The BIGGEST factor in changing world EDUCATION


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Recently I had an amazing opportunity to meet someone who had just retired from a long career as an architect developing civil projects in the developing world. These projects were anything from building hospitals, sports facilities, prisons to schools, community centers and commerce centres.. Being an educationist myself I was most interested in the work he’d done in education.

He told me that 20 years ago his company had been granted a contract by the Australian government to design and build 2000 schools in the Papua New Guinea highlands. For those who don’t know this, the country of Papua New Guinea had a region called the Highlands in the centre of the country which until the 1950s, had not been discovered or better to say ‘had not been explored’. As soon as it was, they discovered one million people living there who had been inhabiting that space for thousands of years and had no idea that there was a world outside.

The person who first entered this place of course was an Australian and since that time Australia has had a very important connection with it. Hence the project of 20 years ago, to put 2000 brand new schools – primary and secondary into the region, to set up an education system and to get the development off the ground.

I was fascinated by this and finally asked him how he felt now, 20 years on. I wanted to know how the region had changed in terms of education and what was the impact of these schools upon their society.  Clearly it must have been profound, as 20 years is a decent amount of time to see some response to the project.

His response, I have to say, was very interesting. He paused for a moment, almost as if this was a question that had never been asked – but I’m sure it had. He first said that the society there was still an ancient one and that there were a lot of people still caught up in the culture and so though there were 2000 schools built, not all were done with plain sailing. In fact, it brought a lot of turmoil too.

I asked him if their level of education had changed. He finally clicked back into the question and said – over 20 years, there was a significant change, but it wasn’t because of the schools. He held up his smart phone and just said – this thing here has had the biggest positive impact on education in PNG, 1000x more than any four walls of a building or a desk.  The impact of telecommunications on that society has revolutionized everything that is meaningful to the people.

It really made me realise (yet again) the direction of education today, and for those out there who are not already tech savvy, that this was the future of all learning. How and in which way is yet to be fully realized, but for sure there are companies who are well on their way to setting things in motion.

Only a couple of years ago this truism was set with the impact of simple financial transactions taking place on the phone. Then it was what could we sell through the phone, then how much could we sell through the phone, and ultimately how much could we get from the phone.

Already at our school in KL, almost 20% of the learning is now done in the classroom through mobile phones using games and mobile internet browsers. The exam results are now received through the phone, the timetabling, the requests for documentation or registration for their IELTS exam or even simply registration of their courses generally is now done through the phone. Quick smart English tests and evaluations are done through the phone. This is just the start. And as with anything, the best way to learn is through your friend or neighbour sharing with you what they learned and as a result you picking up things that you find interesting and sharing that on to someone else who you think may also find them interesting.

Telecommunication is the key word for now – and anyone who has gone into that line can surely vouch for that with how wealthy they have become. However, the next point is that these telecommunication companies will no longer stay singularly to their technical routes, they will emerge as the educationists of the future.

For those educationists who are watching what is going on out there – good for you to keep up with it, but the core drive for the future of schooling is not with the watchers, but those who can see a vision within it, and jump out there and see if they can develop (even if a small tangent from it) a direction that will enable their own students to benefit greatly.

Online learning is not just about doing a course and getting a certificate. The future is practical and getting to explore that practical/physical aspect of it and transfer it to their own lives.

Going now back to the highlanders of PNG. They had all the education they could need through the Australian Govt’s well meaning efforts to enhance all the people, including the teachers and trying to customize the curriculum relevant to the people, but it was still all based on what was deemed as necessary by the Australian Govt. At the end of the day it was the mobile phone that was ‘full of everything from everywhere’ that allowed the people by themselves to select on a day to day basis what they felt was meaningful. This is where most of their learning happened, and though the country is still far from developed, it has truly been making progress if only in that direction alone, purely because now they can find out anything about anything and tell everyone anywhere about what’s happening every moment and what they think about it. It is the ‘sharing’ aspect of their learning that has been the most powerful, as opposed to the ‘acquiring of knowledge’ aspect of it.

The key for us all to think about now is not the future of schools but the future of the mobile phone. What next from here and how can this ‘sharing’ aspect of learning contribute to the next generation?

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