Will Technology Kill Traditional School-Based Education?

Novelist Isaac Asimov imagined 30 years ago that if everyone had a device connected to a broad information network, traditional schooling would be redundant. Most of us now have such a device.

Will we keep sending our children to school forever?
Will we keep sending our children to school forever?
Mariano Narodowski and Gustavo Romero


BUENOS AIRES — Do children need to be schooled to assure a functioning society? Does it make sense today to separate school from education? What about in the near future?

"De-schooling" was first proposed in 1971, by Ivan Illich. The educator anticipated online social networking and the markets (collaborative consumer applications), and imagined a world without schools, which he saw as being a tool of capitalist oppression. If one could leave children somewhere else where they would be cared for, watched and educated, would it be the end of schools?

The questions transcend the wishes of those stating them. Will we keep sending our children to school forever? The question is irrelevant, some might observe, when already many children either don't attend school, leave early, or are expelled. Certainly, but it's also a fact that over the past century, traditional schooling has expanded, even in the poorest countries.

The novelty is that disruptive forms of knowledge transfer are having some disconcerting effects. Schools are no longer the only place where people acquire legitimate knowledge: networking sites, computer screens and Artificial Intelligence are penetrating our lives, allowing us to imagine a future of de-schooling. This may happen at least with some of the formative phases of traditional education systems, regardless of what we may wish to believe.

If one could leave children somewhere else where they would be cared for, watched and educated, would it be the end of schools?

The eminent science fiction novelist Isaac Asimov imagined all this in 1988. If, he contended, every person had a device connected to a network we would all learn from a vast, virtual library and there would be no need for schools. Three decades later, most of us now have such a device.

But so far the transfer of education to non-curricular methods faces one limit: childcare. The problem arises whenever classes are suspended. Periods of recess from school usually prompt temporary solutions: Non-school venues are organized to keep watch over and educate children, like holiday camps, though more often and more precariously, children are left to the care of a grown-up — a grandmother, neighbor or friend — and in those cases, studies show, this classic example of unpaid work is most often carried out by a woman.

In non-developed regions (where most people in the world live) and contrary to the promises that came with the march of modernity, new hiring formulae and paid work are increasing working hours for employees. It is a trend that will confirm schools as the place "to drop the children off," with the help of more laws to extend school hours based on the assumption that more school time is never a bad thing.

It seems that presently, schools are the only option providing daytime care and supervision of children and teenagers. As long as child labor is illegal and minors are considered non-autonomous, dependent subjects unable to fully govern themselves, school will be the only means of providing both mass-scale education and protection of these age groups.

Yet there are many learning proposals for children that would certainly be less costly and more efficient. There is New Zealand's COOL project, to assure generalized, publicly financed and obligatory access to primary and secondary education online. In Brazil there are proposals to have secondary schoolchildren spend 30% of their time online at home, and use interactive learning programs run by international firms. This is already underway in many developed countries.

Would schools simply become impoverished premises designed to keep control of certain social sectors?

In the Pansophia Project, we study these possible scenarios. While new technologies are welcome, the decline of the school should not end its attendant, pansophic ideal: that all human knowledge is for everyone. On the other hand, the loss of teaching independence in developing countries seems a very high price to pay for a cheaper system. We also owe ourselves a debate on who owns the information such websites gather. Let there be an impartial analysis about users (pupils) ceding to firms the property rights of data they have generated.

In spite of the qualms, how much longer — assuming the issue of caring for children for a certain number of hours were resolved — before states transfer part of the mandatory education to a cheaper, more efficient system? Could (or should) we prevent such a vast change affecting all of us who have lived in the era of institutional schooling? Would schools simply become impoverished premises designed to keep control of certain social sectors?

There are many pending questions, but we believe knowledge belongs to all human beings. Universal education is not negotiable.

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Air Next: How A Crypto Scam Collapsed On A Single Spelling Mistake

It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money for a blockchain-powered e-commerce app. But the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors. A cautionary tale for the crypto economy.

Sky is the crypto limit

Laurence Boisseau

PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.

Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.

Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.

Share capital of one billion 

The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).

The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.

Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.

While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.

screenshot of the typo that revealed the Air Next scam

The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down

compta online

Raising Initial Coin Offering 

Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.

For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."

What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".

Finding culprits 

Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.

Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.

Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.

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