Tuesday, August 07, 2012

The problems with educating a quadriform society

I've recently seen an inspiring video on social evolution (Ronfeldt, 2012; thanks to Harold Jarche for the link) which gives incredible insight into the problems that our society faces today. Ronfeldt presents his model of society by classifying human organisations into four distinct forms: Tribes, Institutions, Markets and Networks (TIMN). Each form brings benefits for survival and cultural development, but can lead to its own problems. In this model of progression, societies tend to adopt the forms in the T - I - M - N sequence (though not always rigidly) resulting in an increasingly complex society, where problems created by the dominance of earlier forms of organisation are solved by the successive forms as they become more effective through information technology revolutions. The network form is now starting to gain increased power through the adoption of internet technology.

The addition of a new form of organisation can cause widespread social disruption, but ultimately brings about benefits. The addition of the market form to western civilisations has brought great gains to society, but not without risks, as evidenced by the ongoing and widespread economic downturn. It follows that the addition of the network form of organisation, resulting in a quadriform society, brings the potential for new solutions to our problems. These possibilities are still an unexplored country, and there will be continued barriers to their adoption. However, with a growing realisation hitting home that networks are important, we finally have a model for understanding why they are important.

Relevance to current situations

The reason that this model has such resonance for me is that I see links with the current situation for the education system in the UK. We are currently organised by a mixture of institutional control and market suppliers. The government and its agencies ensure consistency of standards, whilst acknowledging the need for freedom of choice in exactly how services supporting that education are to be provided. Recent events have brought to light the potential for corruption (Garner, 2011; Orr, 2011), and weakened faith in our education system. In particular the accusations tend to rest on how market forces are undermining the integrity of education. The natural reaction of our society is to demand tighter institutional control, and yet this runs contrary to the progression that Ronfeldt describes.

What are the solutions?

It would follow logically from the TIMN framework that allowing networks to play an increased role in our education system could repair the damage and allow new efficiencies to be realised. These networks are yet to be realised, and the future is uncertain, but it is an avenue that might free our education system from the current conflict between institutional control and the undesirable effects of market-based education. As global citizens, we must take it upon ourselves to go forward into this new territory. For my own part I intend to build on this line of enquiry as a subject for my dissertation, in the hope that it might provide a piece in a much larger and evolving puzzle.