A real educational revolution: System thinking + long-term thinking = universal basic education

ABC Schuetzen 2005
Picture from the Wikimedia Commons

Several ideas that have been fashionable — in both, in academic and in (open) online educational technology circles — for couple of years, are now entering to the technology and business magazines and this way finally to the political discussion forums. These are, for instance, do it yourself university, open educational resources, edupunk and in general improving education with technology.

This is a good thing. To get the good ideas forward we must raise awareness on these issues among the general public and the decision makers. The danger is that same time the issues get over simplified. People (and especially politicians) love silver bullets – one single solution that will solve the problem for now and forever.

“You say you got a real solution
Well, you know
We’d all love to see the plan
You ask me for a contribution
Well, you know
We’re doing what we can”
Revolution by Lennon/McCartney

Researchers, technology designers and different kind of opinion leaders have present at least the following solutions — if not the only, but the most urgent — to solve the challenge of modern education:

All the above are results of socio-technological development related to the fact of the price of computing and communication going down, fast. The epic changes in the ways of communicating and distributing information are effecting on our perception of learning and challenging us to redefine the role of education in a society.

Jyväskylän seminaarin oppilaita
Picture from the Wikimedia Commons

The disruptive things have also effect on the infrastructure and established institutions already in place: schools, universities, colleges, community colleges, publishing companies, hardware manufacturers, software providers etc. When the players in the game are both public and private entities it makes the systems even more complex. We may ask how the players should respond to the challenges?

A single actor – even if a large one – like a major University (or a National Ministry of Education) can not solve the problem. The challenge is so complex that there isn’t a single player that could take a hold of it an fix it.

So what we can do?

In practice, in the case of education, we must do many things. There are, however, some things we need for sure. These are (in an order of priority):

  1. Public libraries
  2. Universal high quality basic education
  3. Access to mobile phones and network computers
  4. Free and reliable online reference and other educational content (like Wikipedia and open educational resources)
  5. Peer-to-peer online learning and teaching communities
  6. Community colleges and open universities online and on campus
  7. Quality higher education online and on campus

Now if we look the proposed solutions they are mainly improvements to things with middle importance, such as access to network computers (like OLPC) or access to educational content (Wikipedia and OERs). They do not solve the problem. They are part of the solution, but only a small part of it.

The universal quality basic education is the key in here. To do quality basic education you can do fine without computers or hand-held devices. What you need is paper, pens, reading materials and a good teacher. To have a good teachers you need (1) quality basic education, (2) quality higher education (teacher training) and (3) about 25 years. People do not grow faster.

Torvisen kansakoulu 1924-26
Picture from the Wikimedia Commons

Here is the real problem.

For most decision-maker 25 years is something like five times longer than their term in the office and 100 times longer than their memory. Free advice for people working in the field of education (including educational technology and publishing): join The Long Now. You may learn something, although it may take some time.

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