and retrieval capabilities, and so do not explore the full potential of the electronic book metaphor. Because of this, most of these applications consist of nothing but "electronic page-turning". Although students may be given some liberty in the sequencing of the material, they are forced to limit themselves to the content and educational objectives fixed for the program. They learn only that which the teacher, with the help of an instructional designer, decided that they should learn, and are evaluated to determine the extent to which they absorbed the material presented.

Second, programmed instruction applications are often centered on the teaching of the content of the disciplines of the traditional curriculum. This no longer serves us well, because most problems that we have to solve transcend the boundaries of these disciplines. Beside this, there is such an explosion of knowledge in our day that the amount of fragmented, discipline-bound knowledge that can be transmitted is, most probably, more misleading than helpful, and, most certainly, already outdated by the time it is taught.

Third, programmed instruction applications are notably weak in developing the learning abilities that are necessary for coping with the essential everyday tasks of finding, evaluating, relating, classifying, retaining and retrieving information.

Although it cannot be denied that there are situations (as in medical, military and even industrial training) in which transmission of organized knowledge and very structured learning are desirable, and even necessary, it is imperative to recognize that this model, as an educational model, must be reviewed: we need a new paradigm.

John Sculley, president of Apple Computers, underlines the basic challenge:

"Thinking of education as simply the transfer of knowledge from teacher to student, pouting from one vessel into another, is no longer possible. It is not as though we can give young people a ration of knowledge that they can draw on throughout their careers. We don't even know what their careers will be. Students today cannot count on finding one smooth career path because, by the millions, jobs that exist today will change radically in the near future. To succeed, individuals will need tremendous flexibility to be able to move from one company to another or from one industry to another. What tomorrow's students need is not just mastery of subject matter, but mastery of learning. Education cannot be simply a prelude to a career; it must be a lifelong endeavor." [10].

Given these facts, which I consider hard to contest, we must no longer think of technology (computers, for example) as merely a form of dispensing information. We must see it as a form of structuring the environment -- home, school, play, jobs -- so that this environment becomes rich in learning possibilities -- a true "learning environment". Again Sculley is right when he says:

"Preparing students for success in the twenty-first century is a matter not of teaching [with or without computers, I may add] a particular body of knowledge but rather giving students the skills to explore their environments -- discovering and synthesizing knowledge for themselves." [11].

More about this later. Returning, now, to the Brazilian scene, I should say that those who use the computer merely as a teaching machine to instruct students in the contents of the traditional academic disciplines are not having any impact on Brazilian culture and education: they are merely perpetuating, with the help of some technological pizzas, an educational model that may have served well in the heyday of the industrial era, but that today is entirely anachronistic and demode (except within some closed institutions, such as the armed forces).


The passage from Sculley quoted last states that preparing students for the twenty-first century is a matter of giving them "the skills to explore their environments -- discovering and synthesizing knowledge for themselves".

My citation of this passage may seem an unrestricted endorsement of the discovery learning model. To be frank, I have much sympathy with what I see as the basic thrust of the discovery learning model: the idea that individuals are basically responsible for their own learning. My disagreement with it has to do with two things:

First, the idea that individuals do not have to be taught anything, not even how to learn! Carl Rogers, for example, has boasted that he never taught anything to anyone, and that if he, perchance, did teach something, the effect was pernicious [12].

Second, that the learning abilities students need to have are developed by letting them learn how to program.

My disagreement with these contentions is based on the following considerations.

First, it must be recognized that we do learn many things, and many important things, for that matter, through teaching (deliberate or informal). I thoroughly agree with Karl Popper, when he says that if every generation had to start the race where Adam started, there is no reason to presume that it would ever get any farther than Adam did [13].

Second, it must be underlined that, although people (especially children) do have a natural curiosity and inclination to learn and love to discover things, they almost always must be taught how to learn and how to discover, and, especially, how to learn from their discoveries and how to integrate what they learn into what they already know. Learning is not something that comes about spontaneously, if a child is just left alone. Nothing that we know about intellectual development or psychology of learning justifies us in adopting this pseudo-naturalistic conception, which is nothing but romantic fantasy [14]. John Holt's famous quip that children would never learn how to speak if we taught them neglects the fact that, if we do not teach children how to speak, even by example, they simply do not learn it.

Third, the abilities children need at the eve of the twenty-first centuries are not necessarily the abilities that are developed by learning computer programming -- in whatever programming language.

This is an important point. Let me elaborate on it a little.

In most organizations, the areas that first become automated are those that handle routine information processing tasks, such as accounting, payroll, billing, etc. Why does automation begin in these departments? It is not because they are the most important departments of the organization, but, rather, because they are the departments where procedures are more clearly established [15].

So, it is not a coincidence that automation starts where there is routine work and where procedures are firmly implemented. The computer, as we all know, is a machine superbly endowed for routine work. It is more precise, more predictable, and less tiring than humans [16].

The more important departments within an organization, where managers and professionals (engineers, lawyers, designers, etc.) work, deal much more with non-routine work: planning, policy-making, decision- making, project-managing, and so on. It is notorious that these tasks are more difficult, if not altogether impossible, to automate, because there are no clearly established procedures here [17].

In these areas, people use their ability to recognize patterns, to synthesize, to intuit [18]. The informatization of these areas generally takes the form of informatics support for information systems, project management systems, decision-support systems, expert systems, communications systems, agenda and scheduling systems, and the like [19].

If it is true (as I think it is) that from now on we will need more and more people who work with tasks of the second category, and less and less people who work with the routine tasks of the first category, then promoting computer programming as a way of getting people to learn how to think procedurally, is to waste important human resources. The abilities children need at the eve of the twenty-first century are not necessarily the abilities that are developed by learning computer programming -- in whatever programming language. But more about this at the end.

The proponents of the discovery learning model in Brazil are concentrated in the top private schools and in the very few public schools that are associated with universities. Almost all of them are "LOGO-ists" -- when not "LOGO-LEGO-ists"!

This, in itself, is bad. I have just observed that computer programming does not teach the students the abilities they will need to live and work in the twenty-first century. The creation of special programming languages for education is something still worse, since it tends to make of educational computing a ghetto that neither benefits from what goes on outside nor has any impact on it.

One result of this is that most LOGO followers in Brazil behave as members of a sect, and automatically reverberate cliches that only show that, for them, learning and education were first invented in the MIT laboratories -- or, at the earliest, in those of l'Universite de Geneve!

It is sad to observe teachers who claim to be faithful followers of Seymour Papert trying to supervise the work of their pupils without teaching them anything, simply letting them learn by discovery whatever it is that they learn. Either the teachers fail miserably in their intent not to teach anything, or human nature is surprisingly homogeneous, for most of the students end up developing strikingly similar LOGO programs!

Parents of children who have been exposed to a lot of LOGO in the schools are beginning to wonder why their children, who spend so much time supposedly learning how to learn, end up not learning much at all that is of help outside the LOGO ghetto.

Do not misunderstand me. There is a lot that is praiseworthy in LOGO both as an educational philosophy and as a programming language. However, it must be recognized that:

a. the praiseworthy elements of the educational philosophy antedate by far the existence of LOGO as a programming language and can be developed without it;

b. the praiseworthy elements of the programming language are not unique and are shared with many earlier programming languages, such as LISP, SmallTalk, PROLOG.


Information has become the raw material par excellence of most workers [20]. Many predict that, within 20 years, the number of people working in conventional industries in the United States will be less than 10% of the working force -- perhaps close to 5% (percentage that is equivalent to that of agricultural workers today [21]). The remainder will be manipulating information, in one way or another.

These facts force us to recognize that the basic ingredient of our society is not the computer, but information. The computer was invented and became important because it is a machine specialized in processing information and our society fuels on information -- not the other way around. Although it is undeniable that the computer has had a decisive impact on the increase of information, it is more a consequence than a cause of the Information Age.


We all know that it is not the school, which frequently tries to detain the monopoly of education, that is promoting the revolution that is leading us from industrial to information society. To the contrary. Far from being in the front line of the process of change, the school has been hardly affected by it. With a few honorable exceptions, the school (including the university) is an extremely conservative, even reactionary, institution. Teachers and professors, despite confessions of faith supposedly progressive, will rather die than change their way of seeing and doing things, and, so, their way of teaching [22].

Few schools, even among those that heavily use technology, are teaching their students the skills and abilities they will need to perform in the information society. Merely to introduce computers in these schools, other things remaining the same, is virtually useless, since what now takes place there is obsolete and anachronistic. To make it more efficient, other things remaining the same, is only to make it more efficiently irrelevant. I thoroughly concur with Alvin Toffler when he says:

"What passes for education today, even in our 'best' schools and colleges, is a hopeless anachronism. ... Our schools face backward toward a dying system, rather than forward to the emerging new society. Their vast new energies are applied to cranking out Industrial men -- people tooled for survival in a system that will be dead before they are. ... It would be a mistake to assume that the present-day educational system is unchanging. On the contrary, it is undergoing rapid change. But much of this change is no more than an attempt to refine the existent machine, making it ever more efficient in the pursuit of obsolete goals." [23]

Education is in bad shape today NOT because our schools lack technology. The absence of technology in our schools is not a cause of the disastrous state of our education, but a consequence of it. Education is in bad shape because:

a. Teachers are ill prepared, not only in terms of their mastery of the subject-matter assigned to them and of the methods to teach it, but, mainly, in terms of the general outlook on life, society, the individual, and on the place of education in this whole complex.

b. Students are not motivated, in part because they have bad teachers, who do not kindle in them the desire to learn, in part because the contents taught in school are quite useless, and in part because the methods used to teach these contents are unimaginative.

Here we have an important element in this complex situation that deserves careful attention -- especially because it bears on the issue of technology.

Children learn from the time they are born -- even before. Today, they grow up in front of television, handle competently and naturally sophisticated sound and video equipment (which their parents often do not know how to manipulate), play with video game and computers ever since they acquire the necessary psycho-motor co-ordination.

The average student of our schools, even in Brazil, is used to watching engaging movies filled with dramatic action and sound or visual special effects, everything happening in a dynamic and fast pace. Video cassette recorders and cable television have given him access to these movies in the comfort of his home. Television shows try to be as fast-paced as possible, because they are always under the threat of the remote control unit. Even commercials are often entertaining. If a show or a commercial goes too slowly or is not sufficiently engaging, the viewer will simply flip through various channels and choose something else that holds his attention.

As a result of this, the level of tolerance of our students to ill-prepared, uninteresting classroom presentations is extremely low. Unfortunately, in school they are forced to sit through the dullest moments of their lives -- without the equivalent of a remote control unit. If they look totally bored and unmotivated, don't be mistaken: they are (as Groucho Marx would say). Unable to turn the presentation off or to move to a more engaging one, they simply turn or tune themselves off. It is difficult to perform well something that does not interest you at all. What is not worth doing is not worth doing well.

Are our students becoming less intelligent and more incapable? I think not. They often display intelligence, competence and energy outside the school. The problem is that they bring to school more information and higher expectations than those who came before them, and so are bound to be more disappointed, less motivated, and to perform less well.

That intelligent and capable students, who are able to perform extremely well in things in which they are interested, become so uninterested in school that they prefer anything to it, even a dismal job, is, in my view, the most serious indictment of the school that can be found. The school, instead of stimulating the natural curiosity and desire to learn of students, stifles them.


In fine, the model of education that we find in our schools is discipline-centered, content-focused, past-oriented. The mere addition of technology to the schools will not make any lasting impact on culture and education. It will only make the education that they offer more efficiently bad. There is no sense in going faster when you are moving in the direction of disaster.

It is necessary to change the model of education, to change the direction in which we are moving. Instead of an education centered on the teaching of the content of the traditional disciplines, we need to create rich learning environments, in which children can learn the processes, develop the abilities, understand the values, that, in their totality, will make them capable of permanent learning. And this must be made in a way that challenges, involves and motivates them.

These learning environments may be centered on the school of the future -- but need not be. Given the increasing ease with which we can communicate, the home, the job, the places of leisure, may all become very effective learning environments.

We should recognize, once and for all, that to familiarize children with technology, though important, is hardly enough. It is also necessary that they learn how to discern which kind of information is relevant to their needs, how to find where this information is located, how to assess the information they find and receive, how to analyze it, how to relate it to the other pieces of information they already have, how intelligently to organize and file it, how to retrieve it easily, how to present it concisely and attractively. It is here that the school may find its place of honor.

Just to give some flesh to the notion of a new paradigm for education, here is, as an example, a (non-exclusive) list of abilities that children will need to live and work in the Information Age. Without them, they may become functionally illiterate in the coming years. Here they are:

Does anybody know of a school that places emphasis on these abilities? I do not.

Can informatics help their development? Undoubtedly. But not if it continues to be used in the ways our schools use it today.

Let me repeat what I have already said. Placing computers in the schools will not necessarily cause them to promote these abilities: computers, today, may be a necessary, but are certainly not a sufficient condition for fundamental educational change.

One may stay with the present, anachronistic educational paradigm and yet make constant use of educational technology resources.

Or one may replace the present paradigm with a much better one and yet not make much use of educational technology resources. (John Keating did not use any educational technology in Dead Poet's Society).

Educational technology may fit in many paradigms. In fact, it is the paradigm that determines how technology will fit or that explains why it will not fit.

In their anxiousness to be in the forefront of technology, many educators have forgotten that technology can also be used in very reactionary forms, that it may help perpetuate condemnable educational practices by allowing them to be associated with what is perceived to be good, progressive, and efficient (such as computers).

Technology is not magic. It may be used to educate, but also to mis-educate (if I may borrow Paul Goodman's term). It is our task as educators to see that it is used to educate in the richest and fullest sense that our mind can envision.

I will finish by quoting Peter E. Drucker:

"As was first pointed out forty years ago by the Canadian Marshall McLuhan, it was not the Renaissance that changed the medieval university. It was the printed book. ... Just as the printed book became the new 'high tech' of education in the fifteenth century, so computer, television and video cassettes are becoming the high tech of education in the twentieth century. Thus the new technology is bound to have a profound impact on the schools and how we learn. ... The printed book in the West triggered a surge in the love of learning such as the world had never seen before and has never seen since. ... Will computers and technology together produce a similar explosion of the love of learning? Anyone who has seen a seven- or eight-year-old spend an hour running a math program on a computer or an even younger child watching 'Sesame Street' knows that the powder for such an explosion is accumulating. Even if the schools do their worst to squelch it, the joy of learning generated by the new technologies will have an impact. In the United States and in Japan the schools, after thirty years of fierce resistance to the new technologies, are increasingly willing to use them, to embody them in their teaching methods, and to create the desire to learn which, in the last analysis, is the essence of being educated." [24]


[*] Paper originally presented, by invitation of the organizers of the International Colloquium, at the meeting of the Association for the Development of Computer-Based Instructional Systems (ADCIS), Saint Louis, MO, November 1991.

[1] The publication Strategies of Development for the Canadian Computer Industry, of the Canadian Science Council (Report # 21, September 1973), defines informatics as "an integrated network of industrial and business activities centered on the production and utilization of goods and services based on computers and related technology, and involving both hardware and software". I quote apud Paulo Bastos Tigre, Computadores Brasileiros, Second Edition (Editora Campus, Rio de Janeiro, 1985), p.53.

[2] Edison Dytz, A Informatica no Brasil: Segunda Fase (Livraria Nobel, Sao Paulo, 1987), pp.1,vii.

[3] Severo Gomes, "Informatica, Soberania, os Caminhos da Libertacao", in A Batalha da Informatica (Governo do Estado de Sao Paulo, Sao Paulo, 1984), p.22.

[4] Severo Gomes, op.cit., p.23.

[5] The French position was presented by Mme. Francoise Faure. But Mme. Faure represented the Ministry of Industry, not the Ministry of Education! Even so, she emphasizes that the public education system in French is centralized and that it employs around 800,000 people, of whom around 640,000 are teachers -- numbers that make it "the largest French company".

[6] For a brief history of this project, see Educacao e Informatica: Projeto EDUCOM - Ano I (FUNTEVE, Rio de Janeiro, 1985). See also Eduardo O. C. Chaves and Valdemar W. Setzer, O Uso de Computadores em Escolas: Fundamentos e Criticas (Editora Scipione, Sao Paulo, 1988), pp.8-18.

[7] Cf. Educacao e Informatica: Projeto EDUCOM - Ano I, op.cit., pp.29- 110. Cf. also Eduardo O. C. Chaves and Valdemar W. Setzer, op.cit., pp.12-14.

[8] Cf. Gilberto Paim, Computador Faz Politica (APEC, Rio de Janeiro, 1985), pp.21-22.

[9] Karl R. Popper, The Open Society and Its Enemies, Vol.I: "The Spell of Plato" (Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1962, 1966, 1971), p.136. There is a similar statement, by Samuel Butler (em Erewhon), quoted by Popper in another work: "I sometimes wonder how it was that the mischief done was not more clearly perceptible, and that the young men and women grew up as sensible and goodly as they did, in spite of the attempts almost deliberately made to warp and stunt their growth. Some doubtless received damage, from which they suffered to their life's end; but many seemed little or none the worse, and some almost the better. The reason would seem to be that the natural instinct of the lads in most cases so absolutely rebelled against their training, that do what the teachers might they could never get them to pay serious heed to it". This passage is cited as motto in one session of "Replies to My Critics", in The Philosophy of Karl Popper, edited by Paul Arthur Schilpp (Open Court, La Salle, 1974), Vol.II, p.1174.

[10] Preface to Interactive Multimedia: Visions of Multimedia for Developers, Educators, & Information Providers, edited by Sueann Ambron and Kristina Hooper (Microsoft Press, Redmond, 1988), p.vii.

[11] Op.cit., p.viii.

[12] Cf. Freedom to Learn (Charles E. Merrill Publishing Company, Columbus, 1969), pp.152-153: "My experience has been that I cannot teach another person how to teach. ... When I try to teach, as I do sometimes, I am appalled by the results, which seem a little more than inconsequential, because sometimes the teaching appears to succeed. When this happens I find that the results are damaging. It seems to cause the individual to stifle significant learning. Hence I have come to feel that the outcomes of teaching are either unimportant or hurtful."

[13] Karl R. Popper, "Truth, Rationality and the Growth of Knowledge", in Conjectures and Refutations (Harper & Row, Publishers, New York, 1963), p.238. The exact phrase is: "Were we to start the race where Adam started, I know of no reason why we should get any further than Adam did." Cf. also "Towards a Rational Theory of Tradition", in the same book, p.129.

[14] Cf. David P. Ausubel, Educational Psychology: A Cognitive View (Holt, Rinehart & Winston, New York, 1968), p.467.

[15] Cf. Raymond R. Panko, End User Computing: Management, Applications, and Technology (John Wiley & Sons, New York, 1988), p.7.

[16] Cf. Hubert L. Dreyfus and Stuart E. Dreyfus, Mind Over Machine: The Power of Human Intuition and Expertise in the Era of the Computer (The Free Press, New York, 1986), p.xx.

[17] Cf. Raymond R. Panko, op.cit., pp.8-9.

[18] Cf. Hubert L. Dreyfus and Stuart E. Dreyfus, op.cit., p.xx.

[19] Perhaps here is where automation (in a more technical sense) also ends, if some people (e.g., the Dreyfus brothers) are right in their contention that "human expertise resists capture in formal rules". Cf. op.cit., p.xx.

[20] Cf. Alvin Toffler, Powershift (Bantam Books, New York, 1990), passim.

[21] Cf. Peter E. Drucker, The New Realities ( ), p.??? (160)

[22] Cf., in this context, Michel Tardy, Le Professeur et les Images (Presse Universitaire de France, Paris, 1966). Cf., also, Eduardo O. C. Chaves, "Informatica na Educacao: Uma Reavaliacao", in Cadernos CEVEC, N§ 3, 1987, pp.26-31.

[23] Alvin Toffler, Future Shock (Random House, New York, 1970, and Bantam Books, New York, 1971), p.400 of the Bantam Books edition. pp.398,399,405.

[24] Peter E. Drucker, op.cit., pp.248-250.

© Copyright by Eduardo Chaves

Last revised: 02 May 2004

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