“Education is that which remains, if one has forgotten everything one learned in school.”
— Albert Einstein
One of the most fundamental questions that can be asked about education as such is what it is for and why do we need it? As described in my report “GÅ INN I DIN TID – Fra ide til handling” many computer science students raised the more specific question “Why do we need social informatics?”
The most obvious and generally accepted answer is that education aims at providing students with knowledge and skills which match the demands of employers, thus enabling students to find jobs and employers to find employees, i.e. education has a purly vocational goal. If we look upon the more specific question of why social informatics, we might find the above mentioned goal clearly stated in the California State University Long Beach description of the aim for the course Social Informatics: “This course is designed to help you become an effective working computer professional”[i].
So is education, including Social Informatics, then only concerned with practicality and quickly enabling a student to get a job?
In Greek thinking, the ideal of paideia included the development of moral virtues and logical and rhetorical skills which were thought essential for becoming a good human being and democratic citizen. In a similar vein, today‘s liberal education in the USA and other countries aims at providing students with a basis of general, non-specialised knowledge and skills which allow them to contribute actively and positively to society (Bohlin 2008). In German philosophical and educational thought, J. G. Herder, Wilhelm von Humboldt, Hans-Georg Gadamer and others have developed the concept of Bildung, a word which in its most literal sense means formation, but which here refers more specifically to formation or cultivation, in education or otherwise, of human moral virtues and other capacities. (Herder 2002, Humboldt 1791-1792/1993, Gadamer 1960/1989.)
From the 1960s we have, within the Nordic and Germanistic countries, seen a revival of the German concept of Bildung. This 18th century concept was originally constructed for describing a way of combining knowledge and personal growth within a frame of Greek tradition, and it has been transformed into an aim for schooling not just for the elite, but for all students. From being an aim for a very limited group in society it has become an aim for all students. This ambition has implications for our thinking about what knowledge is, how knowledge can be obtained and who should have access to knowledge and culture.
Whereas competences can be described in fairly objective terms, Bildung is a far more complicated term to handle because it implies values, such as respect for tradition of knowledge, art and scientific thinking, judgement, tolerance and generosity towards others, critical thinking and exploration of own reasoning, flexibility of mind, courage in expressing personal opinions. Bildung includes the ability to engage in immanent critique of one’s society, challenging it to actualize its own highest ideals.
In my opinion Social Informatics is all about training computer science students in critical thinking and exploration of their own ways of thinking and arguments, flexibility of mind, courage in expressing personal opinions and challenging society.