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CLASSWORK

PROGRESS
IS PROGRESS?


keywords: globalisation | digital divide | information access | technology transfer | modernity vs. tradition | high tech vs. low tech | over-consumption | bio & cultural diversity

progress is progress
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courtesy, UNESCO

goal: to increase awareness on both positive and negative effects of technology in students’ daily life; to allow students comparing their own technology standards with those in other countries (less or more developed); to develop students’ critical thinking on the role of technologies towards globalisation; to understand which kind of technologies represent the best solution in tackling poverty (high tech vs. low-tech).

risk: talking about ‘progress’, you should carefully choose the words you use. Remember your students that both modernity and tradition (or, in other words, present/future and past) have their benefits and losses. Technology is not always the solution and could even be dangerous. In the meantime, tradition may be anachronistic and inadequate in managing today’s global concerns.

YXC level: 3rd level (community at large)

YXC materials: looking ahead | Socially Minded Science | Bios Open-Source | Neglected Diseases | Regions In The Net | Simputer | Ict In Afghanistan | Approtec | awakening your soul | Mobile Libraries | looking for a place | Bedzed | Eco-Logic Design | carrying the torch | Consumers School | Make Your Voice Heard | Edu On Boats | Mother Language Day | social belonging | Design For All | facts & figures, GENERAL DATA | Global Population | Eco-Footprint | Urbanisation | Biz Concentration | facts & figures, ENVIRONMENT | energy/Renewables-Intro | Geothermal | Solar | Biomass | Hydropower | Wind | How Much Is Thrown Away? | E-Waste | Global Warming | facts & figures, BASIC NEEDS | Hunger | Globesity | Harmful Eating | Pesticides | Essential Drugs Access | Illiteracy | facts & figures, OTHER NEEDS | Media Concentration | Advertising & Youth | Internet/ Intro | Internet & Youth | Research Expenditures | Environmental Impact | department store | Compostable T-Shirt | Hydrogen Scooters | Solar Web Provider | Solar Panel Minikit | E-Waste | O-Porto Master Plan | Café Babel Magazine | Wikipedia | Virtual Store | job opportunities | Fiber Futures | Women In Science Award | Ashden Awards | Design For The World | trainer’s room | classworks/Old Is Gold | test & play | Energy For Tomorrow | A Changing Climate | Global Warming? | links | creative lab/Science & Technology |

subject areas: Science & tech | Economics & biz | Social studies | Cultural studies | Languages | Health & well-being | Workshops

work planning: Phase 1, testing students knowledge of the issue; Phase 2, intro to the issue; Phase 3, team work; Phase 4, discussing and comparing; Phase 5, taking action.

testing student knowledge (with key questions):

bullet What does progress mean to you? bullet Is it associated just with technical and scientific advancement? bullet Do you think life is so much more comfortable today than it was a few decades ago? bullet How are you affected by hi-tech stuff? a) Totally, I would be dead without it; b) I think it’s helpful… when it works! c) I’m not crazy about it, I just use it when I need it; d) I don’t like it too much: it’s often unfriendly, over-performing, too expensive, etc.; e) I simply hate it. The world would be much better without too much hi-tech stuff! bullet Which product of modern technology you can’t live without? Why? How did it change your life? bullet Is the concept of progress flexible? Does it change from country to country? If so, why? And how? bullet In your opinion, is digital divide a main reason for global inequalities? bullet Do developed countries have the responsibility to help those that are less ‘advanced’?

intro to the topic (background): archetypal sentences such as “Progress is progress: we cannot stop it” or "Technology is changing the way we live" need an explanation. Today more than ever, in fact, we feel the urgence to better understand scientific and technological innovations, their potential benefits and dangers, their impact on an increasingly globalised world.

THE WORD ‘PROGRESS’ - In the context of the seventeenth-century scientific revolution, the word ‘progress’ had served, in a straightforward literal sense, to signify a series of incremental advances, within clearly bounded enterprises with specific goals, such as the development of the microscope or telescope. But later, in the era of the American and French revolutions, so many examples of this once clearly defined and bounded kind of progress had become manifest that the word's meaning was extended to the entire - boundless course of human events.

History itself was redefined as a record of the steady, cumulative, continuous expansion of human knowledge of, and power over, nature. Knowledge and power that might be expected to result in a universal improvement in the conditions of human life.

Another development that contributed to the complexity, scale, and singularity of the new systems was the increasing convergence, in the 19th century, of scientific knowledge and the mechanic arts. The concept of technology did not gain currency in the intellectual world for almost a century. Early in the 20th century the avant-garde of the modernist movement in the arts, with its several technology-affirming submovements (including the vogue of "Machine Art" and of machine-like styles in Futurism, Precisionism, Constructivism, Cubism, and the International Style in architecture) helped to elevate motifs formerly treated as merely instrumental to the plane of intrinsic aesthetic value. In the Bauhaus aesthetic, design was married to industry.

But the concept of technology did not gain truly popular currency until well after the astonishing explosion of inventions in the decades (roughly 1880-1920) bracketing the turn of the century. That decisive period, sometimes called the Second Industrial Revolution, marked the advent of electric light and power, the automobile, the radio, the telephone, the airplane, and the moving picture. Each of these artifacts eventually formed the material core of a large, complex sociotechnological system. Each also was sufficiently impressive for inclusion in the iconology of progress.

source: Leo Marx, “Technology: the emergence of a hazardous concept - Technology and the Rest of Culture”, in Social Research, Fall, 1997 - [http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/scientific-progress ]

TECHNOLOGY VS POLITICS - Innovations in the mechanic arts could be relied upon, in the longer term, to issue in progress and prosperity for all. But in the 1840s this blurring of the distinction between mechanical means and political ends also provoked ardent criticism. It was denounced by a vocal minority of dissident intellectuals as a sign of moral negligence and political regression. This critical view of the new industrial arts marked the rise of an adversary culture that would reject the dominant faith in the advance of the technology as a self-justifying social goal.

Later on, on the opposite, the Technocracy Movement of the 1930s helped to popularise the seductive idea that the miraculous improvements in the conditions of life made possible by technology might enable society to dispense with politics as its primary means of directing social change. This line of thought may be said to have culminated in the ‘liberal consensus’ of the Kennedy era, when enthusiasm for the power of technology to replace politics became the quasiofficial doctrine of the administration; it was accompanied by confident academic predictions of the forthcoming ‘end of ideology’.

What was missing, from an ideological standpoint, was the concept of a form of power - of progress - that far exceeded, in degree, scope, and scale, the relatively limited capacity of the merely useful (or mechanic or practical or industrial) arts to generate social change.

The popularity of the belief that technology is the primary force shaping the post-modern world is a measure of our growing reliance on instrumental standards of judgment, and our corresponding neglect of moral and political standards, in making decisive choices about the direction of society. To expose this hazard is a vital task for the human sciences. [source: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/scientific-progress]

NEW CHALLENGES - Globalisation is a multi-faceted, full of contradictions phenomenon. Countries and regions are more integrated and linked than ever before from any point of view (political, economic, cultural, and ecological). At the same time, globalisation has the tendency to marginalise some of the world's regions, namely the poorest ones.

So, is globalisation really ‘global’? Are all countries involved in this phenomenon? Certainly, they aren’t. In recent years, the gap between the wealthiest and the poorest is becoming even bigger. Access to technologies shows huge differences as well. Technology’s development cannot baffle the following questions: can it reduce poverty and reduce the gap between rich and poor? Or, on the opposite, will it make this gap bigger and bigger?

NUMBERS TALK! - In Africa, on overage 1 family out of 100 has got a house with its own telephone (versus 95 % in Europe). Only 15% of households have a TV (versus 98% in Europe).

The digital divide is of particular concern: in 2001, of the 816 million people in Africa, it is estimated that only one people in 35 had access to a mobile phone and 1 in 150 to the Internet. Leading the Internet penetration rate worldwide is little Iceland, where 79% of the population is online, followed by United States (75%), and Sweden at 68%.

TWO SIDES OF THE SAME COIN - Progress is a western concept, a magic and tricky word for enlightenment, modernity and technology. But what does ‘progress’ mean for other cultures around the world? For indigenous communities in developing countries, progress might mean threat, dissolution, and cultural degradation. It often leads to rapid urbanisation, which in turn entails environmental degradation and new social concerns. Among youth, for instance, those who have access to new technologies and speak foreign languages, quickly lose their native culture. And very often, it’s a priceless cultural heritage that we all get wasted.

providing evidence: you could bring as example to the classroom photos, movies, articles, etc. emphasising differences between advanced and developing countries in their access to technologies (applied to housing, education, mobility, telecommunication, etc.)

methodological suggestions: to develop this activity students work in teams. Each group is asked to analyse the concept of progress, starting from their daily life (at home, school, sport & leisure, etc.) and from different perspectives (socio-political, economic, environmental). Considering the complexity of the issue, you should carefully test students’ knowledge before. We also suggest providing each team with additional specific keywords and instructions for their use (e.g. for the team working on ‘progress at home’: home appliances, communication tools, housing health & safety, etc.).

  • gathering information: each group collect data interviewing relatives and friends, consulting old newspapers, movies, photos, etc.;
  • reporting: each group list the most important advances in the chosen environment in the last 20 years;
  • discussing and comparing: class discussion on science & technology developments and their impact: -- How important are they? -- How would the life be without them: better? Worst? Why? -- And in the near future, will new technologies significantly change students’ life?
results assessment: the success of this pedagogical module can be measured by the following results:
  • informative goals: Students develop a new critical thinking on technology’s role, understanding both positive and negative effects of technology in their daily life (as individuals and for the community at large); students are able to analyse the technology gap between advanced and developing countries and the economic, social, and environmental consequences.
  • action goals: students try to imagine ‘fair solutions’ to tackle poverty and/or reduce digital divide. They will look for both high tech and low-tech technology applications. Their analysis and report should involve at least two countries: an advanced one (the donor) and a developing country (the recipient); students identify potential partners (technology experts, companies, local authorities, etc.) to propose them their draft-solutions. Taking into consideration their first feedback, they select the best idea and prepare a detailed business plan to implement it; they organise a conference/event (at school or city level) with all the stakeholders to further discuss and launch the project, asking for resources to implement it.

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