As a subject in its own right information and computer technology is still very much a work-in-progress. We designate it in this way to distinguish it from “computer science”, as done in other types of school. Their aims only partially overlap with ours, which tend to be more comprehensive.
Also, the term information technology does not only apply to laptops and computers, for this kind of technology figures nowadays in almost all electrical devices. A modern television set, for instance, is very like a computer, while a laptop can easily be made to function as a TV set. Smart-phones are actually tiny computers, which happen to be usable also as telephones. Household appliances are also becoming more and more computerised. Thus increasingly miniaturised digital information technology is gradually pervading our whole technical environment, with a notable tendency towards diminishing materiality. It would seem almost as if technology were striving towards “bodilessness”.
Now, the intention behind Waldorf schools is that teaching be done with the nature of the whole human being in mind. What is taught should contribute to the healthy development of the rising generation. The fact is, however, that over-use of the computer produces consequences which are everything other than healthy in their effects upon human beings, if not downright dangerous. It is nonetheless necessary to give the students access to this technological product of human culture, especially as they have a legitimate need to be part of this cultural stream. It is similar to the situation with the technologies of writing and reading, which we simply need in order to make our way in the modern world. One main aim of the high school is to engender in the students as broad a faculty of judgment as possible, which will enable them to come to terms with widely varying spheres of life.
The subject of information and computer technology, therefore, is to be seen as a component of “life-skills”, which thus distinguishes it from “character-forming” subjects, such as painting, eurythmy and music. The acquisition of sound judgment is the main thing. To this end it is essential that young people have a well-founded knowledge of how to use the most common applications and devices, and that they leave school with the feeling they can cope with whatever challenges emerge from this direction in the future. The goal is full, operational competence.
Well-founded judgment, however, also involves a thorough understanding of how computers and other devices that contain such technology actually work. Acquiring this entails, in turn, consideration of the relationship between the human being and the machine. In the history of technological invention it has been a common occurrence for processes which are part of our human make-up to be externalised in the workings of particular machines. This then reflects back upon our image of ourselves, in that we compare ourselves to the technology in question, identify with it and define the way we function in terms of it. Thus in previous centuries the human being has been seen as a steam engine, or more recently as a biochemical system, and today there is a very strong intellectual tendency to view ourselves as information-processing machines (trans- or post-humanism).
The teaching of this subject, then, aims to equip the students with competence on three levels: firstly, that of operational knowledge, secondly that of background understanding, and, arising out of these two, that of well-informed judgment in relation to the constantly expanding world of information technology.
Given the breadth of the range of topics to be dealt with, it is a good idea to check which areas can be covered – and that reliably – within the context of other subjects, and which must form the content of the separate, compulsory subject of information and computer technology. The guidelines to be met in each case can be clearly formulated and used as the basis upon which each particular high school faculty decides how this is to be organised.
The subject of information and computer technology is composed of three main thematic areas:
- Grounding in the operation of particular applications: text processing, internet research, graphics, data-management etc. (operational competence)
- Technical understanding: how does a computer work? Interplay between hardware and software. Historical perspectives: who invented what, when? What were the driving impulses, and what human needs are thereby served? (competence in background understanding)
- Engagement with the social implications of the technology: e.g. addiction to computer games and internet, changes in modes of communication, social manipulation and control, effects upon economic life, the question of the machine analogy of human life, the future of technology and the future of humanity etc. (competence in the exercise of well-informed judgment)
It is clear that particularly the last of these thematic areas is very much in tune with the principle of relating all teaching and lesson content to the nature of the whole human being. A further topic of relevance here is that of so-called artificial intelligence. The development of methods of predicting and, therefore, simulating human behaviour is in full swing, and its first fruits are fulfilling their purpose of increasing the turnover of big companies, tracing suspects, anticipating undesirable behaviour and detecting crimes. Handling the issue of artificial intelligence properly, of course, depends upon a prior knowledge of the technology involved together with a rudimentary idea of the nature of human intelligence.