Dr. Vladimir M. Sokol
Institute for Advanced Science of Arad

Education as a System of Standards

Contradictions between formal and non-formal education are, to the author’s mind, as old as the problem of education itself. But these contradictions, we believe, are by no means antagonistic ones since both formal and non-formal education can be viewed as consecutive stages of the same process.

The validity of this statement is evident in case education is viewed as a system of standards. Indeed the totality of conventional methods and training appliances peculiar to formal education is none other than a system of standards regulating society (state) demands that can be placed upon the system of education and amount of knowledge obtained by students through the process of education.

To prove the validity of such system of standards let us perform a mental experiment. Think of a teacher who is keen on the history of science and uses Roman number system as the basis for teaching mathematics and the antique philosophers’ idea about the triad “Fire-Air-Water” as building blocks of matter as the basis for teaching physics. Just as absurd would look a teacher who would start teaching mathematics with the differential equation theory and physics with the general theory of relativity. The system of standards accepted by formal education should resist such free use of methods and ways of teaching and this is undoubtedly its great advantage. Nonetheless the system of standards in education is (just as any other system) static by its nature and thus is quite unable to grow in synchrony with a dynamically growing system of knowledge. Consequently the system of formal education inevitably lags behind the level of knowledge accumulated by humanity. Constantly speeding up processes of science development and knowledge accumulation cause such an increase of students’ loading and term of study that it goes far beyond any reasonable limits. To overcome such a contradiction one has to go far beyond the limits of the conventional standards of formal education which, as a rule, manifests itself in the emergence of new non-standard methods and ways of training.

Making of such non-conventional methods and ways of training is a creative novelty and the adherents of formal education attitude towards them is aptly characterized by the following three stages formulated by Para-scientific folk-lore.

The first stage can be characterized by such words, “This is nothing but a delirious idea” or “This cannot be because this cannot ever be”. This stage we would name as the most difficult and even dramatic for a creative personality (or association). It is just at this stage, where problems of creative search are combined with problems of overcoming the misunderstanding and rejection of one’s creative ideas by one’s associates.

The second stage is characterized by the following words, “There is something in this idea”. This stage gives the creative idea “a start in life”, i.e. the idea attracts followers who are able to accept and creatively develop it.

And at last there comes the third stage characterized by such an expression as, “It’s so simple!” But one should not flatter oneself since this stage is the most dangerous for the creative idea. It is just at this stage, when the followers are replaced by imitators who are always fit to kill and castrate the essence itself of the creative idea through their thoughtless and mechanistic approaches. It is here where the pioneer has to waste much time and a lot of efforts to overcome the said process.

Non-formal education methods, coming into existence thanks to the creative approaches of the pioneers and successfully overcoming the abovementioned three stages, have proved their advantage and vital capacity. By and by such non-formal methods of education find a widespread application and at last become quite conventional. Later on such methods are incorporated into the system of education standards, i.e. become an attribute of formal education.

The system of education compares favorably with a growing tree. The trunk and branches of the tree represent what is now referred to as formal education. Young shoots of the tree are non-conventional methods and ways which are today referred to as non-formal education. Tomorrow these shoots will stiffen and incorporate into the system of education standards, making at the same time the basis for new shoots to come. On the assumption of endlessness of a scientific search and knowledge accumulation such process of formal and non-formal education interaction should be admitted endless as well.

Today we consider as non-formal methods and ways of virtual interactive education. Contemporaries are said to be poor experts in evaluating either this or that idea since such evaluation requires rather big historical interval. The author believes he would not be sadly mistaken if he mentions just two epoch-making events which have afforded the transition of education to a qualitatively new stage during the last millennium. The first event is the transition from Roman number system to decimal number system. The second event is virtual methods of education. The impact of application of virtual methods in education is so enormous that unwillingly urges on extremes. There appears the idea that the virtual education can completely eliminate as superfluous the conventional classical system of education based on the dialogue between the teacher and the student. To my mind the danger of such an approach is quite apparent. Virtual methods of education based on computer application are undeniably very efficient and powerful instruments which substantially enhance the efficiency of the training process, still, as any other instrument, they may be used both for the evil and the good. They are able to substantially accelerate learning mathematical subtleties, but unfortunately, equally well learning methods of terrorism. That is why it is far from being of no importance into whose hands falls this powerful instrument and what objectives it serves. Besides it is hardly probable that the computer would be able to explain what is the good and what is the bad better than does it the teacher. From this fact it transpires that the traditional dialogue “Teacher-Student” and virtual methods of education are on no account antagonistically discrepant notions. I believe they should be considered as mutually complementing elements of a single process. (Of course the teacher’s rating in this case should be qualitatively much higher, but that is another problem).

There is yet one more thing as to the virtual education which is worth mentioning. The general principle of constructing virtual education programs envisage a system of interconnected questions and the learner is offered a series of preset answers one of which is correct. Along with the system of virtual aid, references and hypertexts it makes possible a rapid and profitable mastering of the material under study but at the same time is in obvious conflict with the process of developing creative thinking. Creative thinking requires the ability to ask questions and find answers on the questions on one’s own. I doubt that such skill could arise through methods of virtual thinking. The conflict could be resolved only when the key part in the process of developing creative thinking is played by a teacher who is well grounded and can apply virtual methods of teaching to shape and accumulate the necessary amount of knowledge.

From the aforesaid it might be assumed that there is a dialectical interrelationship between conventional (formal) and non-conventional (non-formal) methods of education. The former could be looked at as a system of educational standards, and the latter as a system of upgrading of the said standards in accordance with a new standard of knowledge.