Data Mining - the future of education

Do you have a future?

In the first part of Data Mining the kids, I took a look at what Data mining is, and the dangers we are headed for with the ubiquitous and God-like surveillance systems, which Data Mining algorithms and Artificial Intelligence are able to deliver.

In the second part of that series, I took a look at the Digital Footprint we are leaving behind on the net, and how it might impact or future.

In this part I would like to focus more on the education system and how it is undegoing major changes in every country in the world, due to the datafication of the whole process of education. What are those changes? And again, where are the pitfalls we might be heading for? Especially when personal freedom of the students comes into play.

Also, will this lead to an increasing effectiveness in the education, or will this cause an heavier stratification of children. Those who go on to have a future. And those who don’t.

Data mining in service of humankind

First, let’s look at the positive sides, and the changes, which the datafication of the Education’s System would bring to the table.

Olivier Dumon is an academic counselor at Elsevier, publishing company. His vision of Big Data and Data mining of school students is as follows.

He sees a rather utopic world where teachers can analyse students’ exams and not just find out what they have learned, but also to see why they have trouble grasping certain concepts. The analysis of a Data Mining Algorithm would take into account, not only the exam results, but also student’s psychological profile.

It would also go even further than that. These algorithm would then scan its database of millions of students, and then pick those cases which are similiar.

It would then suggest solutions to these student’s problems and advise on a more effective tutorship.

Leveling the playing field

This certainly sounds enticing. Not only would it be extremely helpful for the less fortunate students, but it would also make the teachers,  more advisors and counselors, than the teachers which we are used to in the present schools.

Each teacher would be armed with an Artificial Intelligence advisor which would have access to a wealth of information, which was unheard of up to today (as I mentioned in the first part of this article, more information has been collected in the past two years online than in the remaining recorded human history).

The teacher would then become more an intermediary for the teaching process, rather than the leader of that process. A human face to an all encompassing Big Data system, a system which would always know better, and with which we would have to trust the future of our children.

All of this is an amazing advancement towards an education system which might very well level the palying field between the more and less talented students.

Over to the dark side

This certainly seems very promising, but as always, there is a darker side to all of this. And it is how far the system is willing to go in order to learn about its students.

Not only in US, but also in UK and Europe (Poland), we are seeing some very thought-provoking behaviour from the people governing educational reforms.

One of the most troubling aspects of these reforms, currently being advanced, is an unprecedented monitoring and tracking of students. Everything from biometric data to information on children’s beliefs and family habits is already being fed into the system.

Opponents of the “reform” agenda have stressed that this cradle-to-grave accumulation of private and intimate data as among the most compelling reasons to kill the whole move to the datafication of the Education system.

In the United States, the U.S. Department of Labor admits it’s working to “integrate work-force data and education data.”

According to the department’s “Workforce Initiative,” it will “collect data from on the individual-level. This will be from the very beginning of the individual’s life. Starting with pre-kindergarten through post-secondary schooling all the way through entry, and participation in the workforce and employment services system.”

When this is combined with information systems like the Tax system, the Judiciary system, and countless other governmental data-collection schemes, the end result paints a future which maybe even Orwell would have had trouble to envision.

“Mass education was designed to turn independent farmers into docile, passive tools of production. That was its primary purpose. And don’t think people didn’t know it. They knew it and they fought against it. There was a lot of resistance to mass education for exactly that reason. It was also understood by the elites. Emerson once said how we’re educating them to keep them from our throats. If you don’t educate them, they’re going to take control — “they” being the people. Because the freer the society gets, the more dangerous the great beast becomes and the more you have to be careful to cage it somehow.” – Noam Chomsky

Poland’s educational future?

In Poland, there has been quite a lot of controversy about a national database (System Informacji Oświatowej (SIO))  which collects statistical data about students and teachers. The whole system is aimed at unifying every piece of information which is usually collected at schools, regardign to exams, performance of the students and so on.

But what has caused a public outcry was that the SIO database allowed for personal data about how well suited it was socially, what the child’s mental condition is and if the child is getting psychological counselling.

There has also been made room for sensitive data on what kind of economy the child’s parents have. All this datification of sensitive information would then be made accessible for any educational insititution, from the kindergarten and up to the university level.

We are the last ones

And if Data Collection schemes weren’t something to worry about, when you put it into the context of Big Data Analysis, and prediction algorithms, we might be looking at Minority Report predictive analysis for every single student.

However wild this sounds, an example is worth looking into, just to prove that this is not some sci-fi speculation, but the reality, here and now.

Bloomberg Business reported last year that Carolinas HealthCare System, operator of more than 900 care centers in the United States, began to buy data to allow them to identify high-risk patients. Why? So they could intervene in an attempt to prevent potential health problems developing. How did they do that? They bought records of data from brokers who sell public records, store loyalty program transactions, and credit card purchases.

The Data Mining algorithms were then able to identify  high-risk patients so that doctors could intervene before they get sick. For example, for a patient with asthma, the hospital would be able to assess how likely he is to arrive at the emergency room by looking at whether he’s refilled his asthma medication at the pharmacy, has been buying cigarettes at the grocery store, and lives in an area with a high pollen count.

While this example might be helpful for the general health of the individual, do we want personal information about our children sold to the health system, the educational system or any other governing system?

Information which would not only be sold, but would be crunched by some anonynoums computer system in order to predict and decide the future of your children.

When you think about it, we, the people who are not digital natives (people not born into the online age), are the last generation which will have the privilege of not being made into a product of the system. A datafication of our personality.

We are the last generation for which the whole system will not have collected infromation, dating back to the kindergarten and up to the day we die. This level of information collection and performance measurement of the individual, will now be ingrained into the system. And what’s worse, we are heading towards a future where it might be very hard to escape.

In the dim lamplight I saw the child’s face. What an adorable face! A golden fruit had been born of these two peasants. This is a musician’s face, I told myself. This is the child Mozart. This is a life full of beautiful promise. Little princes in legends are not different from this. Protected, sheltered, cultivated, what could not this child become? When by mutation a new rose is born in a garden, all gardeners rejoice. They isolate the rose, tend it, foster it. But there is no gardener for men. This little Mozart will be shaped like the rest by the common stamping machine…. This little Mozart is condemned. – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Piotr Ryczko

Editor & Author
Filmmaker / Author page

As long as I can remember, a part of me has always been a keen, albeit very quiet, observer of the world around me. And another part has been a wide-eyed wonder boy who, from the get go, wanted to escape into another dimension, some yet undiscovered version of the land of Oz.

This combination of character has, on more than one occasion, shown itself to be a tad aggravating, and maybe even quite unfortunate to the outside world. And since my verbal skills are still locked away in some deep recess of my being, a talent still awaiting discovery, I had no other choice than to become a visual storyteller dressed up as filmmaker. During that process I also fell in love with words, quite many of them, actually.  Since then, there was no turning back, and I became a scribe of the written word.

Through this blog, and through my stories, be they written or told in moving images, I would like to share with you what I feel, think and dream of.

Technology woven into words

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