Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Learning Technology and the Global Wealth Gap

I am a regular reader of The Verge. It's a great site that mixes tech with everything from politics to entrepreneurship, all with a healthy dose of pop culture references and lingo. This month Bill Gates is there guest editor, and I was very intrigued by an article on MOOCs and the developing world, written by Adi Robertson.

Then, just by chance, I was reviewing my RSS feed of Donald Clark's Plan B blog, and noticed this gem of his from a few weeks back. I had somehow missed it previously, but with today's unfortunate news that another terror attack on free speech had taken place in Denmark, when I saw Donald's post about Boko Haram, I had to read it. He is very often a contrarian to accepted practices and theories, and I appreciate his regular checks against the winds of the industry. I encourage anyone to read both articles.

Donald lays out a sobering picture of the where, when, why, and how of education in parts of Africa. As I reflected on the MOOC story, there were so many confirmations of the key thrust of Donald's point: “Africa, above all, has a form of schooling that is deeply colonial, defined by the academic systems in Britain and France.” He later lays out how and why this system fails youth across the African continent, and how such a grotesque machination in Boko Haram can be seeing brutal success in spreading its backward, violent, and dictatorial ends. Donald points out that there is no local face on education in places like Nigeria.

Referring back to Adi's article, a local face and spin on education appears to be reflected as a consistent theme in other places in the developing world, as well. In fact, both articles arrive at many of the same points, including the fact that even the latest learning technology will not solve the education problem.

So the question I have in light of the Gates-edited article is, if technology isn't the solution, and MOOCs are typically used most by the already-educated, what is the plan underlying the international efforts to expand education, not just for youth, but for all age groups? There are clear indications that there are a few who have devised ways to connect with education via mobile phones, but these opportunities are individualized and have a complex situational context.

The seemingly clear solution to getting any new effort off the ground is a multi-dimensional matter of money, infrastructure, properly trained local teachers, and local government and community support. In other words, the answer to the question involves lots of questions about how to handle everything that would enable education in the first place.

That is clearly no small thing to solve. More on the subject:

AEO: Education & Skills Mismatch
WSJ: Why Foreign Aid Is Hurting Africa

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