Monday, 4 February 2013

Technology is the Answer. What was the Question ?

In a very impressive decade old article by John Daniel, then UNESCO Assistant Director General of Education pointed on 3 key concerns about education. Access, Quality and Costs.

He concluded that the principal question is how can we use technology to address the central challenge of education in the 21st century, which is how to increase access, raise quality and cut cost - all at the same time. But he also warned not to be led astray by the bias and bullshit one may hear from some of the promoters of technology and urged to think broadly about the use of technology and to seek balance in the way you apply it.( 4B's)

Last week was eventful for immensely popular and widely watched Coursera, a startup offering free MOOC's in partnership with top universities. Last week, It won the 'Best New Startup 2012' at Crunchies.It also introduced an option for paid verified online certificate for one of the courses offered from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign at introductory price of USD 59. This is important as it is the first attempt to monetize the courses offered

Also, in the last week, Coursera suspended one of the course 6 days after it opened with over 40,000 enrolments. "There were some choices made in the initial design of the class that didn't work out as well as we'd hoped. We are working to address these issues.. " announced the course organisers. Ironically, this particular course was named  "Fundamentals of Online Education: Planning and Application"

Revisiting 4B's suggested by John Daniel, we need to seek balance,think broadly, avoid bias and bullshit. Often, one find oneself susceptible to labeling. 'Either you are in favour of new technology or you are against it'  Many of the technologies that are penetrating the classrooms ( smart classroom technologies) were originally designed for industrial or corporate purposes and now the vendors have found a new market, 'Education Sector'. Before inculcating technology in education, one must ask if this technology has been designed for education ? Will it improve access, increase quality at lower cost ? Or will it be exclusive offering higher quality at increased cost? Also, we consider only Internet and electronic equipment/media as ICT. Books, Blackboards, radio are also example of ICT.  John Daniel gave an example of the need for broad thinking about technology from Latin America.

" How do you get children to school in a rural, mountainous region when they live a good way away and you don't want them to arrive at school already tired out? The answer was that you get hold of some donkeys. The problem is that it is difficult to buy donkeys under the United Nations procurement guidelines. These guidelines require performance specifications, tendering and suchlike. The solution is to hire the donkeys as consultants, which is fine under the UN rules. Donkeys also have one great advantage compared to human consultants - they do not write reports."

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