Prof. Bertram “Chip” Bruce is a computer scientist turned educator. He started his research on artificial intelligence earning a Ph.D. in Computer Science. Broadening his research into literacy and education, he has dedicated himself to the conception and promotion of democratic, or progressive education.
He is currently Professor Emeritus in Information Science at the University of Illinois. He has published several books in the field of information, literacy, education and community development. Having worked in various countries such as China, Australia, Haiti, Turkey, France, Germany, Ireland, Romania, Finland, and Sweden, he has made Nepal one of his focus areas making regular visits since 2016.
He has helped set up Progressive Educators Network of Nepal, collaborating with institutions such as King’s College, Teach for Nepal, Karkhana, Kathmandu Living Labs and bringing together students, teachers, engineers, development workers, policy makers, and others who see learning as part of full participation in society and the natural world. He was recently in a Nepal trip supported by a Fulbright Specialist grant to assist King’s College in becoming a progressive education university. Though officially retired, he has been working with spectacular enthusiasm and exemplary collaborative and learning spirit. Equally inspired by his work and his personal journey, we interviewed him talking on various topics: his peculiar career path, need of progressive education, observations from other countries’ educational approaches, the role of technology in education and being a life-long learner.
He explains that progressive education is about creating socially engaged citizens in a democracy. It is about taking a broader view of education incorporating moral development, physical development, aesthetics and respect for diversity. Nepal is at a historical point that it is trying to lay foundations for modern education. But discourse on modern education should not be limited to funding and facilities, but start with the fundamental question of what we want for education. Education leaders must incorporate new research in learning sciences in how we learn, respecting the unique experience of each child. We need a collective awareness around public education, where quality education is the right of each child.
He also shares his observations of educational approaches in other countries that can be highly relevant for Nepal. He gives the context of Turkey to emphasize why we need to make a distinction between unity and uniformity- desire and need for unity should not lead to the enforcement of uniformity. Similarly, Romania can be a great case study for Nepal. As a country recovering from a prolonged dictatorship, it had a big challenge to mitigate community fear that made people less engaged as citizens. With carefully designed adult education, it helped its people to reengage and reassert their roles in civic society. In Finland, retiring teachers, with their lifelong collected resources and knowledge, teach newer teachers on what they have learned. Even if we may not have the physical resources of Finland, we can definitely mobilize our retired teachers as valuable resources.
Talking about life-long education, he says that education is not just a preparation for life, but life itself. Being very mindful about the limitations of his own knowledge and perceptions regarding Nepal’s education system, he does not claim to be an expert but rather considers himself a cheerleader of the progressive education movement happening in Nepal.