The past, the present, and the future

If we look back to the past centuries, we can see that the major factor in establishing today’s society was based on the foundation of the education system. Before the 17th century, education was limited to the elites mostly the priests and royals, the rest of people were mostly “uneducated.”

Beginning in the late 17th century and the 18th century, there was a movement among the intellectuals demanding a better education for the people. Historical scholars called that time “The Age of Enlightenment” because of the new views using science and philosophy as evidence to challenge traditional ways of thinking that “Only the priests and royals can be educated.” The great philosophers John Locke and Jean Jacques Rousseau had written articles demanding that education must be taught to everybody on how to read and write so they can think for themselves against certain “religious biases” set up by the elites who control them. This movement spread across Europe rapidly as more people began to realize their right to an education and question the traditional ways of thinking. In the past, all schools are controlled and operated by priests, but many intellectuals opened their own schools to spread their belief that a new education focused on science and philosophy can help modernize the standard of living for European people. As more people can read, there was an increasing demand for printed materials. As more books were printed and more people know how to read, there was a new demand for more books in different subjects than science and philosophy. As more people began to express their feeling in writing, more literary novels and poetry were created which gave rise to a new age called “The Age of Romanticism.”

Beginning in the late 18th and early 19th century, there was a movement to establish “Public schools” for everybody. Besides teaching people to read and write, the curriculum also included additional subjects such as mathematics, physics, chemistry, and biology etc. Of course, the goal was not training every student to become a mathematician, physicist, chemist, or biologist but the education leaders at that time recognized the need for people to understand the basic concepts of these sciences to contribute to their fast-growing economy, mostly in Britain, France, Germany, Austria, Hungary, and Russia.

As the European’s economy was growing, some countries were advancing and gaining more power, they need a highly skilled workforce to support their economic growth. For example, they could not grow their power without having skilled workers in mathematics to support their banks and financial institutions. They could not build large ships to use in their conquest of other countries and establish colonies without skilled workers in engineering, physics, and chemistry. Eventually, the education system was organized into several levels: Elementary, High school, and College with the standard curriculum consist of several subjects as we know today.

As we look back in history, we can see that all the powerful countries at that time (Spain, Britain, France, and Germany etc.) had an excellent education system that produced many scientists, engineers etc. but all countries that fell under their domination and became their colonies did not even have a good education system in place. Even China, with a good tradition in education, failed to adjust and adapt to new changes and being torn apart by these powerful countries. Only Japan after being humiliated in the 19th century realized the benefit of a modern education system. The emperor ordered a major change in their education to focus more on science and grew quickly to be another powerful nation in the early 20th century.

The notion that education system is the foundation of the society and the defense of a country remains as valid today as it was in the past. Today, where everything is connected and driven by technology, every country need to improve their education system by adding a new subject: Information Technology. We are living in a world driven by technology and impacted by technology and having a skilled technical workforce in is the key factor for economic prosperity. More than ever, education is playing a major role in shaping the needed workforce.

As we are moving towards the future, it is essential that everybody should know how to use the computer and its tools. Just like in the past, people should know how to read, write and perform basic arithmetic , to be prepared for the jobs of this 21st century, all current and future students must be educated in Information Technology and having skills in Computer Science. What we need is a new education system and qualified teachers to make it happens.


  • Blogs of Prof. John Vu, Carnegie Mellon University

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