Academy President Prof. Yucel Kanpolat called attention to the problems of children in Kyoto

Academy President Prof. Yucel Kanpolat called attention to the problems of children in Kyoto

Prof. Dr. Yücel Kanpolat participated as a speaker in the sixth annual meeting of the Science and Technology in Society (STS) Forum, held between 4-6 October 2009. The STS Forum is held traditionally every year in Kyoto (Japan), in October. Prof. Kanpolat gave his speech on the first day of the Forum, in the session on “Science and Engineering Education”.

Prof. Kanpolat pointed out that in international platforms like the STS Forum, scientific solutions should be sought for the problems of not only nature but also of people and especially of children, who are more vulnerable to the economies dominated by mega companies. He placed special emphasis on children's education and proposed to include this message in the final statement of the Forum.

Prof. Dr. Yücel Kanpolat's speech in full-text is published here.

STS Forum, Session D1: “Science and Engineering Education”
Prof. Dr. Yücel KANPOLAT
The Turkish Academy of Sciences

Dear colleagues, ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great honor for me to be here for the 6th Science and Technology in Society (STS) Forum meeting. I would like to thank the organizing committee for inviting me as a speaker in this session.

I am from Turkey and I am also the President of the Turkish Academy of Sciences, however, the views I will express here entirely belong to me. As a scientist and as a human being I believe that it is my responsibility to voice these opinions. I am aware that it is easy to criticize but not so easy to put the solutions into life.

We optimistically believe that we are living in the Age of Science and Technology but still, we cannot declare that this is the age of science, wisdom and conscience. The main life lines of the world such as economy, industry, insurance, education and health are nearly totally controlled by mega companies. We eat fast-food, drink cola, read and watch magician tales while religious fundamentalism is increasingly popular.
Would it be unfair to call this a dogma age? I suggest that this is the Company Age.

We cannot deny that mega companies are the innovators of many scientific and technological developments that increased the quality of our lives. We may also point out that these companies have their share in the last economic crisis, but our mission now is to search for a special strategy to survive this crisis and to catch the path of sustainable development. In fact, scientific discussion platforms like this STS Forum serve this purpose, i.e. to search for some special solutions to the problems of the world and of human beings.

We must pay special attention to the problems of children and especially to their education. In the modern world, children are very often the target of advertisement campaigns which transform them at an early age into customers of the market economy. These children are no longer playing in the streets, they grow up alone with their computers, as egotistic human beings. They may interact with their family and friends and play with their electronic toys, but they know neither the world nor the nature. They have a tendency to learn by heart without inquiring, and to aspire to an easy life of high consumption. Do we really want to trust our future into the hands of this type of children created by the advertisements of companies with our consent? Companies are important for our present-day civilization but children are also important. Let us not turn them into consumers living in virtual reality.

It is not sufficient to criticize the modern world, we must also propose solutions. My proposition is to put into widespread application the education model based on inquiry and games, and also on an ethics of sharing and mutual aid. Learning by doing and games feed creativity as well as encouraging team-work. Computer simulations cannot replace real-life games and experiments in science education. The present-day education model leads children to selfishness and loneliness. Some of them cannot live without computers. This develops a schizoid character in children.

Moreover, we must also pay attention to the nutritive habits of children who are the targets of fast-food advertisements. They eat too much sugar-based food which develops an incidence of obesity in children. The nutrition models specific to different countries must be preserved. International organizations like UNICEF, UNESCO, WHO, STS Forum and world science academies must publish declarations on this topic and call for inter-organizational cooperation.

During our generation, the engineering education was based on observing the nature and reasoning. The new generations seem to have lost this discipline. Elaborate computer programs have diminished the abilities for observation, reasoning and judgment. Computers may possess increasing memory capacities but their reasoning capacity does not increase. Today, even small children are highly dependent on computers. Obviously we cannot live without computers, but they must not dominate our lives.

We must remember that we are responsible as human beings and as scientists to re-arrange our life practices in the direction of real science for the benefit of our children. These decisions are too important to be left to the companies.

We cannot deny the important role of companies in producing technology. The problem is that all the vital services that they deliver in areas such as health, aging problems, energy, esthetics, environment etc. have become instruments for rent seeking. I think that the mega companies should feel an increasing pressure to be responsible towards the nature, human beings and children. State intervention is not the only solution. Wisdom and conscience, not just profit-seeking, should dominate the administration of these companies which control our lives.

We must ask ourselves why we are here. We all have our day-to-day activities and personal problems like everyone living in this world. However, we are also scientists and scholars. I believe that as scientists we have a special responsibility towards the world, especially towards the children who are our future. Economic development did not increase our quality of life in every way. I hope that such international meetings among scientists, companies and decision makers like the STS Forum will help us create a better world dominated by science, ethics and wisdom; not just by economic concerns.

The important point is to find a golden balance between the economic needs of the companies and the physical and mental health of children. This is imperative for a sustainable future. We must keep searching for means to protect not just the environment but also human beings, especially the children who are more vulnerable. If we can reach a consensus on this point, we might propose including this message in the final declaration of the STS Forum.