The education revolution and our global future | David Baker | TEDxFulbright

March 7, 2020 0 By Kody Olson

Translator: Carol Wang
Reviewer: Zsófia Herczeg I’d like to talk to you today
about a very common large topic – education, schooling, from pre-school all the way
through university, all the way to adult education. We love to talk
about education all the time, but we love to talk about it
in relatively negative ways – I call these negative myths. Let me tell you a story
to give you an example: My dad, who’s 89 – By the way, when my family got together
just before I was going to do this and he kept hearing all this talk
about the TED Talk, he finally looked up at me and said, “Who the hell is Ted,
and why do you have to talk to him?” (Laughter) So my dad can come right here, right now and recite several great poems
from start to finish – Robert Frost, you name it. I’m wondering how many of you can do that. My son, who’s 19, freshman at Penn State, he couldn’t do that
if his life depended on it. And then we stop and we go,
“Yes, schooling has gotten worse. The good old days, that’s what we want.” There’s a famous, famous TED Talk,
maybe the most famous, by Sir Somebody, who tries to argue
that education kills creativity. It kills intelligence. It’s letting the world down. Nothing could be further from the truth. It’s not right. We like to have these negative myths because education has become
so powerful in our lives. It’s hard to deal with. It’s a major game
that we all have to play. I’ve just finished a book
called The Schooled Society where I try to imagine – and I’m going to invite you
to do the same thing today – What happens to the world
when it becomes educated? What’s happening is what we can call
an education revolution. All over the world, people are getting
more and more educated. People who did not have access
to schools and universities now do. The darker the color
of the country behind me, the more educated
the entire population is. This has been a dramatic effect
in just about a hundred years. Your grandparents or if you’re young,
your grandparents’ parents lived in a world where the average
person in the world was illiterate. That’s changed in just 50 years. It’s not only basic education. Now one out of five people
around the world who are youth are in some kind of higher education. What’s this done to the world? I put together a team
of social scientists, cognitive scientists, neuroscientists, and we started off with very simple
but demanding questions. I think the best science
is done on the big questions. And we asked, “What does education
actually do to people? And when we have
a lot of people with education, what does it do to our world?” And we used all kinds of methods. We worked – not with babies,
that’s just a cute picture – we worked with guys
with the sneakers on there. And we had them do math problems
and reading problems, and other people have been doing
this kind of work, and it’s amazing. Teaching somebody to read, teaching somebody
just a little bit about numbers, having them go to school, of course, makes them literate, of course, gives them some knowledge, but it changes neurological structures. It changes cognitive skills in ways
we didn’t even know before. And it doesn’t just do it once,
in the early years, it keeps doing it all the way through. Let me give you an example
of a fun part of this research. Research is hell, right? Don’t show this to my funder. Now, I show this because it’s
at the top of the world. It’s in the Andes in Peru. And we went there because it’s very hard
to find people now in the world who’ve had no education. But you can find
certain places in the world where you can find people
that have had a little bit of education, have had no education, and others who have had a little bit more. And we took our team there,
and we tested people. And we found that even small amounts of education helped people think
in very different ways. They tend to think more abstractly. They tend to be able to marshal
their cognitive enhanced skills to solve new problems. They can count. Not only can they count,
they have a sense of a number. We’re so educated we don’t realize
how strong of effect that is. It’s a major effect. This is those people’s kids. The education revolution
is caught up here. This is the first generation
of Quechua kids who will go all the way
through school. When I walked in, they ran
up to their teacher and said, “Father Christmas’s walked
into our classroom.” (Laughter) You can imagine what my graduate students
said about that for the next week. We also have gone to Africa. We went to Ghana, north of Accra. Same kinds of folks. But here we asked, What’s the effect
of all this cognitive enhancement? And we focused on what people
understood about the tragic HIV. And we looked at people without education
and people with education. We were interviewing a man
who had no education. He was illiterate. And he passed around this kind
of material all the time. The West has spent
billions and billions of dollars on getting the simple facts out. And so we asked him, as we did everybody,
about some causes of HIV. And we said, “Can you get HIV
from a blood transfusion?” His face lit up and he said,
“Yes, but not if you wear a condom.” (Laughter) It’s funny and tragic. This man does not have the skills to put together a working
theory of that disease. Education, basic education,
has saved millions of lives all around the world. We need to start to understand this
both scientifically and politically. Education is the major social vaccine
against all kinds of diseases: rising childhood obesity worldwide, the smoking epidemic in Asia, the high birth rates
in the southern part of the world, which are still very large
and very problematic, keeping children’s lives. The number one factor is
“if the mothers had some education.” At the same time, this is basic education. So you may want to say, “Well, what happens
when people get more education?” Let me finish the story
about my father and my son. My son, I told you, could not
recite a great poem, right? But my son, ever since he was
a little kid in school, has been invited to be a poet. He’s written poems – they weren’t very good
but he’s written them – and he’s analyzed poems, and he’s been asked
to rewrite great poems. My father would never, ever think of that. This is a different kind
of education that we’re doing – we invite kids to be mathematicians,
we invite them to be scientists. This is happening all over the world. This empowers people – big time. Not only does it give them
cognitive skills, but it empowers them to think –
to dare to think if you’d like. What does that do to the world? There’s a lot of interesting impact. Let me share a few. So when we have enhanced skills
and enhanced empowerment, what happens? One of the biggest things,
I think, for a Fulbright audience is it changes world politics: the Arab Spring, the Ukraine. What’s happening there? Educated people
are leading the way to change. They have the skills,
but more importantly, they have the willingness to dare to think about what a nation would look like
if it were changed – ironically, and it’s a nice irony. The totalitarian governments
around the world in the last 30 or 40 years have bought two things from the West: guns and armaments, unfortunately,
and they bought education. But they bought education
for only half of the reason. They bought education because they thought they were going
to make a more skilled society. But like a Trojan Horse, what they also bought
was an empowered population. At the root of all of these conflicts
around the world is the education revolution. It has made politics very liquid. We have some discussions
about liquid democracy. It also changes religion. A lot of people thought,
as more people became educated, religion was going to go away. No. The United States is one of the most
schooled societies in the world, and it’s also one of the most
religious societies in the world. But education changes religion. It changes from a tyrannical God
to, well, Morgan Freeman. If you don’t like Morgan Freeman as God,
you can pop in your own. (Laughter) But also, it turbocharges
religious movements. Educational folks
bring organizational skills that also creates a world
where we respect a lot of religions, and that gives the place
for lots of religions to grow. Let me give you one other myth, and this is about
my grandfather’s good example. So I was in graduate school at Hopkins, and I went to see my grandfather, my late grandfather,
who was then in his 80s, and he said to me,
“Dave, I want to build a stone wall.” My grandfather only had
about six years of education, and he became a very successful man. And I said, “Okay.
I’ll go out and help you.” We go out. And within about two minutes,
it becomes very apparent I don’t know anything
about building the stone wall. And my grandfather
had this great cynical laugh. And he laughs, and he looks up at me, and he says, “Dave, how much
education have you had?” (Laughter) I put my head down, did a little math, “Well papa, about 20 years.” And he looks up
and then he says the statement that stayed with me
my entire life since then. He says, “But what can you do
with all that education?” Right? We love to think about,
“Who’s going to be the carpenters?” Or, “Are the PhDs going to be
the angry taxicab drivers?” That was the image back then. But my grandfather,
bless his heart, was wrong. What happened instead
was the world changed with me, the world changed because of me
and all the other mes. The economy changes. We often like to think
that economies change because of technology
or supply of capital. But they also change by the skills and the education level
of the workers that are available. Firms change the way
in which they make profit. All kinds of things happen because there are
educated people in the world. We keep predicting over and over again that there’s going to be
an over education crisis, that the world is going to fall apart. It doesn’t. That doesn’t mean that there’s no pain. That doesn’t mean
there aren’t winners and losers. But it shows us how dramatic
a transforming force education is. Okay. So what’s our future
and how to think about it? I think it’s very important that we start
to put these negative myths aside. We like them so much
because education is so powerful, and it’s so hard for us to deal with. We have to deal with it. We have to educate our kids. That’s really the only way
we can invest in our kids. So we use these
negative myths as some relief, but what they do is they obscure what’s really going on – not only for us, but for policymakers. And this is really bad. We need to start to understand
what education actually does, how it’s changed the world. By and large, I think it’s changed
the world in very positive ways. But we need to harness that
going forward. All of the kind of TED Talks
that you can imagine, all the subjects, all the audience, is predicated on an educated world. That’s where we have to start. So I hope we can continue to dare to think
about education going into the future. And the next time
you hear an overeducation story or education has gotten dumbed down, maybe you’ll think of me. Maybe, you’ll say, “No, no, no, no. Let’s think about it in a different way.” Thank you. (Applause)