Project Visions: iGoverness – Part 1

Hot on the heals of my new post initiative, Software Spotlight, I would like to introduce a new featured article segment that will be appearing for a few weeks while I flesh out some ideas that I have for some software products. Each and every one of these “Project Visions” has an origin story, some details fleshed out, and some commentary about how/if the project is possible. Please enjoy what I have to write, and if you feel so inclined, leave me feedback about the ideas for each.

So, just what, exactly is iGoverness? iGoverness is a project that I outlined about a year ago, which has received no further attention past the early brainstorming phase.

In order to understand what iGoverness is, why don’t we take a look at the definition of a governess:

A governess is a female employee of a family who teaches children within their home. In contrast to a nanny (formerly called a nurse) or a babysitter, she concentrates on teaching children, not their physical needs. Her charges are of school age, not babies. [source: Wikipedia]

So, iGoverness is a project aimed at bringing that personal one-to-one relationship of a governess to a pupil into the modern age, using modern technology.

The Origins of the Idea
There are a few sources from which this idea sprang. When talking with my wife and mother-in-law, we debated the merit of sending our son to a public school in this area. Knowing a few teachers myself, I feel a bit uncomfortable with the idea of placing the future of my child’s education in the hands of some of their colleagues.

In having our teenage niece live with us, we are able to see first hand the product of the modern local school system. Though the standards have changed drastically since my wife and I were in elementary school, it is clear that they have not changed for the better. Now, we went to school on a different side of town from our niece, so the dedication of our teachers and the resources that our schools employed are probably quite different.

That being said, our niece is a very bright and intelligent young lady. She is now in high school, and she is doing well in all of her classes. The disparities we see between our education and hers come when a seemingly simple question is asked, one which we had to learn the answer to by heart before even setting foot in middle school.

It seems that the standards of the state and federal education offices have changed in a not-so-good fashion. Though not particularly useful in every profession, we were forced to memorize state capitals, multiplication tables, and perform simple mathematic calculations using *gasp* pencil and paper. When we heard that one of our niece’s classes didn’t have calculators for simply finding a mean value, the instructor had the students take out their cell phones and perform the calculations using the built in calculator.

I see a very large and immediate issue with handling things in this way. Our children are becoming increasingly dependent on the technology in their lives, and are not able to perform even simple adding and dividing with nothing but paper and their brains. What would happen if some sort of disaster occurred, where all electronic technology were to be rendered useless? Those of us who grew up learning things in an independent manner would easily be able to adjust to making change for a dollar. Our children? Not so much.

Hank and Dean Venture

Hank and Dean Venture

Also, a few popular culture references are in order. In a show called The Venture Bros., the sons of Rusty Venture are taught their studies by an automated system which teaches them during their sleep. Now, this is a completely overblown piece of technology, and it clearly shows that it doesn’t work 100% in the manner and intelligence of the two sons.

Yet another fictional universe that comes to mind when thinking about automated education systems is in the series Ender’s Saga by Orson Scott Card. In Ender’s Saga, there is a computer game in the battle school which allows teachers to see the psychological effects of the school on individual students through an advanced artificial intelligence. The game seems banal to the students, but it in fact is a very powerful technology to learn how the students can deal with many varied situations. If you have not read this set of books, I highly recommend that you seek them out.

You can find all kinds of articles referring to how our reliance on modern technology is making everyone less intelligent. After all, all knowledge is just a Google search away.

What are the problems with our modern education system, and why would we need such a project? Stay tuned for Part 2, and see what turns up in a thought exercise.