Should education wean babies off reality?


Due to my mild dabbling in academics, I am often captured by mothers to become agony uncle for education and I have learnt the art of being silent while looking attentive when they tell me how wonderful a school is or how much their child is learning in her arts class.

As I firmly believe that humans learn next to nothing through formal mediums of education, I am not too fearful of their ideas, but a recent conversation with a mother of a toddler has now shaken me to the core, as it has made me aware of a rising monster that has power to rob us humans off the very essence of “knowing”.

The young mother I met had left no stone unturned to ensure that the kid is not left behind in anything, especially learning, and her latest proud possession was a computer App that helped toddlers to learn “while having fun”.

As she felt that I was really getting impressed by her son’s fine ability of using a computer, she enlightened me that he is using it all the time and constantly learning new things because the App had an artificial intelligence engine running in the background constantly evaluating child’s progress, so her kid was way ahead of other kids of his age.

As she was a happy mother relieved of the fact that I am convinced that she was raising her child perfectly, I didn’t say that I now see the need to say as a human being worried about all the future human babies.

I have nothing against the role played by technology in making higher education accessible to all, but the apps that are aimed at “educating” young kids need to be recognised as what they really are, and that is they are designed to wean a human child off reality.

A human brain has a various growth phases but the most important one is from birth to about six years when a fresh neural network armed with a few hardwired protocols interacts with the amazingly complex dataset we know as reality. During this phase, the brain absorbs raw information and starts working on the most important task of self-programming by sensing patterns in the data. This is the foundation on which human brain builds all its “knowledge” and hence it is a phase where it is extremely hungry for information. 

A human child is programmed to be curious and adventurous about exploring reality to a level that is often scarily self-harming because its brain is in constant search of raw information that is crucial for its future effectiveness and hence survival. 

When a computer screen, and lot worse an artificial intelligence driven interphase becomes an agent of feeding information to a brain during the phase of self-programming, what it effectively does is weans a child off reality and replaces it with abstraction and pre-determined patterns.  

A reality-weaned child may appear smarter and even crack abstract constructs like school examination, it is a sad caricature of a human being because what it has learnt as “reality” is nothing but a massively reduced abstraction that is not reality that a normal human baby was designed to learn from during our long evolutionary history that led us to be lean mean reality-ready machines. So, if we disrupt this process, we are really playing with fire. 

As we stand at a cusp of massive disruption that technology is about to bring, we really need to get extremely cautious before applying technology in sensitive areas like training a human brain. 

We need not just a systemic but statutory recognition that a human brain doesn’t need an interphase to learn reality in its early phase and put a stop to what can destroy the very idea of Homo sapiens that we claim to be. 

I am happy to admit that I have managed surviving till now with minimum effort as all my intellect has be used to avoid doing anything meaningful. As I needed to while all the free time I generated in course of being lazy, science has been my favorite muse that I have enjoyed company of. As an effort to kill time (in a way, to get even with it) one fine day I decided to write a science column, more for my personal amusement than to attract readers. After getting educated about the attention span of modern readers from my editor, it became more like a challenge to tackle esoteric subjects in 600 words that I have managed to remain interested in for more than a year now. I do not want to add my worldly profile here as these are ideas that need to be considered only on the merits they carry and not as an opinion of a certain human being.

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