They Yearn to Learn

The pen is mightier than the sword”, Bulwer-Lytton’s famous line from his 1839 play about Cardinal Richelieu, has never been spoken with more force and meaning than by a young girl on her 16th birthday at the United Nations.

Malala Yousafzai talked with a certainty that arose from a recovery from a coma caused by Taliban gunshots that were meant to kill her in Pakistan just last year. She spoke with a determination that transfixed all those that have seen her and, maybe, read her words.

174 years after the first performance of Bulwer-Lytton’s play, the pen has been overtaken by computers and mobile phones and, with the enormous advances that have been made in technology; it is now technically easier than ever to provide education wherever it is needed. In this way, learning can be used to help fight the ignorance that shot to kill a young girl who had dared to want to be educated.

Learning at a Distance

MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) or distance learning are becoming highly competitive to standard university teaching in the United States. In Creative Destructionism in World Education I discussed the phenomenon that threatens traditional courses at universities and which are being sold off at much lower prices to compete. Creative destructionism in education can exist where the laws of supply and demand are allowed to be employed and where excellent learning materials and worthy accreditation regimes exist and where the technology is affordable. In the USA, all of this exists.

Equality of Learning

Yet, 57 million young people in the world go without education and millions more young adults who already have missed out on education (and are being forgotten completely as we focus on children) seem to have nowhere to go to catch up.

Worse, in a number of countries, not only is technology a crime against religion but large sectors of the population (mainly women and girls) are made to fear education by their male counterparts – and risk being killed if they dare to want to be educated.

In October, 2012, Gayle Tzemach Lemmon (writer and author and a Senior Fellow on the Council of Foreign Relations in the USA) wrote on the positive response in Pakistan to Malala coming out of her coma just nine months ago: “I have spent years interviewing women who braved real personal danger to set up living room classrooms and girls who braved their familys’ security just to sit there. And a lot of times I’m asked, ‘Is this a Western import or a foreign import?’ The truth is, even when the world forgets these girls, they fight themselves for the right to go to school. And I think what Malala’s story has done is made it impossible to look away and impossible to forget about these girls’ struggle.”

But there has been progress, Lemmon says, at least in one nation in that part of the world.

“You know, in Afghanistan particularly, you really see a lot. In 2001, less than one per cent of the country’s girls were in school, and now close to 3 million are. And every day, they go out and battle all kinds of threats just to sit and learn. Their battle is really everyone’s fight because, if you look at the world, 40 million of the 70 million children who aren’t in school are in countries that are struggling against war, and there is no better correlation to predicting violence than education levels.”

This incredible struggle to learn enfranchises women and girls in countries like Pakistan and Afghanistan like nothing else. But, it can be even better. Learning can be there for everyone – as it is through improved access to education and the motivation to access it that nations can develop and thrive. That is vital for the male sections of society just as much as it is for the female. That is true for developed nations just as much as it is for developing.

Motivated to Learn

In the UK, governments of all hues have played games with the education system for decades – playing games with the curriculum and making life for teachers difficult and undermining the profession.

Yet, our problems are tiny when considered against those faced in developing countries where so little money is spent on education (like in Africa or even in rapidly developing countries like large sections of India – where education is prized). At least in many of those countries, learning is understood as the foundation stone of progress. There, technology can now being provided to reach all areas – broadband that carries the information, notepads that are cheaper every year, education materials that can be carried electronically on all subjects with potential for the best teaching from the best teachers.

Aid to Learning

Future Brilliance is one organization that is putting together all these pieces of the jigsaw. I am a Director of Future Brilliance in the UK, but there are now operations in the USA, Afghanistan and Pakistan. The challenge is to provide the technology and associated learning materials into the latter two countries – beginning with the Digital Learning Initiative (DLI) that is aimed at providing Internet knowledge to enable businesses to be started up taking full advantage of the technology. With computer tablets at $100, secure Internet (through satellite where no other form exists and as back-up to terrorists or corruption) and progressively greater learning materials, the opportunity must now be seized by the developed world to assist in this global marketplace.

This initiative was launched at the House of Lords in London on Monday, 8th July to an audience of 150 – including Ministers and Embassy officials from Afghanistan together with UK Ministers, journalists, technology companies and educationalists plus representatives from the US Government.

Future Brilliance already has a contract to provide Afghans with training in gem design  – which is being provided in Jaipur, India. The new project (for which funding is currently being sought) will provide teaching to wherever it is needed – with the added capability of highly secure systems to combat all forms of attack.

Searchers for Education

The aims are not technological but educational and transformational. It is also not a top-down Aid programme. The key aim is to assist Afghans and those from Pakistan to develop from the ground up utilizing the capabilities provided by the technology and learning materials. As troops leave in 2014, Afghanistan and Pakistan need a large core of educated citizens to provide the cement in the middle – not more politicians but increasingly capable business people, health workers and those involved in all forms of a civil society.

The Digital Literacy Initiative is highly innovative – but not just in the manner of the service offered. It is a bottom-up programme that enables citizens to make the most of their lives. It is a programme where developed countries do not centrally compel from the top. Learning cannot be compelled by rote (as Mr. Gove in the UK would like to do) but is enabled. Strong teachers, excellent materials, security of surroundings (the DLI is aimed to provide teaching in the home or wherever safety best exists) and secure systems are provided.

With the UK spending 0.7% of its GDP on international aid, outside of emergency funding of disaster recovery and health, the best way for this government and governments like it is to invest in developing nations by enabling them to foster their own salvation. This is the bottom up approach.

In the internet-ready world, the military aim has been to intervene to combat world-wide terrorism. Now that the soldiers and air power are leaving Afghanistan, it is timely to provide help and assistance where it is most needed: to prove that the pen is mightier than the sword – brought up to date by DLI and similar initiatives. More like William Easterly’s “searchers” from his “White Man’s Burden” than the traditional “planners”.

“Initiatives like this can play a part in sustaining the counter-insurgency campaign into the future, and will represent an enduring and meaningful extension of the British and ISAF coalition’s commitment to facilitate enduring stability, economic stimulation and distribution of knowledge and education to the Afghan people.”
– General Sir David Richards GCB CBE DSO ADC Gen (Chief of the Defence Staff, UK).

 

Creative Destructionism in World Education

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.

Global Education

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.