This has been cross-posted from my new blog at iamlearner.net, which I have established to support and complement my business website at consult.iamlearner.net.
In the light of my recent post, about the I Am Malala campaign, it was interesting to come across the intelligent and thoughtful article in this month’s Prospect Magazine by Clare Lockhart of the Institute for State Effectiveness. Clare believes that the UN’s obsession with primary education in its Millennium Development Goals has backfired.
The UN’s MDGs were set more than a decade ago, and the one that is closest to being met is the one on universal primary education, with around 88% of school-age children across the developing world in primary school (in 2010, up from 81% in 1999). Clare’s article argues that the focus on primary education has had the unintended consequence of skewing investment away from secondary education and vocational training, both vital instruments in achieving the continuing and growing needs of countries for:
.…their next generation of doctors, nurses, engineers, accountants, and project managers.…without secondary and tertiary education, a country cannot run its health, agriculture and financial systems.…
And ironically, given the MDG’s rightful focus on the critical importance of education, this skewing effect has also led to:
.…a shortfall of teachers to train the generation beyond them. Even maintaining primary education services, especially in the countries with growing populations, requires large numbers to be educated at secondary and vocational levels.
Clare is, of course, very careful to state that she does not want to see investment in secondary and tertiarty education at the expense of the primary sector. She is advocating a more balanced approach that recognises the need for continued and strategic investment in all key sectors. This balanced approach requires certain key questions to be asked, and answered:
- What are the skills a society needs to develop and strengthen its public, private and civic sectors?
- How can a country equip its next generation with the skills to meet those needs?
- How can education and training policy balance the imperatives of stability, economics and civil inclusion?
There’s a lot to think about in this piece, but I think I am persuaded that the original set of MDGs failed to set a firm and sustainable foundation for the balanced approach that Clare favours — given that the successor goals are being debated right now, I would hope that these are issues that will be given due consideration.
This has been cross-posted from my new blog at iamlearner.net, which I have established to support and complement my business website at consult.iamlearner.net.
…the most recent figures published by UNESCO in their Global Monitoring Report show that 61 million children don’t receive an education.
A further 200 million remain illiterate despite attending school. Equality of opportunity remains a hollow dream.
The petition in support of Malala Yousafzai has now attracted almost 1 million signatures worldwide. As Gordon Brown points out in a piece on the BBC news website, time is running out on meeting the Millenium Development Goals. Progress has, to say the least, stuttered, with many millions of children still working instead of learning, many millions of girls still being forced out of the classroom and into loveless marriages:
We have around 40 months to meet our deadline for universal education. We have one chance left to deliver in these three years. If the tragic story of Malala tells us anything, it is that we must do all we can to achieve it.
The Taliban thought they were halting a one-girl campaign for the education of girls; instead they created the impetus for worldwide movement that should strengthen the resolve of those world leaders who meet at the joint summit on this critical issue of our time between international agencies and governments in April of next year.
They need to do it for Malala and the many millions of girls and boys around the word who are still being denied a basic education. There is simply no more important international campaign than this one.
In a piece in the Independent, in 2011, Gordon Brown wrote:
.…the international aid system for education is failing the world’s children.
He was introducing his UNESCO report — Education For All: Beating Poverty, Unlocking Prosperity.
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.
Doug Johnson posts In Defense of Postliteracy, defining:
“.……the postliterate as those who can read, but chose to meet their primary information and recreational needs through audio, video, graphics and gaming.”
While we might debate the term itself, the basic premiss is one that I would largely agree with. If I were to qualify Doug’s definition, I would contend that text remains at least as important as the other modes of expression, and probably still more important than the others, both in terms of text online and text on paper. Text is still a major component of expression on the Web and in the wider online environment, and there are just too many books and magazines being published and sold today, with the younger generations still a major slice of the market for both, for us to dismiss text quite so readily.
However, I do strongly agree that the other modes of expression have risen massively in importance in recent years, and especially (though not exclusively) for young poeple. Doug’s post reminded me of my own response — The Story of Anthony — to an earlier piece from Ron Burnett — The Transformation of Culture. Ron wrote:
“Language, verbal and written is at the core of what humans do everyday. But, language has always been very supple, capable of incorporating not only new words, but also new modalities of expression. Music for example became a formalized notational system through the adaptation and incorporation of some of the principles of language. Films use narrative, but then move beyond conventional language structure into a hybrid of voice, speech, sounds and images.
As long as Anthony’s incorporation of technology and new forms of expression is viewed as a phenomenon it is unlikely that we will understand the degree to which he is changing the fundamental notions of communications to which we have become accustomed over the last century.”
I like Doug Johnson’s notion that: “…postliteracy may be a return to more natural forms of communication — speaking, storytelling, dialogue, debate, and dramatization.” I’m not sure I agree with the idea though that we have: “.… an irrational bias toward print as the best way to communicate and preserve information.” Our adherence to print has been and remains entirely rational — and, of course, richly productive for human history and culture across the past four centuries or so — but the debate should not be about print but about the utility, beauty, strength and continued resilience of text in its multifarious contexts, whether on paper or on any other medium.
But I agree entirely with both Doug Johnson and Ron Burnett when they question the extent to which formal institutions and systems of education understand, or are willing to acknowledge, the nature of the the change that is taking place in relation to definitions of expression, literacy and communication.
Technorati Tags: doug johnson, ron burnett, literacy, modes of expression, communication, text, video, print, audio, graphics
“So, no surprise that when we incarcerate teenagers of today in traditional classroom settings, they react with predictable disinterest and flunk their literacy tests. They are skilled in making sense not of a body of known content, but of contexts that are continually changing.
Teachers must recognise that our pedagogical tools are inconsistent with the skills needed to survive in a world where people are always connected to everyone and everything. In such a world, learning to think for oneself could well be more important than simply learning to read and write.”
These are the final couple of paragraphs from an Economist article entitled: From Literacy to Digiracy. The piece points to Mark Federman, of the McLuhan Programme in Culture and Technology at the University of Toronto, who has argued that the telegraph was the first to “undo” the effects of the written word. As the article notes:
“If the telegraph was the starting point, Mr Federman reckons we are probably half way through a 300-year transition out of the world of mass literacy. That world began when Johannes Gutenberg introduced the printing press in 1455, and gave birth along the way to the Reformation, the Age of Reason, the Enlightenment, the Scientific Method, and finally the Industrial Revolutionâ€”not to mention the modern era of newspapers, universal education and, yes, mass literacy.”
The message here chimes with Ron Burnett when he writes about Anthony’s Tale in The Transformation of Culture.
“.…what Anthony is doing is building and creating a new language that combines many of the features of conventional languages but is more of a hybrid of many different modes of expression. Just as we don“t really talk about language as a phenomenon, (because it is inherent to everything that we do) we can“t deal with this explosion of new languages as if they are simply a phase or a cultural anomaly.”
An interesting juxtaposition, however, can be seen in Simon Jenkins’ piece in today’s Guardian on the longevity and continued strength of the book: How we love them.…..
“.….we should never lose touch with the centrality of the book. Prospero’s “magic” remains his library, “a dukedom large enough”. Books are the one sure record of history, as capable of generating wars as of inspiring peace. They set up religions and they knock them down.
Long after emails have been wiped, tapes have decayed, CDs have rusted and computers have crashed, dusty books will remain as silent witnesses on the shelf. Power lies in their simplicity and indestructibility. They are a habit we will never kick. We love them because we know they are for ever.”
There’s no reason to think, of course, that they cannot all be right!