Eric Schmidt on Online Education
The paperback of THE NEW DIGITAL AGE: Transforming Nations, Businesses, and Our Lives (Vintage) by Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt and Google Ideas Director Jared Cohen hit the bestseller lists in March. But the issues the authors discuss have not lost their currency since then. From digital surveillance by the U.S. government, to Twitter troubles in Turkey, the subjects covered in the book are always in the news.
More innovation, more opportunity for education
One particular evergreen topic is online education, and Schmidt and Cohen had this to say:
The most important pillar behind innovation and opportunity – education – will see tremendous positive change in the coming decades as rising connectivity reshapes traditional routines and offers new paths for learning. Most students will be highly technologically literate, as schools continue to integrate technology into lesson plans and, in some cases, replace traditional lessons with more interactive workshops. Education will be a more flexible experience, adapting itself to children’s learning styles and pace instead of the other way around. Kids will still go to physical schools, to socialize and be guided by teachers, but as much, if not more, learning will take place employing carefully designed educational tools in the spirit of today’s Khan Academy, a nonprofit organization that produces thousands of short videos (the majority in science and math) and shares them online for free. With hundreds of millions of views on the Khan Academy YouTube channel already, educators in the United States are increasingly adopting its materials and integrating the approach of its founder, Salman Khan- modular learning tailored to a student’s needs. Some are even “flipping” their classrooms, replacing lectures with videos watched at home (as homework) and using school time for traditional homework, such as filling out a problem set for math class. Critical thinking and problem-solving skills will become the focus in many school systems as ubiquitous digital-knowledge tools, like the more accurate sections of Wikipedia, reduce the importance of rote memorization.
For children in poor countries, future connectivity promises new access to educational tools, though clearly not at the level described above. Physical classrooms will remain dilapidated; teachers will continue to take paychecks and not show up for class; and books and supplies will be scarce. But what’s new in this equation- connectivity- promises that kids with access to mobile devices and the Internet will be able to experience school physically and virtually, even if the latter is informal and on their own time.
In places where basic needs are poorly met by the government, or in insecure areas, basic digital technologies like mobile phones will offer safe and inexpensive options for families looking to educate their children. A child who cannot attend school due to distance, lack of security or school feed will have a lifeline to the world of learning if she has access to a mobile phone. Even for those children without access to data plans for the mobile web, basic mobile services, like text messages and IVR (interactive voice response, a form of voice-recognition technology), can provide educational applications and entertainment content before they are sold will ensure that the “bandwidth poor,” who lack reliable connectivity, will still benefit from access to these devices. And for children whose classrooms are overcrowded or understaffed, or whose national curriculum is dubiously narrow, connectivity through mobile devices will supplement their education and help them reach their full potential, regardless of their origins.
Today numerous pilot projects exist in developing countries that leverage mobile technology to teach a wide range of topics and skills, including basic literacy for children and adults, second languages and advanced courses from universities. In 2012, the MIT Media Lab tested this approach in Ethiopia by distributing preloaded tablets to primary-age kids without instructions or accompanying teachers. The results were extraordinary: within months the kids were reciting the entire alphabet and writing complete sentences in English….
So while the educational experience in the physical world will remain volatile for many, the virtual experience will increasingly become the more important and predictable option. And students stuck in school systems that teach narrow curriculums or only rote memorization will have access to a virtual world that encourages independent exploration and critical thinking.
The middle class, jobs, and education
Seeing the way forward, Schmidt and Cohen also comment on the joblessness and inequality, which need leaders to make right choices.
Disruptive change has promoted growth and good new jobs before and can do so again, if we take care to look in the right direction. For example, as much as we may fear robots, the fact is that — beyond all of the ways in which robots may improve the quality of our lives — people in skilled industries are less likely to be replaced by robots and more likely to be assisted by robots. They will, as a result, develop new skills and add more value to a productive enterprise, and may get paid even more. If we want to sustain and extend our ability to create new jobs, we must push for programs and policies that create and nurture more entrepreneurs in every field: training them, letting them stay in the country if they have come from abroad, and unleashing them. China’s key economic successes have come from the openness of its economy and the space that this gives to entrepreneurs. While we do not know what the future holds, providing citizens with the tools for extrepreneurship is one of the best things that we can do to spur broad-based growth. Key to providing those tools, of course, is a robust education system, and it’s a system we foresee many changes in the coming years.
For all of the recent talk about whether bright children should skip college to focus on start-ups, the fact is that college simply produces a more highly skilled, more social adept, improved adult.
The authors continue to point out the two most encouraging developments from online education:
1. Students around the world with little resources are beginning to have access to world-class courses.
2. From Khan Academy to edX, the free online courses will grow interdisciplinary study opportunities for students, who can incorporate new perspectives into their education and spark new cross-functional efforts in firms, nonprofits and government organizations.
In the next decade, five billion new people will come online, what are the new opportunities and dangers? This is not a book about gadgets, it’s a prescriptive glimpse of how technology is reshaping our world and lives of the people who live in it.