This week the ISTE conference took place in Denver. With education experts from all over the world gathered at the Denver Convention Center, there were countless discussions of the latest trends in education technology. One of the most hotly debated topics was the digital divide between urban and rural communities in the United States. Education reform is very much needed in America, but it is also needed in many other less-developed countries. Yes, interactive learning and the flipped classroom are great forms of digital pedagogy, but they cannot realistically be implemented in places where internet access is limited or non-existent. In order to address the issues that plague developing nations, we must first address the digital divide by implementing impactful but feasible digital solutions to improve global education.
3 Solutions for Global Education:
1. E-Readers and E-books can grant access
E-readers and E-books can have a big impact on raising the literacy level in developing countries. With E-readers, students who live in places where library access is difficult or non-existent can gain exposure to a vast collection of literature curated online. Organizations such as Worldreader are spearheading this e-book revolution in the developing world, building a platform of literacy via digital solutions wherever possible. By utilizing e-books and e-readers across developing nations, we can simultaneously tackle the issues of literacy and digital literacy, skills that are necessary to succeed in the global economy.
2. Computer learning centers have become more efficient than OLPC
One laptop per child is a great initiative, but has some drawbacks. In his TED Talk, Aleph Molinari discusses some of these drawbacks and posits an alternative: Community centers that teach digital literacy. His RIA centers provide internet access to the communities that need it, while at the same time, trains these communities to be digitally literate. Digitally enabling those without technological access does more than promote digital literacy, it gives them a voice. It allows their ideas to be amplified and heard across the globe. By analyzing the specific needs and demographics of a community and adapting to cater to them, computer learning centers like those introduced by RIA can promote a deeper understanding and appreciation of technology that can lead to lasting change.
3. Making Smartphones Cheaper
The trend in technology is for our devices to get cheaper over time. Smartphones were once a status symbol for the elite, but today your 4-year-old niece probably plays with one. Beyond being just a toy to entertain a child, smartphones represent instant access to the flow of information. Because of this, they can help bridge the digital divide. India, for example, recently shipped a $10 dollar smart phone. By comparison, the latest blackberry will cost the average person $750 without a contract. In addition to internet access, smartphones can be used as e-readers and can allow teachers in these communities to practice mobile learning.
The future of global education is a mobile education. It is the most cost-effective way to bridge the digital divide and provide millions with access to the massive flow of information. By using solutions like LiveTiles Mosaic, global educators and those with access to computers and the internet can create a user-friendly digital classroom. In this way, a teacher in Europe can curate relevant content and information for students in developing communities, which they can then access with their smartphones. As the screen shot below shows, these engaging digital classrooms combine everything students will need into a single eye-popping page which can be accessed with any digital device from anywhere.
Too often, we tend to see technology as the great equalizer. Yes, it’s true that digital solutions can be transformative, but what we often forget is that these solutions do not exist in a vacuum. There are economic, geographic, cultural and even political contexts that must be taken into account. Forced adoption of digital solutions tailored to the developed world isn’t the answer by itself: the implementation of these solutions will save the day.
The technology that we bring into education must be sustainable. If not, then these solutions are nothing more than a false emancipation, one that gives the appearance of freedom, but does nothing to change the status quo. If we want to truly impact global education so that we can raise the standard of living for millions of people in need, we must apply the effort consistently and continuously. There is no technological substitute for this. Teachers and tech leaders will impact global education and bridge the digital divide through the combination of digital technology breakthroughs and good old-fashioned determination.