Did you know that we have over 1.8 billion young people between the ages of 10 and 24 and 90 per cent of them live in the developing world?
Currently there are over 1.2 billion students in 165 countries affected by the temporary closures of educational institutions due to Covid-19.
“There are more young people in the world than ever before, creating unprecedented potential for economic and social progress. Too many of these young people see their potential hindered by extreme poverty, discrimination or lack of information. But with proper investment in their education and opportunities, these young people’s ideas, ideals and innovations could transform the future.” Steven Edwards for UNFPA
Statistics from the United Nations: (Prior to Covid-19)
- Over 265 million children were out of school prior to Covid-19 and 22% of them were of primary school age. Additionally, even the children who were attending schools lacked basic skills in reading and math.
- More than half of children that have not enrolled in school live in sub-Saharan Africa.
- An estimated 50 per cent of out-of-school children of primary school age live in conflict-affected areas.
- 617 million youth worldwide lack basic mathematics and literacy skills.
The Covid-19 pandemic has created an even greater problem, increasing the urgency to find new ways to help our youth learn consistently and affordably across our global regions.
In a digital world we have the opportunity to re-imagine education and consider the potential for digital connectivity (networks and computers/mobile devices), learning content (software applications) and collaboration tools (communications applications) to elevate student performance and teacher effectiveness while reducing costs and overcoming barriers to a quality educational experience that prepares our youth to be innovators and critical thinkers.
Consider this vision
This global vision is achievable if we commit to it. It would involve applying the know-how we already have in education to create some of the most exciting, engaging, innovative e-learning resources to enable children in the poorest countries to learn with the same tools as children in the richest countries.
This is a vision focused on equalization of learning opportunity across our global regions. This is a vision that elevates and personalizes the learning experience matching student aptitudes and competencies with the right level of learning complexity. This is a vision that would allow students with special needs to have access to unique resources to ensure their development and success. This is a vision that would allow teachers to have access to professional development tools, lesson plans, testing resources and the right learning solutions for their students based on their level of skill, learning style and unique needs.
The digital learning experience would include collaboration experiences and group work exercises connecting students and teachers from different parts of the world, allowing different cultures to better understand and learn from one another. We could offer communities the opportunity to let students learn at home if the digital connectivity to the global e-learning network was available. Poor countries could buy into this global e-learning eco-system on a pay-as-you-go business model fast tracking deployment.
Globally we have all the know-how and specialized talent to give our students a new standard of digital learning that is engaging, personalized and collaborative if we choose to work together and share resources.
Would that be impossible? i.e., Sharing resources? i.e., Working Together?
Who will be the catalysts and first movers of this larger global vision around digital education?
The OECD does amazing research examining best practices in education. For example see this report called Fostering Students’ Creativity and Critical Thinking. Here is the know-how needed to create exciting learning experiences that foster creativity and enable critical thinking and problem solving. Consider an online interactive learning experience (a multiplayer game) that would connect children from different parts of the world in an ’emergency response’ scenario requiring the students to “inquire, imagine, do and reflect” as proposed in the rubric in this report. Imagine that corporate sponsors could give scholarships or internships to students performing the best in complex learning projects. Imagine a historic Global Peace Curriculum that teaches human rights and conflict resolution in a collaborative experience using multiplayer games with a view to stop violence and end discrimination. Consider the possibility that students could earn points leading to a “Peace Maker Certificate” they can put on their CV.
What’s Needed – IMAGINATION!
For many years my family has been sponsoring children in Africa so they can go to school. We receive the most heartfelt letters from children so excited to be able to go to school and learn. Their classrooms are not always equipped with all the resources they need and their teachers often need more professional development. Consider that a global vision around digital education resources can deliver ‘best-in-class learning’ to a global community improving traditional learning outcomes and teaching new critical thinking and creative skills to give the next generators of innovators the preparation they need to enter the work force. This vision doesn’t replace teachers but it does relieve them from the pressure of needing to know everything and teach everything in the curriculum. In this vision teachers assume the role of “Learning Integrators” connecting their students to ‘state-of-the-art’ learning solutions and collaboration opportunities including mentorship and tutoring resources. The Global Learning Network would feature ‘competency assessment tools’ to determine student skill levels and provide instant recommendations on learning paths and recommended resources.
We need to stop reinventing the wheel in education by considering that education need not be limited by ‘political regional jurisdictions’. In the ‘Industrial Age’ it made sense to think about education as a ‘regional matter’ because we had to fund schools and teachers and learning resources (textbooks etc.) regionally but in the ‘Digital Age’ we need to start considering that curriculum development need not be re-invented over and over again, region by region. We can tear down the walls of the classroom and equip students with access to the best online learning the world has to offer. We can collaborate on the creation of learning content for so many subjects including math, science, languages, critical thinking and problem solving, preparing the next generation of innovators for a work experience that is collaborative and team oriented.
When we started introducing computers and network access to our schools many school leaders were disappointed because learning outcomes did not improve, but when you looked more deeply at the situation it’s no wonder that dramatic improvements did not happen. Computing and networks alone will not change student outcomes. The vision around digital education must include ‘learning content and applications’ that are engaging and collaborative, including multiplayer games. Education and entertainment can be merged to make learning ‘fun’ for students. When students start enjoying and looking forward to their ‘homework’ and ‘school projects’ with new friends in different parts of the world we have arrived at the new goal for educational excellence in a digital world! It’s not impossible; it just requires imagination!
We must build a culture that makes it easy for students and teachers to connect with other teachers and students from around the world. Imagine you are studying the geography of a certain part of the world. Why not connect with a classroom or student from that country? This scenario is only prohibited by cultural restrictions and sometimes there may be language restrictions, so translation tools will be important.
Social networks keep people connected with various communities of interest. Learning networks can be similarly formed to connect students to learning communities they can study with. Mentors and tutors can be readily accessible at the click of a mouse.
You will notice in the diagram the term ‘e-learning grid’. “An electric grid is a network of synchronized power providers and consumers that are connected by transmission and distribution lines and operated by one or more control centers.” I believe we need to start thinking about education as a ‘network of synchronized learning providers‘ that will connect students and teachers via networks and computing devices across global regions and political jurisdictions, making education the source of our future intellectual and economic POWER!
Education will power our economies and build a platform for peace in our world. This digital education vision bridges the learning gaps that prevent our young people from accomplishing their dreams. It’s a vision where the Global Learning Network is ‘always-on’, accessible 24 hours/day, 7 days/week; learning resources are shared and always state-of-the-art.
May Our Holy Lord Jesus help us to realize a new global vision for education delivery that equalizes access to quality learning resources for our children all over the world, enabling teachers to grow in professional competency and students to experience learning that is exciting, fun, engaging and absolutely best-in-class!