吸烟

在中国,除了外面空气中的雾霾,还有一个“微雾霾”,就是你身旁的人口中所吞吐的烟。香烟是西方人发明的,但当今在中国如此畅行,不只是一个“小声” 的个人选择,而是一个 “大声” 的社交模式,引人深思。

吸烟对人体的害处,已经是基本常识,无需再当做新鲜事来讨论一次。这里想说的,乃是 “吸烟是人格问题”。

这样讲不是骂人,但也不是开玩笑。

首先,吸烟是胆小的结果Continue reading “吸烟”

A letter to a college student

To a girl who wants the best, and hates her life for having to settle with something not as good:

… although I don’t share the specific experience you have now, I know how it feels like when you are distressed by certain disappointment, disadvantage, detriment, or a prejudice, and worse yet, you can’t pinpoint what that is, let alone fight against it, you’re just unhappy with dissatisfaction.

In terms of people’s birth, family background, cultural background, upbringing, and natural gifts, the world has never been equal.  And the appearance of inequality stirs up all kinds of evil.  Jealousy, hatred (of others, of self and of God), and even murder.  All that started from Cain and Abel, the first two children of Adam and Eve. Continue reading “A letter to a college student”

China’s future

Friends debate over the future of China.  Commentators and bloggers instigate some fierce arguments between those who criticize the country (including its government, society, culture and people) and those who zealously attack the criticisms.   Though I have no intention to join the debate,  I desire to share a little bit of my personal observations.

In today’s China, negatively criticizing everything has become a national hobby, which is not making anyone happier.

But on the other hand,  the increasing number of Chinese who take a prideful position and passionately argue against all criticisms, denying the country’s major problems, indicates an condition that is just as sad, if not worse. Continue reading “China’s future”

具备规模的教育产业

具备规模的教育产业首先是一个连锁模式。而连锁模式的成功有三大关键,一是有效性,二是可复制性,三是低成本。这三个因素相互关联,但又各自独立。有效的(即教学效果好的)不一定好复制;而可复制的,不一定成本低,等。

一个有说服力的新教育产业模式必须回答如下几个问题:

1、为什么该模式在有效性上有优势?

如果说 “我们总是雇用好老师,所以老师是我们的优势,是毫无意义的。关键在于:到底是什么让你和别人不同?为什么在你这里是优势,在别人那里是劣势? 推崇文化和管理手段并没有说服力,因为这些东西都是主观的,谁都可以讲一套。唯一有说服力的,是更客观的生产力。

2.、为什么该模式在复制性上有优势? 

谁都知道标准化是可复制性的关键,但空谈标准化不足以服人。问题的关键仍然是:是什么让你和别人不同?

3、为什么该模式在成本上有优势? 

仅仅说我们管理有方、知道如何有效利用资源不足以服人。问题的关键仍然是:到底是什么让你和别人不同?

一个三合一系统(技术系统、和配合的管理体系以及新教育理念),产生一个有效的知识复制效应,是最终的答案。这是“新能”(synergy)效应。

三合一系统使得学习变的更自然,更有意思,更能动,更有效,让一个老师教若干个学生的效果犹如只教一个学生。(即“小班”如一对一私教的效果)。这是效率革新。

三合一的体系使得老师的能力被放大 (capacity enlarged), 创造力被释放,忽然变成了比他们自己本身更好的老师。重要的不是年轻老师能否达到特级教师的水平,重要的是如何让一个老师在三合一的系统比在其外的同一个老师要强出一大截。这才是压过竞争对手的要素。那些没有这种知识复制效应的教育模式,要想竞争的话,需要雇到比你的老师强的多的老师。这不仅是个花费成本问题,而是一个更本质的可能性问题。那些尝到的招聘能人的苦头的企业家,都明白这个道理。

三合一系统系统的重要性,不仅体现在降低人才复制的难度这个重要问题上,而且也关乎到将来降低人才流失的问题。系统越强大,人员越不容易流失。原因不是因为老师会因为喜欢我们的系统而不愿离开(这个是有可能,但不根本),而是由于一个”capacity enlargement” 和 specialty 的效应。

具体说,每个人的 capacity 都被强大的系统放大了,个人在系统里的贡献和功效远大于其 portable capacity (可随身带走的能力)。这时,老师会发现他只有在系统里里才能实现最大的用处(以及回报),因为他在系统里培养出的能力,是一种 specialty, rather than general and portable skills。这样才能流失的动机就不大了。

如果一个公司最强的竞争力是靠方法和经验支撑的优秀教学质量,结果公司培养的人才具有的能力全是“便携式能力 (portable abilities)”, 到别的地方反倒会发挥更大作用,因为更少受别人的牵制和约束。

三合一系统导致一个“零代价复制的成分”(zero-cost duplication component)。对此另有细致描述。“零代价复制的成分”是指数规模化增长( exponential scaling)的必要条件。只有这样,系统的花费增长和规模的增长才呈对数增长关系(而非线性关系)。

如上是一个论证轮廓。细说起来,每个点都可能成为一个论文。比如就有效性来讲,马上会涉及到学习机理学(learnomics)的实质,不是这里的话题。

教育智能复制

2009年在上海,曾和好友PY畅谈人类技术进化论,是一个从硬件复制到软件复制的故事;而软件复制本身,又从信息复制到知识复制,最终到智能复制演变。

如上不仅是一个在时间轴上的历史故事。在当今任何一个企业里,每一个时刻同时都有一个包括如上成分的分层演变(在操作空间里,不一定限于时间轴)。

复制,是工业化的基本标志;而被复制的内容和方式,则决定一个企业在竞争空间里的基本定位。而一个新教育产业公司成功的关键就是能否找到并实现这个独特定位而实现高层次的复制。

硬件复制:一个教育产业公司首先需要成功的硬件复制。但硬件复制构不成独特的竞争优势。即使实际上有此优势,也无法说服别人,因为你能做的,别人也能做,并且可能已经做。

信息复制:在这个信息时代,信息复制也是必要条件,即使做成也不会是独特优势,因为同样,你能做的,别人也能做,并且已经做(已有许多家,其信息内容包括教学内容已经相当丰富)。

知识复制和智能复制: 从系统的角度,知识和智能有一个根本的区别。知识是直接从人到系统的一个单一输入,即人的方法和经验在系统里被沉积并复制。智能则是系统由于内在反馈而产生的自我再生能力。从这种定义上,现在还谈不上真正的智能复制。

所以当前的关键点,就在于知识复制。知识复制(以及将来可能实现的智能复制)是新教育产业公司能够立于别人无法立之地的根本; 而从这个根本点出发,便可解释为什么年轻老师团队可以是新教育产业公司的一个优势性资源,也可解释为什么教育伪模式连锁必败。但从这个根本点还可解释更多。

教育产业革命的立足点‏

国人非常擅长于概念。这并非缺点,只是太过玩弄才成为疾病。这些年对教育的批评和新教育思想的推出尤其不缺高见。然而当今最需要的一场教育产业的技术革命,其根本出发点并非只是一个新的教育观念。

产业技术革命是个 enabler (促成器), 具体是一个 technological enabler (技术促成器). 可惜中文没有一个好的词,严格讲连这个概念也没有。我下面会进一步解释。

教育产业革命具体说是一个或多个教育产业公司通过新技术带来是新生产力的革新。今天,指出教育弊病的人很多,甚至不仅指出弊病并且提出很好的方法和方案的人也很多。但并没有人对教育带来生产力的革新而真正解决问题。说实在,如果今天有人写了一本书,是有关一个教育的新观点的可佩人物,但就此而已,我不大可能会花时间去读的。只有新名词,其实没有新概念。拿“个性化教育”这个重要概念来讲,此概念本身是人对教育的古老理想。谁不想要个性优化教育!谁不愿意能雇来世上最好的老师,一对一的针对自己的孩子,带他,引导他,启发他,教他。谁不盼望自己是最有爱心,耐心,童心的父母,来培育自己的孩子在乐趣中学习长进。但这不是现实。

让我用愚公移山,反用其寓意,来说明。愚公要移山,实在为艰难之举,于是有人来帮助。第一个人来,做了客观又科学的分析,指出愚公的做法有问题,并就此发表论文;第二个人来,也做了同样分析,并进一步提出了改进的方案,指导愚公如何最有效的利用手头的工具,以及移山的最佳筹划,也就此写了论文;第三个人来,做了前两人所有的分析,并与愚公一同努力,共同移山,并将理论付诸于实践,又在实践中改善(并因此没有时间写论文)。这第三个人实在精神可嘉,是当今社会所需之人。

今天教育业需要的不是第一个人,也不是第二个人,甚至也不是第三个人!还有第四个人,他来做了前三个人所做的,但他试过以后发现第三个人的做法尽管最实在,但仍然无法解决问题。于是这第四人在困难面前重新思考,最后发明并制作了一套用炸药爆破并用机械搬用的系统,和愚公一同完成了移山这件难事。

带来教育产业革命的人和公司,就是上面这第四个人。不仅是观念的革新,更重要的是生产力的革命。这就是所谓的“enabler”。不能只是停留在许多网路教育和电子化教育上。已经流行的革新,是对课本和教室方面的革新(电子化),并不是对生产力的真正革新;需要做的革新,是对师资的技术革新(智能化师资),是客观的生产力革新,不是人为的政策性革新。如果有人写一本书,发表一些对教育的高见,但却见不到这个新生产力的enabler,他就连上面的第三个人也不如。还不如放下一切,参与社区,贡献财力物力,向上面第三个人学习。

我是个基督徒。我总记得多年前有人讲的一个有寓意的故事。有个人不幸掉在了一个坑里,无法出来。一个穆斯林教者过来,决断说此坑极危险,需马上填起来;一个佛教者过来,心中默想此人必定是前世造孽,才得如此报应;一个道教者过来,对坑中人讲,你该在自己窄小的空间里开阔自己胸怀以达超越境界;一个印度教者来,告诉坑中人说你的坑只存在于你的感觉之中;一个乐观主义者过来,鼓励坑中人说多亏你没摔死,所以不要放弃,有一天必有人来救你;一个悲观主义者过来,忧伤地说恐怕你在坑中能存活的日子不会太多;一个激励人积极能动的演讲家过来,当场发表演说,激励坑中人发挥最大潜力,想法从坑中爬出来。这些人都过去了,那人还在坑中。最后神的儿子耶稣基督来,伸手下去,把那人从坑中拉了上来。

对不起,我没有意思说需要有人和团体出来扮演救世的角色。无人能如此,也不应该有人能如此。我表达是新教育产业革新的立足点。小子也在尽力参与这个产业的革新。今日也许你还看不见,但愿有一天多人能看得见。

教育技术论

先前曾讨论过规模教育产业的三大关键,有效性,可复制性,和低成本。实现这三大关键点最终都会归结到在技术上。不是因为教育理念和管理方法不重要,而是因为技术是米,理念如油,管理如烹饪技术。常常由于后两项并不弱,真正发展的空间自然在前者。

目前,在教育产业中有效性暂时显得和技术关系不大,但这只是由于智能学习平台还在最初级的阶段。这是暂时的。如果受这种暂时现象的蒙蔽,草率得出结论以为新教育产业公司的成功将主要依赖于比别人更好的教学方法和经营模式,而不是技术,这轻则是个局限性错误(使成功受到限制),重则会是一个致命性错误。

没有技术,学习效率不可能大幅度提高; 没有技术,最好的教学方法将无法复制;没有技术,最合理的经营模式将是空洞而软弱无力;没有技术,靠勤奋和认真达到的果效将由于成本昂贵而没有经济价值。

说到靠技术才可能大幅度提高提高学习效率,let me tell you a simple example. My job requires me to often study the background of a new invention. It’s not an easy task. Wikipedia at least doubled the efficiency of this task, mostly thanks to its extensively cross linked content. This has nothing to do with my own efforts, nor any “wise teacher’s” advice. My own efforts and methods could bring a 10-20% improvement, but not double or even more. It’s the shear force of the technology. Wikipedia is not even an intelligent learning platform. Such a platform could do much more.

我常常想起去年四月时在上海听到PY的一句话:如果有一个合理的学习平台,八年的医科学习可以缩短到两三年。我真的相信这是可以的。我也相信目前的小学生数学教学,靠将来实现的智能学习平台,效率至少可以提高一倍。

The most exciting thing is a vision of providing a more natural, more intuitive and more individualized learning tool. It’s about 生产力创新. Without this vision, anyone who enters into Street of education would become just another bunch of guys wanting to make some money off the needy parents.

其他要素,如教育方法、教育态度、老师培养、管理及市场等,都很重要,但是我坚信即使一个公司这一切都做的不错,若没有先进的技术,将仍然没有足够竞争力。

教育的谦卑作用 The Humble Function of Education

Education is a very broad concept.  Here I narrow my comment on mass education only, such as schools.

Chinese place too much false hope on school education.  Parents and the society expect the schools to make children successful individuals, and don’t realize that even the best school education is only a tool for children to learn some skills and knowledge.

But this strangely high expectation is faced with the reality of a double failure: not only do Chinese schools fail to produce people of high moral standards, but also at the same time are ineffective to produce a strong workforce of good work ethics and useful skills.

Behind this unfortunate phenomenon is the schizophrenic Chinese education system which has always had an artificial (non-genuine) emphasis on the so-called “moral education” (德育)while in reality the entire system is completely fixated on producing “test takers”.

I’m not advocating more moral education in schools.  Quite the opposite.  The artificial moral education in Chinese schools is worse than just being ineffective, but in fact effectively destroys true morality by producing a sense of hypocrisy and outright cynicism.

Teaching of the moral values is primarily a job for parents, not for schools.  But in China, the parents are failing to cultivate such fundamental values in the children, because there is an increasingly serious lack of such values among parents in the first place, and further because of a misplaced trust on mass education.

The result is not surprising, because morality relates to the fundamental values of human life which mass education can’t offer, regardless of however good the education system is.  The proper focus of the school system should be on improving the efficiency of teaching and learning as a scientific and technological undertaking, not as a “temple” to preach state-prescribed morals, nor a factory to mold “test taking machines”.

Yes, I mean exactly that.  School education should be a primarily an objective learning undertaking (supported by a moral and healthy social environment of course), rather than a moral undertaking, because what cannot be genuinely moral (let alone spiritual) should not pretend to be so and offer a fake version.

I do not believe that any mass education system, regardless of how optimized it is, can teach fundamental values of human life.  The so-called “enlightenment” of modern public education in the West provides ample evidence to this assertion.  The fundamental value of human life belongs to the spiritual realm which cannot be touched and addressed by mass education itself.  What a good mass education system can do, and should do, is to effectively assist people in learning the knowledge and skills they need, and not much more than that.  That is a proper and modest position of mass education.

If it sounds less aspiring, because it is a humbler foundation for mass education.   It is on this humbler foundation that mass education may have a much better chance to actually succeed and to serve its proper purpose.

Given the above understanding, however, I’d say that achieving high efficiency of learning is a great value, even though it is not a fundamental value of human life.

Some of us see the desperately ill conditions of Chinese education system and want to do something about it.  But we also see very little hope in quick changes of the government policies and general social conditions to cure these ills.  The only glimpse of a partial hope is a technological revolution in the education industry to improve the efficiency of learning, which is seriously lacking in the current Chinese education system.

China, as well as the whole world, needs education that is individualized, interactive, intelligent at a low cost (with digital reproducibility).  If this doesn’t change the Chinese education system as a whole, at least it should offer a potential to make the teaching and learning more effective and thus place more time and freedom in the hands of the students and parents (who are presently held hostage to the oppressive “test prep” system). Or so one should at least hope.

The greatest drive of every industrialization is its ability to increase the efficiency and productivity (生产力).  This may sound plain and unexciting, but efficiency and productivity (生产力) is the heart of every industrial revolution.  Education is no exception when viewed as an industry.  So those who desire to change education for the better should just set their hope at a lower and more practical level for a technological industrial revolution in education, rather than a political and social revolution.

It is a humbler function of school education.  Leave the more fundamental values such as faith and morality to the freedom of individuals.  Fear God (敬畏 神)and honor God, God will raise up a moral generation.  On this fundamental ground, good education may help make the generation more productive and more useful, which is an added value.

中国能创新吗?Can China innovate?

China has become a dominant player of the world in manufacturing a increasingly large number of products. But in order to become a true leading force in the world economy, China must innovate.

China knows it must innovate. But can it?

I’m not going to reach a conclusion on whether China can or cannot innovate. I am just going to make some arguments. I can put forth many reasons why China can innovate, but in this article, I will argue the biggest reasons why China can’t innovate:

(1) Chinese are brought up in a culture that does not cultivate inspirational work ethics to form a foundation of innovation.

(2) Chinese are further educated by an education system that kills creativity.

(3) Chinese work in a working environment that further suffocates creativity.

(4) Moral corruption is bankrupting China’s already-weak backbone of creativity.

Please don’t rush to label my comment racism. I am Chinese and please let me explain.

First, the culture does not cultivate inspirational work ethics – Everyone seems to believe that Chinese are hard-working people. But this is only partially true. When it comes to hard labor, few nations in the world can match Chinese in their willingness to take hardship. But when it comes to creative works, Chinese are cultured to slip into a sloppy mode. I’m not talking about intelligence. I am talking about culture. Deep inside Chinese culture is a toxic mentality that only the lower classes work hard, and the purpose of life is get out of hard labor and start to be served instead of serving others. Now, I know this is human nature. But you need to understand this aspect of Chinese culture to understand that Chinese have this at a whole different depth and level.

Culturally, Chinese don’t have a strong independent sense of work ethics that a job well done is part of the meaning of life. A typical Chinese will try very hard to get a job done, but only to the extent that is required by the master. A Chinese with a better attitude may even go beyond the passive requirement and actively try to please, but very few would have an independent sense of enjoying doing something well for its inherent value. This is precisely why Chinese are doing extremely well on the manufacturing level (by following orders), but are doing poorly in creating fresh new things.

Second, the education system kills creativity – Everyone seems to believe that if China is still backward, at least its education system is excellent. But this is almost entirely a misunderstanding. One of the biggest social problems China is facing today is its distorted and unnatural education system. The entire education system is geared toward one goal: to produce good exam takers to pass the college entrance examination. The system miserably fails to produce a workforce of creativity and professionalism.

For comparison, a typical American student spends roughly 1/3 of time studying books, 1/3 of time cultivating presentational, organizational and independent analytical skills, and 1/3 of time developing inner and social personalities and characters. In contrast, a typical Chinese student spends 90%, 5% and 5% of the time on those three areas respectively. Sorry I may be exaggerating a little bit, but if you are in China, you are likely to agree with me, and if you are a Chinese parent or student, you are likely to emotionally agree with me.

Chinese are tortured by the system they invented! By the time a student passes college entrance examination, he has been bled dry and lost all the appetite for creative work. And these are the ones that are fortunate enough to pass the college entrance examination. For those who fail to score high enough to get into a good university, they accept it as a fact that they are just worthless because the education system has concluded so.

Third, the working environment suffocates creativity – This is more commonly acknowledged and recognized by many people and requires little discussion. The corporate structure and culture in Chinese companies do not encourage creativity. Even when a company tries to do that, it tends to do it in a top-down type of artificial policy-based propaganda, not by providing a thriving environment and a natural outlet for individual creativity. Seniority and playing-safe are the rule, making it an acidic condition for creativity to bud and much less to thrive.

Fourth, the moral corruption bankrupts China’s already-weak backbone of creativityI do not wish to discuss in this article the general condition of moral corruption in China, but instead want to focus on the particular issue of misuse and stealing of intellectual property.

Innovation is all about intellectual property. But not only does China lack a legal system that enforces intellectual property rights, but also the society actually has a perverse and pervasive attitude with regard to intellectual property: as long as possible, steal it from others. As a society, it is absolutely shocking how Chinese have accepted the notion that stealing from others is acceptable.

It is not that Chinese don’t respect intellectual property. They admire, sometimes even worship, intellectual property. They just don’t respect other people’s rights in intellectual property. These are two different things. I’m not going to provide evidence for this, because it is self-evident for anyone who lives in China. What I wish to emphasize here is another point that often fails to be realized by people: stealing is not only a moral burden, it is also an economic burden on the thief himself. One who steals is unlikely to create, and therefore will be poor in terms of innovation. The argument can be made for an individual, but perhaps more so for a society as a whole. As long as a nation steals and further accepts stealing without remorse and repentance, it is not going to innovate.

Above are the four major forces that seriously hurt China’s ability to innovate. Discussing of such forces does not mean that as a matter of conclusion I believe China will not be able to innovate. I can also put forth reasons why China can innovate, but doing so is not the purpose of this article.

Even under such major adverse forces, there are exceptions of course. There are always exceptions. With 1.5 billion people, you can expect a lot of exceptions. I personally have known and worked with many extremely bright and creative Chinese. But that is not the point to be made here. My point is simple: As a nation, China must face and fight against these social forces that hurt China’s innovation if the country wants to become a respected leading economic force of the world.