Reforms need to foster creativity

Vietnam News, 30 January 2013

How can education be established as the basis for peace?

In the 21st century, it's incredible that there are 28 different wars going on across the world. And this indicates that our socio-political infrastructure is incapable of solving these problems without sending young people to go and kill each other.

In the education process, we need to encourage young people to have a humanitarian attitude and to think very carefully about how they will act when they get into the position of political responsibility. I can only see that through education. But we don't seem to be very good at it.
We need to have a general education, which is separated from dogma. By and large, the world has been based on controlling people on the basis of dogma instead of rational analysis. We see many wars in the present world are actually fought in the name of religion.
We need to work together if we're going to survive.

It's absolutely vital that we educate our young people in questioning and doubting, where they can decide what's true and recognise that although knowledge doesn't guarantee good decisions, common sense suggests that wisdom is the unlikely consequence of ignorance.

In countries such as Viet Nam, where do you think education reform should start? Do you think the goal should be making our education system more competitive with the West?

It takes a long time to build an education system which is cost-effective and efficient with regards to what your needs are. The technology is moving ahead so quickly, faster than you can create a sufficiently well-trained group of people to take on.

Our best scientists are not going to go into education because they are desperately needed in the industry, probably more so here than anywhere else. I think the main thing with education is to teach children how to think. It requires individual, personal freedom to be able to do certain things and make decisions.

I don't like competitions. You should focus on what you're good at. You can't force creativity. I think it's very interesting that you have a Fields medalist (considered the Nobel Prize in maths awarded to Professor Ngo Bao Chau in 2010) because mathematics isn't the most obvious area of technological competitiveness in the modern world. You need the freedom to be a poet, an artist and the freedom of mind to become a scientist, to doubt and question. And you must have an environment in which you allow your children to ask questions and also disagree with the teachers. If you're lucky, then what they discover and what they create is useful in the broader context of technology.

In my case, I wasn't interested in the Nobel Prize. It wasn't of any interest to me. We didn't even think about it. You need to have an education system which gives young people the individual freedom to do what they're interested in and to tap the creative potential of each child and not put them under pressure to win prizes.

Can you talk about your new project called GEOSET, short for Global Educational Outreach for Science Engineering and Technology, which is a free digital database for science, maths and technology instruction?

One of the major reasons for us to come here is that hopefully here in Viet Nam you will also contribute to this programme, where we have universities and schools throughout the world contributing to the scientific education materials that are available freely on the Internet.
I am harnessing schools and universities and teachers throughout the world to contribute personally and subjectively. So we are recording teachers, students, graduates, undergraduates, school children talking about the things that are fascinating to them.

We're using the internet to explore ways in which the internet can actually catalyse the creation of education materials and also distribute it to where it's required and to teachers who would say: " That's a great idea, I'm going to use that in my class." — VNS