KNOWLEDGE WILL SAVE THE WORLD
Doctor of Technical and Economical Sciences, Doctor of Economics and Law, Efim Malitikov does not need a special introduction to the general public. In Russia he is well known as President of the International Association “Knowledge”, in the CIS countries – as Chairman of the Interstate Committee for the dissemination of knowledge and adult education, the intellectual elite of the West knows him as a professor at the University of Chicago and Denver, the initiator and constant participant of many international conferences and forums held under the auspices of the UN and other international organizations.
But most of all Efim Mikhailovich is known as a passionate educator and organizer of lifelong learning and adult education – an idea that has found countless like-minded people and followers around the world. Paraphrasing the words of the writer, Malitikov likes to repeat “Knowledge will save the world! Our correspondent managed to catch Yefim during his short stop in Moscow to ask him a few questions that interest our readers.
– Why do you consider education to be the key to overcoming most of today’s problems? Isn’t it more correct to put well-being ahead of all priorities?
– This is one of those logical conclusions that revolve around assumptions like: which came first, the chicken or the egg? In this regard, I would suggest that one pattern be pointed out. Most analysts believe that the cultural factor was at the root of the incredibly rapid recovery of some nations that had been defeated in wars. At the level of the private individual, this ability of a nation to regenerate is almost always explained by its average level of education. Let us try to put the problem differently: what other countries need to do to achieve the same ability to survive, to heal the wounds and in some one or two generations to be again at the forefront of world development. The answer will always be the same: get the education system right. The prosperity you just mentioned, in all historically observed typical examples, always depends on the education of a critically important mass of the population.
– If this is true, where are the examples that support such an important role for education?
– The most “laboratory-pure” example in this case would be the experience of the Soviet regime. And, look at this: at the very beginning, faced with a dire need for trained personnel, the Soviets were forced to draw “specialists” from the defeated classes into their armies and industries. The same need compelled them to begin the mass eradication of illiteracy and the unprecedented development of higher education and science.
Let us not forget – in the Soviet Union was created an exemplary system of education! This alone can explain the unique scientific and technical achievements, which were achieved by this regime, despite all its “immanent” vices.
– Why was it so weak in the face of the trials that befell it?
– The reason was a lack of flexibility, based on a flawed decision-making system. An ideological scheme prevailed over the recommendations of scientists, but on the whole the system was able to cope with problems as long as their solution depended on a purely quantitative concentration of enormous resources. But the situation began to change rapidly when the quality of the challenges facing the Soviet Union during the stagnation period became different.
By the way, one of the earliest harbingers of the approaching crisis was a lag in the knowledge system. Soviet education was based, as we know, on a class-lesson system of teaching (the successor of the Socratic school of dialogue), which allowed its graduates to claim, until their retirement, the right to work, according to the USSR Constitution, without having to worry about their own qualifications.
– To what extent does paying for education today make it possible to overcome the shortcomings of the state classroom-taskwork system?
– The paid form does not change the essence of the former system. It was recently calculated that up to 17% of the knowledge used today is renewed each year. It means that if you do not try to keep abreast of the latest developments in your specialty, in 5-6 years you will be a complete bankrupt. This, by the way, once again confirms a simple truth – today it is not the diploma that determines a person’s intellectual potential. It is no coincidence that now you can buy them on every corner.
Moreover, even being a graduate of Oxford, Cambridge or Stanford is no longer enough to guarantee a serious job.
– But you named the internationally recognized educational centers! Where else but these and a similarly few centers can provide a higher standard of education?
– Alas, the glory of each such university is actually made up by a very small handful of 3-4 professors who are true luminaries in their fields. This is because it is not enough to be an outstanding scientist or even a Nobel laureate to teach from a university department. A far rarer talent is required for this, that of a popularizer of the latest achievements of civilization in a variety of fields of knowledge.
– But such talents, as you put it, are very few. How can we make up for the lack of them?
– This shortage reflects a worldwide trend toward a growing shortage of qualified educators at the upper, middle, and lower levels. Out of a need of 60 million, there are at present no more than 45 million teachers in the whole world. The vast majority of the world’s population is ignorant and does not have access to existing education systems. What about teachers who manage to teach the same course for 30 years!
Using an accounting vocabulary, we can safely state – there is a “red balance” in the balance of the modern system of knowledge dissemination, the consequences of which will be felt by the coming generations.
The World Bank has derived a formula: industry accounts for no more than 16% of the potential of modern civilization. The main part of it is a human resource. As Vernadsky already pointed out, humanity is an absolutely unique kind of earthly resources with a very specific nature of energy replenishment – through knowledge!
– But isn’t the World Wide Web the natural solution to such problems…
– Internet, indeed, was a real breakthrough in the field of communications. But with one “but”: it works only in places where cables are installed.
For many people, the Internet is still too complicated a means of communication. Alas, it has not yet helped to overcome the social divide. There are many places on Earth where the Internet simply cannot be set up because of the landscape – in high mountains, for example.
In reality, this means that billions of people today do not have access to modern education. Think about it – billions of people cannot compete, cannot have jobs, cannot adequately participate in scientific and technological progress and cultural life.
More than three billion people earn less than two dollars a day, about two billion people live on one dollar a day!
This category of humanity lives in the absence of basic means of transport and communication, without communication even with their own administrative center… This is where the drug mafia, criminal structures, criminal clans draw their reserves from…
– Backward areas probably exist in every country, and every country allocates funds from the budget to fight poverty …
– Planetary problems, that’s why they are called that, have long crossed national boundaries. Their solution using traditional tools very often leads to counterproductive results.
The CIS countries, leaving the Soviet Union, arranged a “parade of sovereignty” instead of taking advantage of the unique chance to move forward and create powerful supranational institutions based on a common approach in assessing the benefits and dangers. A rare chance was missed! This is when revolutions only prove their futility in comparison with the gentle and creative nature of evolution.
– That leaves satellite communication. But does it require fewer prerequisites?
– A calculator will tell us the answer to this question. It is necessary to spend on average $500 per year per person to maintain a one-way telephone cable. And the satellite link to connect 100,000 people – requires a cost of only $5 per user – virtually free! Satellite signal is already able to come to places where there is no cable or phone. If you already have a diesel or solar generator – communication via satellite will cost you a hundred (!) times less than laying cable for the Internet.
That is why every targeted satellite system can be called a global communications system, compared to the Internet, which in many places is only capable of being a local system.
Unfortunately, even such simple truths have to be repeated all the time…
Meanwhile, humanity feels an extremely urgent need to optimize the global dissemination of knowledge and can hardly wait indefinitely for one of the current giants of world communications deigns to respond to the call of the times.
– Perhaps to meaningfully develop the virtual system of education, it is desirable to present its work already today in an unfolded form. What is the educational system of the future, the prototype of which can already be seen in the virtual educational network that you are creating?
– You are quite right to say that it is preferable to imagine an idea as early and as accurately as possible, no matter how far away it is from us. It is important to state some things from the beginning. 1. The need to manage global processes inevitably moves toward the ability to manage them. Critical mass must be managed. 2. Globalization inevitably leads to the elimination of borders and the formation of a kind of prototype of global e-government. 3. All components of modern civilization – knowledge, information, people – should continuously move and interact in the world space according to the principle of communicating vessels, experiencing the action of all natural forces of social homeostasis – gravitation, magnetism and repulsion.
– Which strategy of today will bring us the picture of the future you have drawn closest to reality?
– The most important thing today is to get a simple idea across to as many minds as possible: knowledge must be evenly distributed across the planet. To put it figuratively, we need to “spread knowledge on the planet like butter on bread. Most importantly, we must by all means overcome the deep-seated mental approach in the minds of our educators-educators, according to which there is “my knowledge,” “my lecture,” “my course,” and “my content. People miss the main consideration for which all these lectures and content exist: the thirsty person for knowledge. The current situation leads to the fact that knowledge exists, but it is not distributed, there are excellent popularizers, but they are hidden behind a “forest” of trivial compilers.
Knowledge is such an energetic medium, which in civilization is “spilled” among many educational and scientific centers. And only from a common center of knowledge distribution (let’s call it the “world university”), where the global scientific potential and information about the teaching corps of the whole world is accumulated, it is possible to optimize the use of the knowledge popularization genius potential with minimal losses for the global audience of listeners.
– Listening to you, you begin to realize that very soon the world community will have to get more and more used to such notions as “world university”, “global audience”… How will such a global educational network be organized?
– It would hardly be right to tie such a network to a specific place on Earth, which was capable of becoming the main distributor of knowledge and having the ability to technologically accumulate global achievements. In past centuries, for example, Germany remained such a scientific center of the world for a long time. But look, where is the birthplace of the university tradition today? Somewhere in the bottom third of the world ranking!
The world university is more of a virtual concept, referring to the world center, “which is present everywhere. Through this virtual network, you have access to all the best programs and the most talented teachers in the world. Imagine for a moment that you will be taught math by a luminary from Moscow State University, law from Cambridge, cybernetics from MIT, economics from Harvard, etc. A repository of the best content will open before you. If I want to study space, there are two schools – the American and the Russian – that rule. Other subjects I will take at other centers. And pay attention – I take, I choose, not I am given!
– All right, if you’re a Rembrandt or Beethoven, but if you want to become a Stradivarius, that takes 25 years of study…
– That’s why we need a worldwide distribution of knowledge. We need a “natural selection” of courses, programs and teachers. Anyway, one thing is clear – the classroom-taskwork system is dead, not many people are able to cross entire continents to get into “their” institute, and counting on a personal conversation with a course author is increasingly unaffordable luxury. Yet every day millions and millions of people with a hunger for knowledge become more and more desperate to obtain it “firsthand” and of the best quality. My associates and I work tirelessly 365 days a year to make this demand a reality.
Interview by Valery Novikov