Joseph Schumpeter called it “creative destruction” – the dramatic changes that occur when a new economic or business model completely destroys its predecessor.
From railways and motor cars in transport to the telegraph and the Internet in communications, each generation witnesses such creative destruction.
Now, a combination of factors is coming together, which may well alter the education system – at all levels and worldwide. These changes could not just impact the status quo education establishment but cause changes across the world – impacting many for who such education was previously in the preserve of the wealthy.
The whirlwind of Change – remote learning
In February 2011, the Socionomics Institute published a report, which contended that the economic cycle was reaching a position where high levels of spending on higher education were likely to tail off as society came around to overt criticism as a result of the economic climate.
They said at the time: “Traditional educational institutions may eventually lose control of the manufacture and distribution of education much as the music and publishing industries lost their grip on music and text. Bear markets topple dominant players and open the field to nimbler entrepreneurs, who will develop alternatives to institutional education.”
The trend was focused on the opportunity being taken by online courses, which were receiving accreditations and providing formal teaching anywhere that broadband is receivable and anywhere that a computer capability exists.
Scientific American published an article in March, 2013 highlighting the move to MOOC’s – Massive Open Online Courses.
In the UK, Thomas Telford School has pioneered online learning and sells these through its company TTS Online.
In the USA, The Khan Academy – www.khanacademy.com – has a mission, for example, which states:
A free world-class education for anyone anywhere.
Khan Academy is an organization on a mission. We’re a not-for-profit with the goal of changing education for the better by providing a free world-class education for anyone anywhere.
All of the site’s resources are available to anyone. It doesn’t matter if you are a student, teacher, home-schooler, principal, adult returning to the classroom after 20 years, or a friendly alien just trying to get a leg up in earthly biology. Khan Academy’s materials and resources are available to you completely free of charge.
The Khan Academy (a 501 (c) (3) charity in the USA) is supported by a number of well-known Foundations including Bill and Melinda Gates and Google and claims over 3,000 videos produced to date. The offering is to all schools on a very wide range of subjects.
The key, of course, is the ability to develop education modules that can be used anywhere.
Others, like Sugata Mitra (winner of the 2013 TED Prize), have for some years promoted such remote learning He is well-known for the “Hole in the Wall” – remote learning placed in kiosks in Delhi that provided extraordinary learning opportunities for those without educational opportunities. It provided great evidence of the value of remote learning and the ability of the young to self-educate – given good material and the opportunity (low-cost or free).
Even more recently, wider usability has been provided by Datawind – a British based company but operating out of India – makers of the Aakash Tablet for the Indian Government at around $45 each. They state:
“Our motto is ‘Bridging the Digital Divide’. We are committed to bringing the next billion people into the internet age by offering internet access devices with very affordable, anywhere, anytime internet connectivity.” (www.datawind.com).
Founded by Suneet Singh Tuli, products are now in service and this is beginning to create the hardware to complement the software that is now available.
The final piece is the communication system, which the internet (ever-growing) is supplying in quantities quite capable of providing access to almost all – worldwide. Where this is patchy (or vulnerable through security issues) satellite communications is feasible (such as offered by Inmarsat.
The opportunity that has been witnessed on a small scale through YouTube and other, on-line video technology in the west is now opening up in two, main ways.
First, remote learning is beginning to be seen as an alternative to the high cost of a tertiary education. As the Socionomics Institute article puts forward – “Stanford professor Sebastian Thrun offers remote students the same lectures, assignments and exams that on-campus students pay $50,000 a year for.”
This means that the standard model for education can change – remote education can offer all potential students at any time progressively higher standards of education wherever they are. Distance learning is now becoming a real alternative – although it is bound to take years to establish and years to wean us off the “establishment” consensus. Of course, education is more than just study – it includes many of life’s social requirements, too. However, while we don’t get to go to Eton or Oxbridge – we can all aspire to inspirational teaching wherever it comes from.
More than this, though, remote learning opportunities are now opening up the potential for the world outside the land of Yale and Harvard, Oxford and Cambridge. This is the world where education is prized such as in India or China, but not obtainable to the mass of people there. It is also the world where education is not prized – such as in Afghanistan where girls are omitted from the education system.
Future Brilliance, a non-profit and where I am a Director, is opening up this area through its work (www.futurebrilliance.net) in Afghanistan and through the potential that distance learning provides is now working on a number of solutions that could drive education into areas that have not benefited in the past from technological change and the reach that educationalists and the internet now enable.
This is an example of creative destruction where education norms could be shattered worldwide but where education (the basis for any society) is now becoming attainable everywhere. Although massive hurdles need to be overcome in terms of technology and, in many areas, social norms and security, the potential for the world to entertain new educational horizons is enormous.
Embracing the Online
The opportunity is also a challenge – not just technological but social. In countries such as as the UK, there is an opportunity to provide the best in remote education to the most deprived areas and government should work not just to have federalism in schools but also ensure that the best schools (many of them independent – i.e. private, fee-paying schools and benefitting from charitable status) are required to provide such learning modules as part of their charitable status. Excellence can be shared in ways that teacher transfer agreements cannot be – from one to one to one to many. The same can be done throughout education.
The challenge is then to promote the ethos of the best – and that links to parental and community responsibility and access. However, the learning essentials can be made real.
Elsewhere, education opportunities can be established where none exist now. Here the challenges may be those of normal business (where bribery and corruption are the norm) or where real social attitudes need radical change – and may lead to threats against the educated for just taking advantage of the opportunity. In Afghanistan, there is a deep-seated social antipathy to girls taking advantage of education. In Pakistan, Malala Yousafzai is a shining example of the courage of a girl (and her father) determined to be educated as well as a dismal example of the threats against such progress.
Nevertheless, technology opens up the opportunities and the creative destructionism that is on offer is being backed by individuals and companies and by some governments. the opportunities are now endless.