On my travels around the world I have often found myself working with some truly inspiring organisations. One of these is SAIDE, the South African Institute for Distance Education, who I met with more than one occasion in Johannesburg. This is an organization that is truly committed to transforming education and training through a focus on the adoption of open learning principles and distance education methods.
SAIDE do not think small! One of their key aims is to:
Support programmes in sound and innovative course design, materials development, learner support, management, and the use of technology, particularly for large scale provision.
They given powerful substance to their principles with the launch of a site dedicated to the provision of OER resources for education across the continent of Africa — OER Africa. With special areas of focus — teacher education, health, agriculture and skills development — this is a great resource built on the assumptions of openness.
A quick search for ‘professional development’ threw up some 237 references, and I could see a rich harvest of ideas and materials even in the first two of three pages of results.
On a number of occasions over the past 6 years I have been able to watch the work of UNESCO at close hand and in the process gained considerable respect for the organization. In keeping with that, I do believe that this report is a superb, detailed and compassionate summary of the state of education for millions upon millions of children across the developing world. It offers a description of a state of affairs that should bring shame to the rest of the world — we are failing all those children very badly.
Early in the report, he states that:
No education system anywhere in the world is better than its teachers.
And he goes on later to say:
Teachers are the backbone of any education system. Ultimately, learning is the product of what happens in classrooms through a relationship between pupils and teachers. That is why no education system is better than the availability, accessibility and quality of the teachers it provides, and the level of support that it delivers to those on the front line of education in the classroom.
With I Am Learner in mind, this begs many more questions than it answers, but it would be churlish in the extreme not to accept the core point being made, that good quality teaching should be central to a good educational provision, and most especially for the education of young children.
It is a dismal and unassailable fact that there is a massive shortage of good quality teachers across the developing world, especially, but by no means exclusively, across the countries in sub-Saharan Africa. According to Gordon Brown’s report, the world’s poorest countries need something like 1.8 million additional teachers over the next three years alone to provide even basic primary education to their children, as well as around 4 million more classrooms and all of the most basic items of equipment that we might expect to find in those classrooms.
Brown is absolutely right therefore to state that:
The world is today facing an education emergency. That emergency does not make media headlines. But it has disastrous human, social and economic consequences. It is consigning millions of children to lives of poverty and diminished opportunity, holding back progress in health, reinforcing disparities linked to wealth and gender, and undermining prospects for economic growth. And it is destroying on an epic scale the most valuable asset of the world’s poorest nations – the creativity, talent and potential of the young generation.
An education emergency indeed, and one on a vast and massively consequential scale for humanity worldwide. It requires equally vast and prolonged global investment to put right.
Elsewhere in the report, Gordon Brown enthuses over the potential for harnessing technology to improve educational provision. However, he believes that:
New technologies do not offer a quick fix for systemic problems in education systems. What they do offer is a vehicle for improving access to opportunities for education and the quality of service provision.
The last thing this global emergency needs is any kind of quick fix. But I do believe that there is a potentially powerful application of digital and networking technologies that could play a significant role, alongside all the other big investments needed, in contributing to a much better quality education for many millions of the poorest children in the poorest countries around the world.
From Massive Open Online Course to Massive Open Online Classroom (MOOCl)
Anyone with even the remotest interest in higher education of late will be aware of the MOOC. The basic concept of the Massive Open Online Course (a term devised by Dave Cormier) is a simple one, but the implications of the MOOC for the future of higher education in particular are the stuff of a debate that is washing around global education at the present time.
I will trust that anyone reading this already knows what a MOOC is, although I will not necessarily trust that everyone knows that there are MOOCs and there are MOOCs. If your knowledge of the concept of the MOOC is restricted to those ‘delivered’ by the likes of Coursera or Udacity, then I would urge you to go back to grass roots and read some of what you might find, for instance, in MOOC.ca, set up by Stephen Downes to host news, information and discussion around the concept, in the writings of George Siemens, Dave Cormier, already mentioned, and others. Open, experimental and connectivist in nature, the MOOC is an explicit and conscious attempt to use the incredible affordances offered by the Internet to change the nature of education.
The massive-ness, openness and online-ness of the MOOC are all givens, of course, and are all critical to the effect that the development is having at the present time. But I, for one, am less sure that the course-ness of the concept has to be a given too. I would recognise that the fact that the MOOC is built around the course is probably what is keeping the concept fairly firmly within the broad arms of higher education, for the moment at least. As Martin Weller has written:
…after a decade of OERs, it’s interesting that we’re coming back to educator constructed courses…
Classroom instead of Course?
When I look at the situation faced by those millions of children worldwide, in a context of potential massive global connectedness, and yet in circumstances where so many of them have no access to good teaching, I can’t but help wonder how the MOOC might be taken, re-shaped, and made into something that could begin to ameliorate some of the worst effects of that generally awful situation.
I recognise, of course, that such a simply stated change is, in fact, anything but simple. The course is a generally uncomplicated thing, usually (although by no means necessarily) linear, structured, a comprehensible process in which ideas or concepts or information are introduced, discussed, dissected, re-shaped, combined, understood; it can be a single unit of ‘instruction’ or a whole programme of learning, or something in between; and it can be delivered or presented (taught) by a single teacher or in some senses by everyone on the course (as the original conception of the MOOC seeks to achieve).
The classroom, even the virtual, conceptual classroom, is a quite different beast. It is a ‘place’, a platform; it is the site where courses can happen, where teachers can offer lessons across all disciplines, where learners can go to access learning, debate, insight, expertise, authority; it is a meeting place in which education can happen; it is the locus for teaching and learning activities of all kinds.
I believe we have many, perhaps most, of the elements already that would have to be brought together to create the MOOCl. Instinctively, however, I feel that a MOOCl would not be nearly as simple as a MOOC to start up and sustain. It would require an operational core of a kind and scale that is probably not true of the MOOC, although that operational core, I would suggest, need not be a single organizing unit: it could be an open, distributed affair, sympathetic to the origins of the MOOC. It should offer access to masses of great teaching and learning resources — the Khan Academy is an obvious example of what could be utilised, but so too could the thousands of other high quality, freely available teaching and learning resources that increasingly throng the web, and across so many of the world’s major, and not so major, languages.
So far, so what? All of these resources are available today. But the MOOCl would have to incorporate some kind of organizing layer, a simple interface that would allow any individual anywhere in the world not only to access the resources as such, but also to access courses, communities, teachers (who can be, and probably will be, other learners), expertise and guidance. The MOOCl might also be a device for those teachers who already are on the ground, so to speak, in the poorest countries, to grab hold of and use as a means of enhancing their own teaching expertise. The MOOCl would be the teacher’s global mentor, guide, teaching assistant, just as much as it would be the learner’s teacher too.
Again, you might say, this sounds like a description of the World Wide Web. But the MOOCl would have to be more than simply ‘available’: it would have to be set up in a way that would allow it reach out in a proactive way, to find its way into those places in the world where we know there are young children who currently have few or no teachers to help them learn, where there are few or no teaching and learning resources. This will require much thought, huge organization, and of course investment. Is there a role here for the big philanthropic foundations as well as governments? I believe so.
But what of access to the network, access to connected devices? Of course, the MOOCl would have to be capable of being used across the world’s mobile networks and accessible on mobile devices — Gordon Brown’s report tells us that mobile cellular penetration has reached 50% in the developing world and is still increasing fast. The cell phone is the default access device for many millions of people in the world’s poorest countries, and that is likely to be the case for many years to come.
How much of this can be done in the same spirit as the original MOOC? I don’t know, I suspect not much, but I would love to be proved wrong. I know I am merely scratching the surface with an undeveloped and potentially stillborn idea — but if the acute minds of thoughtful and creative people can come up with the MOOC, I would like to think those same, and other, minds could be applied to how we can turn the Massive Open Online Course into the Massive Open Online Classroom to serve the desperate desperate needs of so many millions of children in dire economic and educational poverty across the world.
I think this is a very powerful video, one that has profound implications that go far beyond the obvious ones of parental love. It must have implications for childcare generally, and even, as Richard Millwood asks, for adult society’s wider attitudes to our young people.
So, for instance, does the trash media show a ‘still face’ to our young people today? I’m sure it does.
Everywhere we look and listen today, we are inundated by statistics: every financial product, every health pronouncement, every social indicator, every political assertion is couched in terms of comparative data analysis, whether simple or complex. And yet the critical importance of an understanding of statistics in our lives today is simply not reflected in most school curricula.
Any teacher seeking to make statistics interesting to learners should already be aware of the work of Hans Rosling, whose TED Talks make statistical analysis of global health issues stunningly accessible to even the statistically ignorant.
The video above sees him pushing his own boundaries a little further through the use of augmented reality to plot the changing picture of life expectancy globally over the past 200 years. You can watch the gap between rich and poor countries grow as the years pass, and Rosling’s interaction with the shifting data is at once entertaining and highly instructive.
Teachers and learners can also make good use of some of the more intelligent comments beneath the video on YouTube, where some discussion about the value of the logarithmic scale on the X-axis to our understanding of the data is interesting.
Most interesting for me is to watch the picture change from 1948, the year Rosling was born, until today.
Thank you to John Pearce for pointing me towards this.
I have used the work of Dr Stuart Brown in a number of talks and presentations over the past couple of years. The short video above is a very nice illustration of the key issues that his work brings to the fore — the criticality of play, not just for the rounded development of the child, but for the continuing mental and emotional well-being of the adult throughout life.
I found the quote above in a very good article by Alison Kadlec’s in which she interviews Stuart Brown on the subject of play: Play and Public Life (downloadable PDF). Kadlec widens the thrust of Brown’s work from the psychological to the social, by relating his thinking to what she calls ‘civic health’. Someone should send a copy to Gove.
Thanks to Pat Kane for the link to the Kadlec piece.
.…to ask publicly whether the school should be a willing, even eager, partner in deepening that dependency on gadgets with screens.
Has anyone ever seriously questioned our ‘dependency on the printed page’? I doubt it, because, of course, it is what is on the printed page that is important.
I think the same should apply to those ‘gadgets with screens’. Otherwise we make a fetish of the medium rather than the content and activities offered by that medium. For many of those who would agree with Cuban, the notion of ‘addiction to the book’ would be a nonsense, and rightly so. They simply need to apply the same logic to the dreaded ‘screen’ if they are not to be accused of double standards.
Cuban falls into this trap, one he has been happy to fall into for many years — hence the somewhat loaded and one-sided title of the blog post quoted: High Tech Gadgets: Addiction, Dependency, or Hype?. And isn’t that ‘…publicly…’ in the quote above interesting? Let’s not just scare the pants off people with talk of addiction and dependency; let’s also pretend that there’s a conspiracy of silence around the subject too.
When you remember the country that Britain voted to leave behind on May 1st 1997, what do you see? I remember the science block in the sixth form college I was studying at, where they couldn’t afford to fix the roof, so every time it rained, water seeped through, and lessons had to stop. I remember my friends who earned £1 an hour, because there was no legal limit on how little you could offer a human being for their labour. I remember one of my closest relatives having to decide whether to buy nappies or heat her flat, because there were no tax credits, and single mothers were the subject of a Tory hate campaign. I remember how it felt to grow up gay and discover I could never have a legally recognised relationship. I remember my elderly neighbour waiting two years for a hip operation on the NHS, crying every night with the pain.
None of those things happens in Britain today, and it’s not by fluke. Spending on public services has risen by 54 per cent since 1997, paid for by higher taxes. The result? Nobody is on a waiting list for more than 18 weeks — and the average wait is just a month. Nobody goes to school in buildings that are falling apart. Nobody can be legally paid less than £5.93 an hour. The poorest 10 per cent receive £1,700 in tax credits a year each — meaning their children get birthday parties and trips to the seaside, and parents who aren’t constantly panicked about how to buy food at the end of every week.
Is this any comfort to an Iraqi child orphaned by British bombs? Is it any comfort to a kid imprisoned in Yarl’s Wood, whose only “crime” is to have a parent seeking asylum? No.
Johan Hari in the Huff Post yesterday. He captures perfectly the quandary facing those who voted Labour in 1997, and since — and it’s an even larger quandary for many of those who, like me, have voted Labour all their lives. The massive benefits to so many people in the UK brought about by the Labour Government over the past 13 years can only be denied by the doggedly myopic.
But the terrible mistakes made since 1997 are also just as undeniable — leading the country into an illegal war, the capitulation to the worst excesses of capitalistic behaviour in the City and elsewhere, the jettisoning of so many hard-won civil liberties in the name of a ridiculous ‘war’ on terror, the havoc wreaked on English state education (thankfully avoided in a devolved Scotland), the blithering nonsense of the Digital Economy Bill, the abdication of ethics and principle to the bigots who forget that Britain is a nation of immigrants (and because of which Brown felt, wrongly, the need to apologise to an ignorant woman in Rochdale — read Kevin McKenna in last week’s Observer for a well-aimed piece on this issue) — the list, unfortunately, goes on.….
I voted Labour today, not in support of everything that the Labour Government has done over the past 13 years, but as a statement of hope for the future of a party that needs to rediscover its essence, that needs to remember what it ought to stand for. It is a party that will almost certainly have at least the duration of the next Parliament, and probably longer, in which to ponder where that discarded essence and that lost heritage lie.
This has been a strange general election campaign.
The core of this strangeness undoubtedly lies with the effects of the televised debates involving the leaders of those parties that the UK metropolitan media unthinkingly call ‘the major parties’. From my perspective in Scotland, of course, while the spectacle of the debates has been interesting — though not nearly as interesting as that same UK metropolitan media would have us believe, given the drooling verbosity of their coverage of the three bouts — the way in which they have been organised and run also makes explicitly clear the utter irrelevance of the politics of my country to the political and media establishment in England.
For one thing, I believe it is difficult for voters south of the border to understand, or even to believe, that every time Cameron, Clegg or Brown spoke about education, health, local government, transport, and a number of other central issues, their answers had no relevance whatsoever to the Scottish electorate. The UK Government has no say on any of these issues in Scotland. But the mere fact that these debates were carried out as if none of this matters should be a concern to someone like me who does not live in England. It tells me just how dysfunctional our democratic processes really are.
While the attempt by the SNP to use the courts to remedy this situation was carried out in a silly and cack-handed way, they did have a completely valid point, and one that every political party operating in Scotland should take care to think about objectively. It is a simple fact that the debates were set up in a way that discriminates against the political processes here in Scotland (as well as in Wales and in Northern Ireland). This is not a point of mere pique. In Scotland, we have four ‘major parties’ — SNP, Labour, Tories, Liberal Democrats — with a roughly 2−2−1−1 split between them respectively in terms of their share of recent elections and polls. The lift in the Lib-Dem’s polling fortunes engendered by the TV debates will surely have some effect in how the Scottish electorate votes on the 6th — but the SNP will have had no chance to counter that through the UK-wide media.
The effect of this on the election in Scotland will be interesting to watch. My guess is that the SNP will suffer more from the LibDem uplift than will Labour and the Tories. If that happens, we in Scotland — whatever our political allegiences — should think carefully about the longer term consequences of what has been allowed to happen over the past three weeks or so.
As a (wait for it) Labour-supporting libertarian-nationalist-internationalist (my support for an independent Scotland has as much to do with breaking away from the Little-Englander view of Europe as it has to do with a desire to see Scotland run all of its own affairs — and my libertarian bent makes it currently extremely difficult for me to support the re-election of the most illiberal Government I have seen in my lifetime) I don’t think there’s any need to get too hot under the collar about it all. Not because I don’t think it matters — I do, obviously; I’m quite relaxed because I believe that, in the long term, the sort of indifferent contempt shown by the UK metropolitan establishment for the political processes and culture of my country will lead inevitably to wider and wider gaps opening up between Scotland and England.
The complete irrelevance of Scotland’s political realities to those who have been held in thrall to the three TV debates gives me a warm feeling, because I know where it means we are headed.