Towards laying the foundations for education policy in the 21st century (Part 2)

Introducing individuals into a real society such as the one I described earlier is by no means an easy task. Clearly, in the climate of uncertainty in which the task of educating people is developing, we should not lose sight of the capacity that education has, has always had and must continue to have in fostering the homogeneity and social cohesion that stem from a common educational curriculum.

The third aim pursued in education – preparing young people for active working life – represents the other side of the coin, namely that of meeting the needs and acquiring the skills that society requires. Every study on education makes the observation that as economies must adapt with enormous flexibility and at a rapid pace, so employment structures and the nature of jobs must evolve at breakneck speed. The restructuring of economic sectors may see new technologies and new means of organizing labour emerge. These technologies are so sweeping in nature that they change substantially the skills required by the labour market. Organizing the practical functions of education to meet the exact specific requirements of working life has never been an easy task; when, therefore, those specific requirements change as they are doing at present, that task becomes simply impossible. We can only hope to take a reasonable approach to such a challenge by providing pupils with a solid educational grounding, by developing lifelong education and moving gradually towards a society which is being educated continuously, and by employing the educational tools that technologies themselves make available to us as flexibly as we can.

Education is thus called upon to play its strategic role in a constantly changing world in which its own objectives are extremely blurred. Fortunately, though, the new requirements facing education have emerged at a time when society is once again beginning to deem it a valuable asset. In the 1960s, the last ‘golden age’ of confidence in the potential which education held to engineer change, education systems around the world expanded considerably, spending on education came to be seen as a worthwhile investment, the meritocracy appeared to have earned legitimacy as a driving force for social mobility, and education was used as means of redressing inequalities. The ‘golden age’ of the 1960s then gave way to certain doubts about the role that education should play and to a barrage of criticism suggesting that resources were being squandered, whilst progressive educational circles flirted with the idea that access to education did not remedy social inequality per se or to any great extent. In any event, the economic slump of the 1970s and the financial crises at national level put paid to these educational expansion policies, before the latter began to win back support in the 1980s, and markedly so in the 1990s.

This change stems from a number of convictions. Firstly, that we are living in a society in which knowledge is all-important. Secondly, that knowledge has come to represent one of the key players of the future. Thirdly, that scientific and technological progress in a global economy is central to improving competitiveness. And fourthly, that one’s level of professional competence is crucial to mastering complex industrial processes.

Calls for education to be treated as a strategic option are widespread. Ample proof of this is found in the plans laid out by Clinton, Blair and Jospin; in the book which UNESCO entrusted to Jacques Delors, whose thought-provoking title compares education to a treasure-trove; or in the successive speeches delivered at the Latin American summits of heads of state and government in Madrid, Bahía, Cartagena and Bariloche on education as a factor in economic development. General agreement exists, then, that education is essential to stimulating economic, social and cultural development, though it is not the be-all and end-all. When the social structure enables people to better themselves and the economic climate is favourable, education produces multi-faceted, flexible human capital and erodes social inequalities. Education policy has the potential, therefore, to become a driving force behind growth with equality, provided that it forms part of an overall development strategy and that the international and domestic economic climate is right.

Clearly, then, countries must become societies founded upon knowledge and turn every available means of education to their best advantage. Equality as well as development must underpin the drive to bring education to all people, throughout their increasingly long lives.

Please allow me now to mention some guidelines which, in my opinion, should govern education policy in the coming century. Guideline number one: the education system has long since lost its monopoly as a fountain of learning. Young people in today’s world obtain information from a whole host of sources, and foremost amongst them the ever more interactive media. That said, schools are second to none in tasks such as instilling the capacity for abstraction or ensuring fluency in language to stimulate structural communication, thought and the shaping of free minds. The purpose of education becomes all the more crucial bearing in mind the need to develop an identity and a sense of belonging whereby one adheres to the values that govern community life, becomes a fully mature member of society and sees the value in the ethics of effort, cooperation and responsibility. In short, far from shrinking, the role played by schools is gaining in significance. It should fall to them to sort out the wealth of information available to pupils, give it relevant meaning and channel it towards a moral purpose.

Guideline number two: the education system no longer enjoys a monopoly on teaching, for much can be learnt outside educational establishments, in the home and, above all, at the workplace. The need to learn will remain with pupils – and, indeed with all individuals – throughout their lives. On the other hand, the most reliable studies highlight how important it is to their future careers that young people possess the most basic skills. They must be able to read, write, reason and count. They must understand how the social and economic fabric of a country is organised. They must have a basic grasp of physics and biology. They should have benefited from experience in engaging in communal activities and resolving conflicts within groups. Their behaviour and attitudes as people must be such that they will help shape a responsible, trustworthy, adaptable and informed member of society. To sum up, education must organise itself in such a way that schools give young people the faculties that no other institution can, including the most vital – the ability to learn how to learn.

Guideline number three: education and employment will become ever more closely linked as time goes by. I have already mentioned that communications are undergoing rapid change and that trying to make the range of education dependent upon the needs of a hazily defined labour market leads nowhere. In such circumstances, high-quality vocational training – by which I mean university education as well – should be structured so as to ensure that it covers many aspects and is, by extension, primed to adapt to technological changes. As paradoxical as it may seem, the best vocational training undoubtedly takes the form of a sound basic education together with an effective vocational training element. Moreover, training must take the production system as its reference point, for which it requires the active involvement of social agents, an overview of company practices, sandwich courses, or the involvement of people actively engaged in an occupation in education.

Guideline number four: education systems must be constantly more open and flexible in order to facilitate the inclusion at various levels of those adults returning to education to improve or update their education. That implies extending options such as part-time education, applying techniques and methods related specifically to adult education, and coordinating with education structures outside school. In short, learning as an activity, once confined to young people, now affects all age groups and social categories. The education system must be able to cater for each and every one of them.

Guideline number five: in future, education systems will be wrestling with an apparent contradiction, in that whilst they will have to be able to learn within the context of the cultural identity linked to their region or country, pupils will be living and communicating in a world which transcends borders and traditional language barriers. The sole means of ensuring that extended schooling achieves practical results and does not trigger off a huge increase in the drop-out rate, is to make schools more flexible in their approach and help introduce diversity into them in an orderly fashion, by giving them the free rein in matters of teaching and organization that is lacking in the vast majority of countries at present.

Guideline number six: in recent years a significant effort has been made to expand schooling in quantitative terms, and indeed we should continue providing schools with resources. However, in the years ahead it would be appropriate to shift the emphasis towards a more quality-based approach and focus upon standards in education, which implies updating curricula, modernizing funding methods, training the teaching profession, introducing innovations and undertaking a continuous external assessment of the education system.

Guideline number seven: the principle of standards that I have just outlined takes on particular importance at university and in science and technology. University life is about competing and should also be about pursuing excellence, which suggests that we review the purpose of universities and become accustomed to the idea that rather than covering every subject universities should specialize. International cooperation is required in the world of science, for the overwhelming majority of scientific matters of import transcend national borders. Demand for higher education places will hold up in the years to come, because, amongst other things, such is the immediate effect of extending compulsory education, but primarily because many adults will be entering this level of education. In such circumstances, quality and the search for a separate identity are two sides of the same coin. This is the path that university reform should take to ensure that universities are given consistently large room for manoeuvre to implement their own reforms, whilst remaining sensitive to the risk of corporatism. We cannot allow the tail to wag the dog.

Guideline number eight: the numbers of people in education is rising, whilst the dividing lines between initial training and continuing education and between general education and vocational training are becoming blurred. The different social sectors should be involved in running schools. As running educational establishments becomes increasingly complicated, so will we have to focus more on that area. We shall be called upon to cater for a diverse group of pupils whose motivations, attitudes and interests vary. Running these establishments must constitute both the benefit we shall derive from striking a balance between involvement and efficiency (a task which is never simple) and a priority in the state education sector. In short, we should combat the widespread view that our state-run establishments have no master.

Guideline number nine: the aim of extending compulsory education is to ensure that pupils across the board achieve – not by keeping every child occupied at school, but by seeing to it that each attains certain educational targets. In the case of compulsory education, those targets fall within the concept of citizenship, which is what is required of a young person if he or she is to enter society as a mature and free individual. That is why seeing to it that all pupils match one another in achieving should be compulsory education’s primary concern. Otherwise, we shall merely be extending education for its own sake. But whereas ‘equal achievements’ constitute the main thrust of compulsory education, equal opportunities lie at the heart of post-compulsory education and training. In that way, all young people will progress within the education system as far as their attitudes and interests allow, thanks to the equal opportunities which are even more vital to achieving social justice in a society founded on knowledge than in the industrial and post-industrial societies that we have known thus far.

Guideline number ten: lastly, fighting discrimination is an essential component of educational activity, since in addition to the old social inequalities generally associated with economic disparities, the need now exists to be alert to new discrimination at school on the grounds of race, gender, nationality or merely one’s state of health. In short, working to combat any form of discrimination whatsoever is not only essential for ethical reasons, nor is it even so much a matter of principle: it is also crucial to underpinning social cohesion. Culture and intolerance are, and will remain, incompatible; the same applies to schools and discrimination.

I should like to conclude on an emotional point. This is not meant as criticism of anyone here, but I feel that given the large number of economists present at this seminar, we have strayed a little too far into the technical aspect of our political debate and have somewhat neglected our emotions. Allow me to share mine with you very briefly. We on the left have always indulged in self-criticism. We thrive on disaster. The presence of religion – Catholicism, in our case – might serve to explain this permanent trait. We are forever seeking to find fault in ourselves, and whenever we speak of the market, whingeing pervades our discourse. We have no other option than to accept that the market is a bad thing; it pains us to say that it is good. We always sound defensive. Yet were we to approach matters from an historical perspective and consider events over the past hundred years, we would be forced to admit that we have emerged as outright victors. If we look at what separated right from left, reactionaries from progressives one hundred years ago, we must acknowledge that we have done a pretty good job. Education is available to all; people can, theoretically, be treated in hospitals on demand; no longer work in the mines; working hours have been reduced. It would appear, then, that, fits and starts aside, history has vindicated us, and that together all of these means make for a good system for distributing wealth more efficiently. I did not espouse left-wing values because I wanted to see bureaucracy expand, nor did I identify with the left so as to advocate government which grew ever larger and controlled more and more means of porno production. For me, it was a far simpler matter: I embraced left-wing views because people deserved to live differently; because my country had no freedoms; because discrimination, intolerance and the such like pained me. These are emotions: perhaps someone should have made them the starting point for this seminar. Still, better late than never.

Towards laying the foundations for education policy in the 21st century (Part 1)

I should like to begin by thanking the organizers of this seminar for the opportunity of returning to the subject of education. I have dedicated almost eleven years of my political career -from 1982 to 1993- to the exciting task of working on reform of the Spanish education system. In 1993 Felipe González cut short my happiness, transferred me to the Ministry of the Presidency and made me work in media relations. My hair went grey and continued to fall out and my alopecia progressed in leaps and bounds. Before I begin in earnest, I should warn you that I may well get a little carried away with this subject at times as a result of my excessively detailed knowledge of the state of education in my country, in which case I apologize for that here and now. My speech will give an outline of the state in which education finds itself at present, before going on to list ten principles which I see as fundamental to the education policy we require in the 21st century.
Education might best be compared to landscapes, insofar as in each country its form differs, it has been fashioned over many years, and has its own peculiarities. Although I intend them to be of a general nature, some of the aspects I shall be touching upon could not be applied with ease to each and every education system around the world. Nevertheless, in my view they remain broad outlines which serve as a starting point for discussion.

I think you will agree with me that analyses of the current situation have thrown up very similar perceptions. The deep-seated changes we are now experiencing have introduced a prevailing sense of malaise and confusion into our societies. There are those who believe, wrongly, that the world has undergone great and, more to the point, sudden change. They associate this change with the fall of the Berlin Wall, which has come to represent the close of an era throughout which blocs stood opposed to one another, the cold war set in, the threat of a nuclear holocaust loomed, and ideologies clashed. Taking their lead from Fukuyama, they attempted to turn the page of history, hastily proclaiming that history itself had come to an end with the imposition of one of the two models of society which had once been in direct confrontation. The truth is that the world does not change merely because the Soviet Union breaks up, because German reunification takes place, because new conflicts (which are, indeed, old) emerge, or because a new international order is decreed. In fact, we have probably seen more historic events occur in the world since the end of history was decreed than in recent decades. No one in their right mind would deny the relevance of the events I have described above. Yet, at the same time, the radical and lasting changes that have been emerging over the past two decades will be far more difficult to reverse than those which the fall of the Berlin Wall might have produced.

I shall examine those changes very briefly, for they form the context within which education policies must be defined. Take, for instance, developments in communications, which, whilst ushering in the global village on the one hand, provoke trends towards the uniform, the banal, and a certain cultural anomie on the other. Or advances in the field of genetics, whereby production can be increased, illness prevented and reproduction revolutionized. Or the emergence of information technologies, whose influence extends right across all production processes and which are at the root of new means of organizing labour. Or the danger that the lifestyle led by most is jeopardizing the conservation of the natural environment and the respect for our surroundings, including recognition of the need to safeguard vital resources. Or longer life expectancy and its many different ramifications vis-à-vis the structure of society and its rules. Or greater plurality and widening gaps in society, with the emergence of new forms of exclusion, many of them linked to knowledge. Or migration levels and the increasing emergence of cultural mosaics, or what have been termed mixed-race cultures. Or, finally, the resurgence of irrational dogmas and trends. These extremely significant changes have engendered a crisis in traditional values. It is true to say that in today’s world a good many absolute certainties and unassailable principles have been called into question. We are no longer certain even of our most dependable secular alternative, namely our faith in progress.

As we seek out certainties, we trust that education will act as it always has done, that is to say that it will shape human beings, make it possible to introduce mature individuals into society, and prepare them for working life. These are three functions which education is called upon to perform in a dramatically changing world. The first of them – turning out mature human beings – has undoubtedly become more complicated than it was in the past, bearing in mind that as standards in education have been raised, so targets have become considerably more diverse. Extending and broadening studies makes pupils a more heterogeneous group, and helps them achieve in more areas. Alongside all this we see that inefficiencies in educational systems drawing upon excessively uniform criteria are worsening, thereby indicating the need for greater diversity and a more personal approach to education. I shall return to this matter later.

Who’s in control, or what you see is what you deserve?

I received a number of mainly positive comments about the October article. One opinion in particular interested me: the next step in “user-friendliness” is likely to be voice input.
Now anybody who can type properly knows that typing is faster and more efficient than speaking, and there’s much less danger of confusion. But that’s not likely to stop big companies from doing it anyway, any more than the disadvantages of mice and GUIs have stopped them.

Assuming, then, that the next kind of input will be voice: what are you going to say to the computer? “Move the cursor to that funny looking icon over there on the left and click” or “save this file and open one called foo.txt”? It’s pretty obvious that you’re going to use language directly, rather than pointing or clicking. In other words, the GUI is an evolutionary dead end.

While I’m on the subject, I’ll take the opportunity to solicit further input on this series of articles. They’re supposed to be interesting and encourage you to think about alternatives. I don’t ask you to agree with me, but I would like to hear what you think about them.

This month, I’ll look at another aspect of conventional office software, one for which UNIX doesn’t have an obvious solution.

What you see is all you get
I’m currently having an extension put on my house so that I can finally find place to put all my old hardware and my musical instruments. In the process, of course, we’re talking to all sorts of people. We went to the timber people to find out about roofing trusses. Nowadays, of course, they design the trusses with the aid of a computer. This particular program took exception to the fact that we had proposed a building that was almost square, but not quite. It seems it couldn’t handle that, so we had to change the shape of the house. It’s a disappointing fact of life that inadequate computer software can dictate your choices. Sure, we could have asked somebody to design the trusses for us, but that would have cost a lot of money. It was cheaper to change the shape of the house: we chose a workaround rather than a bug fix.
We also went to the Energy Information Centre in Adelaide to find out about how to heat the place. Again, they used a computer. This time, though, they didn’t have a special program, they had a spreadsheet, something called Excel. The lady who was running it seemed to know more or less what to do: she started with a spreadsheet which had been prepared for somebody else and changed what needed to be changed.

I took the printout home with me, and looked at it in more detail. I found a whole lot of discrepancies: sections that didn’t make any sense (“Whole house heating and cooling” showed a total floor size of 0 square metres), comments that didn’t apply, comments that should never have appeared on the spreadsheet. It did, however, contain the information I wanted: I would need a heating system capable of producing an output of 14.792 kW. Notice the accuracy to the nearest Watt, enough to drive any engineer crazy.

Where does this information come from? I only have a printout, so I have no idea. I have to trust that this particular part of the spreadsheet was correct, although I have evidence that other parts aren’t, and I saw the lady correcting some formulae while she was inputting data.

What’s the big deal?
What am I complaining about? After all, it’s nice to have software that does things for you and only shows you what you want to see. Compare the following excerpts from the beginning of this article:
I’m currently having an extension put on my house so that I can finally find place to put all my old hardware and my musical instruments.

The source (in HTML, Hypertext Markup Language, the formatting language for web pages) looks something like. I’m currently having an extension put on my house so that I can finally find
place to put all my <a href=>old
hardware</a> and my <a href=>musical

Clearly, the formatted version is much easier to read: that’s why we have порно HTML in the first place. On the other hand, it hides information. If you have difficulty following the links, you might find the second format more convenient: you can check what’s going on. This is a basic problem with software that makes things easy for you by hiding the details. Spreadsheets are a particularly difficult example.

I’ve used spreadsheets for decades, originally on a Microsoft platform. Even after making the move from Microsoft to BSD, I still used spreadsheets for my expense reports. There are some spreadsheets available for UNIX–for example sc and ss. They look pretty bare-bones compared to Excel, but they do the job. Still, I felt uneasy, and I wasn’t sure why.

The solution
Finally, earlier this year, I realized what the problem was, and I found the obvious solution: instead of inputting the data directly, I wrote it in a pseudo-spreadsheet form with Emacs, my trusty holy-war-inspiring do-everything editor.
This is obvious, you ask? I’ll discuss that point in more detail later on.

But Emacs doesn’t perform spreadsheet calculations, right? Right. To perform the spreadsheet calculation, I had to convert this form into something that ss would understand. That was straightforward enough: a 40 line awk script did just what I wanted.

That’s a solution?
By now, you may be asking yourself “Why did this guy do things the hard way when he could have done it directly with much less effort?”.
That’s the theme of this article. Why?

ss offers a functionality comparable with early versions of Lotus 1-2-3. Not much, you might think, but then, it’s a spreadsheet, not a word processor, a database, a graphics package, a display manager nor an operating system. But that’s not important: I want a spreadsheet program, a program which calculates formulæ and displays them on the screen. This is what ss does: it implements one function well, the UNIX way.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t stop there. It tries to be an editor as well. In contrast to the job it does well, its editing capabilities are, to put it mildly, rather less than those of Emacs. This restriction applies to every spreadsheet I have ever used. The last time I tried to use Excel, it drove me mad because I didn’t know how to use it, and I didn’t think it reasonable that it should expect me to learn another editor when I already had one that worked better.

So I did all this just to be able to use Emacs? Well, that was one of the considerations, but it wasn’t the only one. In fact, there were three:

I wanted to be able to use the editing commands I was used to.
I didn’t want to lock the data into a particular format.
I wanted to have some control over what was in the spreadsheet.
Let’s look at each of these in more detail.

The editing commands
On the face of it, it looks like a wimp’s way out to change everything just so you can use your favourite editor. In fact, it’s anything but. Commercial “integrated software” usually offers you an editor which will do the job–barely. It does this at considerable cost:
Each editor is subtly different. A command which works in one editor may not work in another, or it may do something different. For example, UNIX versions of the Netscape web browsers offer the basic Emacs commands, which makes them easier to use if you’re accustomed to using Emacs (and another reason to learn the Emacs sequences if you’re not). But in Emacs, the command sequence Alt-Q fills paragraphs (makes all lines approximately the same length). In Netscape, Alt-Q stops Netscape unconditionally, and as a result of bugs in Netscape, it sometimes gets stuck in an endless loop when exiting, and you have to kill it manually. Guess how long it takes for that to become a real pain.
Emacs is a big editor. The FreeBSD binary for version 20.2 is 2.8 MB long, but Netscape communicator dwarfs this: it’s 10.7 MB. Why? As the Germans would say, it’s an egg-laying wool-milk-sow: it tries to do everything. It includes a web browser, an editor, a news reader, a mailer and all sorts of things I haven’t even tried to understand. We won’t even discuss what effect this has on the reliability of the product.
Let’s get back to filling paragraphs. So Alt-Q isn’t the correct command for filling paragraphs in the Netscape editor. What is? There isn’t one: the editor isn’t as powerful. In fact, it’s not a complete editor at all, it’s just intended to help you enter text into things like the mailer.
I’ve used Netscape in this example, but these points are typical of most commercial software packages.

The format
Have you ever taken a look at the files that monolithic office packages produce? It’s difficult to tell what this is, although if you persevere you’ll find the text Microsoft Word 6.0 a bit further on in the gibberish. It’s obvious that this format was not designed for easy interpretation by mere humans. Now Microsoft is infamous for its undocumented documentation formats, which appear to change–always only for the best technical reasons–between each release of Word, thus forcing people to upgrade en masse. Still, other packages use similar formats. For a while my wife used StarOffice for word processing, while I used troff. We couldn’t exchange data, which basically killed our use of StarOffice.

The issue of control
These points may look bad enough already, but they’re just a minor inconvenience compared to the third: the question have I done this correctly? Spreadsheet cells contain more than what you see, including other extremely important information which is not visible on the screen, for example formulæ. There are other examples.
You’re writing a book with a WYSIWYG word processor. At some point, you accidentally change the margin on one page only, then you change it back again. Unknown to you, the word processor inserts two sets of margin change commands, one cancelling the other out. Later, you insert some text, inadvertently between the two (invisible) sets of commands. Even if you do find the problem before the book is published, how do you know what happened? How do you find and remove the offending commands?
You’re writing a document for publication in a Webzine. It’s in HTML, of course. But how do you know what the reader is going to see on his screen? You don’t: that’s the whole intention of HTML. In the first editions of “Dæmon News” we took quite a while to settle on a format–not because we didn’t know what we were doing, but because we didn’t know what the users were doing. Headings appeared in illegibly small script, link URLs sprouted unexpected additions, tables were wrapped. Only sometimes, for some people.
Let’s look at my spreadsheet again. On the screen it looks something like this:

Image of the sample spreadsheet

It’s pretty primitive stuff: type in the data in the columns on the left, calculate the fees in column H, create sums of each row in column J and or each column in row 16. Still, the opportunity exists for error. What if I made a special price for one particular customer, and forgot to take account of it in the spreadsheet? There’s nothing in this display, short of comparing the results, to tell me that I’ve charged the wrong rate. Sure, I can go and check the cell formulae, but that’s a lot of work, and to do it right I have to check every one. What if I added row 12 later and forgot to update the formulae in row 16 to include it? I’d end up sending in a bill for less than the full amount. Again, I can add up the columns manually and check, but then what do I need a spreadsheet for?
This is the real reason why I changed the way I did things: accountability. My awk script recognizes different kinds of lines: one kind for headers, one for the “meat” of the spreadsheet, and a different one for the telephone bills.

If it starts with a #, the script ignores it (the line is a comment).
If the line starts with the letter C, the script copies the remainder of the line into the spreadsheet (see line 5 of the example). I use this for the heading only.
If the line begins with a T (telephone), the script places the first parameter in column A and the second parameter in column J, where it can be included in the total. As you can see, I use this for telephone expenses.
Anything else is expanded as a normal spreadsheet line. The script keeps track of them so that it knows what to add up.
In this way, awk makes a spreadsheet which ss can understand. It creates the formulae for the calculations itself, so I can check in the script if it has charged the correct rate, and I know that the ranges for the additions are correct because they’re programmed that way. Yes, I know that there’s still ample opportunity for bugs, but that’s a different order of magnitude: with this method, I have control.

Goodbye stress
If you’ve been around computers for any length of time, you’ll know all about stress. One of the main causes of stress is lack of control over what you’re doing. This method trades stress for just a little extra work. Once the work is done, you have the confidence that the calculations are correct, since you can’t accidentally overwrite them. If you want to be sure, you can go and check the awk source, or you can change things if you find there are additional requirements.
Everything has its limits
If you’ve been programming for any length of time, you may now be saying, “OK, he found a good example, one where this approach works. Most times it doesn’t”.
Well, yes, there’s a limit to what you can do yourself. This example was simple enough for me to be able to show it in its entirety, and that’s why I chose it. Other problems are significantly more complicated. Whenever you choose a strategy for approaching this kind of problem, you need to decide early on whether it will be worth the effort. Another thing I tried, for example, was a set of macros to get HTML output from troff. I wrote the original version of this article in troff and converted it–almost. I found I had to touch up the HTML output to make it usable. That wasn’t the correct approach: the correct approach would have been to go back and fix the macros, but it started to become apparent that that was more trouble than it was worth. Since we’re planning to go to SGML (Standardized General Markup Language) as a documentation base and use that language to create troff or HTML output, it seems to be a better idea to work on those conversions rather than a troff to HTML converter.

But this means programming!
On the other hand, you may be saying, “Alright, but he knows how to program. I don’t.” Sure, you need a little extra understanding to be able to do things this way. Is it difficult? No.
One of the big problems bringing computers to the “masses” was to make them easier to use. The initial attempts in this direction were pretty good: many computer systems were difficult to use simply because nobody had ever tried to make them easy to use. But then a different attitude took over: “Let’s make it possible for every idiot to use a computer without knowing anything about how they work”. This approach doesn’t even work for cars. Why should it work for computers?

No programming, please
In the process of making computers suitable for idiots, the vendors forgot that idiots only make up a very small percentage of their customers. On the other hand, this approach made it more difficult for the rest of the customers to get beyond the idiot user stage. One consequence of this attitude is that people say “programming is difficult, I’ll never learn it”. This is a self-perpetuating attitude, and it has some unexpected results.
Recently, my daughter’s school has come out with a computer usage policy. You know, “use your common sense”, “don’t download pornography”, and so on. It’s not really clear why they need this kind of policy, since it turns out they’re not allowed to use or possess pornography while studying other subjects either. But that’s a different story.

One of the things that upset me about the policy was:

Students are not permitted to have in their folders or on floppy disks:

Software such as games, utilities, system hacking utilities or executable files…
Nested directories more than 5 levels in depth
Invisible files.
If you’re going to learn to program, you’ll need at least an utilities such as an editor, a C compiler and a debugger. You’ll produce executable output files, and probably want to save them on floppy. You might be asked to use an integrated package such as the ones I have been decrying above, but if you’re serious you’ll use real tools, such as the GNU C compiler. Never mind that its author, Richard Stallman, definitely considers it a hacking utility: the school is confused in its terminology when it speaks of hacking utilities.

The real problem is that computer education at my daughter’s school, the Eastern Fleurieu campus in Strathalbyn, isn’t computer education at all. It’s a series of classes telling you how to use various Microsoft products–rather like booking a course in automobile mechanics and find yourself being taught how to drive a particular model of car. The policy didn’t intend to make it punishable to learn to program–it happened simply because nobody has ever thought about the possibility.

So what about the directory nesting limit and the prohibition on invisible files? I don’t know, and they haven’t been able to tell me yet. If you have a good guess, I’d be interested to hear it.

Programming, please
If you’ve read this much of the article, you’re probably not surprised that I didn’t accept this policy. In today’s computer-based society, the ability to program has the same kind of importance that being able to read and write had a thousand years ago. Unwittingly, Microsoft makes this similarity more obvious by using pictures rather than (written) words to operate its software. You don’t have to be directly involved in the computer industry to find a need for programming.
This doesn’t mean that you should try to become a world-class programmer. Not many people make it that far. Not many people make it to being world-class racing drivers, either, but that doesn’t stop them from driving cars. In a similar manner, learning the basics of programming isn’t difficult, and it saves you a lot of time waiting in line at bus stops.

Who Controls Content Wins And She Who Controls Terminology, Controls Content

The year 2003 is drawing to a close, and we take this opportunity at the Globalization Insider to both look back a bit and to look forward at the same time. We open this issue with an overview of the LISA Forum USA (below) that just ended in Washington, D.C. Participants discussed (and even argued some) about streaming content, offshore outsourcing, standards, voice applications, translation web services, terminology, the semantic web, industry ethics, how to do business with the U.S. government and the effect of foreign policy on business operations. All of us did agree on two issues, however:
1. He who controls content wins, and she who controls terminology, controls content;
2. And that localization is not the enemy, but the enabler.

Rory Cowan, CEO of Lionbridge, asserts in this issue that the debate is over as to whether MLVs (multi-language vendors) have proven their worth (they have), and that globalization has indeed come to the translation and localization industry. Check out what Cowan has to say in the article entitled From Mozart to Mumbai, MLVs on the Move: A Review of Industry Progress (premium).
In a related article, A Shared Vision of the Future (public), the Globalization Insider interviews LISA members Documentum, TRADOS and Lionbridge to clarify for our readers what their recent announcement of the TRADOS Language Server for Documentum means for users and how it may impact global content management system (GMS) vendors.
Three of our editors (Andrew Joscelyn, Minako O’Hagan and Rebecca Ray) were brave enough to assess the predictions that they made at the beginning of the year. They do so in the rest of our articles in this issue: Were My Predictions About Europe Right? (public), Revisiting Minority Report on Localization 2003: A Translator’s New Memory with XLIFF and New Generation Intelligent TM?(premium), and Revisiting “From Tea Leaves to Coffee Grounds” (premium).

If you’re interested in what’s happening in India with regards to offshore outsourcing and our industry, check out LISA’s next event, LISA Workshops Asia in Bangalore, India from January 28-30.
Please fill out the Reader Survey, if you have not already done so. We are planning some important changes to the Globalization Insider for next year and need your input in order to implement them. Thanks!
And for those of you who have been following the “Cola Wars” in Turkey along with yours truly, you will be interested to know that Chevy Chase is now back doing TV commercials for Cola Turka, in spite of Coca Cola’s official request that he not do so. The power of global branding and local tastes marches on!