Saturday, January 2, 2010

In loco parentis & distance education

There was a time when education was believed to have its roots from the family.  The relationship between the institution, its teachers and the students were like parent and child.  That is the principle of "in loco parentis" or "in place of a parent".  The values of educational institutions were familial.

Today, in higher education in particular, there had been a shift towards rooting those values and that relationship in business.  Wherein the student is no longer treated as a child but a customer.  Parents do not sell learning services to their children; they do not think of making profit from their children.  But businesses do to their customers.

It is in this context that I wish educational institutions will return to the concept of "in loco parentis".  But not with regards to its narrow emphasis on policing student's mores.  I would rather emphasize the values of parents in relation to how, why, and what they want their children to learn.  "In loco parentis" applies to the academic activities as well.  And those values can be summed up in terms of giving the best education to their children regardless of cost and sacrifices.

Of course parents cannot teach everything their children want to learn.  It is the reason "apprenticeship" had been the second best option but not better than parental guidance.  But I believe that in earlier times, the relation between master and apprentice was like parent and child.  This appears to be implied even with for instance the relation between Joshua and Moses.  When masters (craftsmen, artists, philosophers, prophets etc.) were accessible in villages,  candidate apprentices can just walk in and learn what they wish to learn.  With industrialization, the masters had disappeared inside the secured walls of factories and research laboratories.  The knowledge had been dispersed among so many people involved in the production process that eventually the masters had been diminished if not disappeared all together.

In the suburban community where I live, when one goes out you would not find any artists, craftsmen, or philosophers.  You'll find retail stores and malls.  Generations after generations had lost an opportunity to learn.  And so we go to schools that cannot teach us the knowledge that are locked away in the factories, ateliers, and research laboratories.  Schools cannot attain the totality of learning that a culture with learned parents and learned masters can provide, such that one achieve his/her highest potentiality.

Now with technology, I am hoping masters would again be accessible to would be apprentices.  But can this be achieved with distance education?  Is it really possible to connect to essential expert actors in a social network threaded by the Internet?  Are the masters even out there?

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