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Technology as a Means to Improving Access to Education
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When one thinks about education today, one inevitably thinks about access to education in some of the most remote and underdeveloped regions of the world. Eliminating poverty and bringing economic development to those regions is part of the UN’s Millennium Goals and it is, without a doubt, the focus of much of the international community. But growth cannot come from without or else we would see a gross misuse of funds and donations due to widespread corruption in those developing regions. Instead, the international community should focus on empowering those who will generate such growth from within. Education is probably the most vital part of a country’s economic and political development, as it gives its citizens the necessary tools and knowledge to build the kind of state they want to live in.

So why is technology important? According to a study conducted by the McKinsey research group in the G-8 nations along with Brazil, China, India and Sweden, access to the Web and technological skills contribute a great portion of the global GDP today (Rausas, 2011). The same study also notes that the Internet is gaining value as a global job creator and job finder that connects employers and employees from all over the world and thereby, sparks innovation, growth and international cooperation in the job market. Another study conducted by Deloitte, points out that improved Internet access in developing countries would create 140 million jobs and lift 160 million people out of poverty as well as increase productivity and direct human progress by developing a sense of one global human community (Williams, Strusani, 2014).  

One of the primary issues that should be addressed is the availability of the Internet in the developing regions. In 2011, 774 million adults were estimated to be illiterate, with the majority coming from South and West Asia and sub-Saharan Africa (Huebler 9). These are the regions that also experience some of the worst levels of access to technology in the world as well. Today we witness numerous initiatives that aim at helping developing regions with this ongoing problem. For example, the Bill Gates’ Foundation has expressed its commitment to reducing costs of technology for children in the developing countries and investing in many research projects and development. According to Bill Gates, lowering the prices of simple digital cards and gadgets to around $100, might allow Africa to feed itself by 2030, as those technological tools would enable farmers to know the weather and predict when to plant their crops. It would also enable children who live in remote regions to get access to education online as well as healthcare workers to monitor their medical activities (Jones, 2015).

Another initiative is led by the founder of Facebook - Mark Zuckenberg. His initiative is called Internet.org and aims at expanding the Internet throughout the developing world. He has stated many times that this would lead to a great push in economic growth for those regions and has expressed that universal Internet access as a basic right  - “Connecting everyone is one of the fundamental challenges of our generation” (Zuckenberg, 2014).

One of the features in technological education that has advanced its agenda in the past decade is the MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses). These courses were launched in the UK and soon moved into US universities such as Stanford University and Miami University, enrolling over 160,000 students. Their development has been supported by research institutions and NGOs such as the Millennium Project. Today we see MOOCs expanding their role internationally, including in such countries as Brazil and Latin American. Given the growing focus on scientific education, MOOCs are especially valuable. For example, they have allowed enrolled students from all over the world to gain access to some of the best telescopes in the USA through these courses (The Millennium Project, 2013).

In a chapter devoted to the development of human capital, Lall and Pietrobelli talk about the close link between the development of skills needed to effectively compete in today’s market - such as technological skills, ability to use online databases, and technological education, which should be offered at a school level. The absence of such education in developing countries leads to them being unable to compete in the global market, which, in turn, breeds more poverty in the country (Lall, Pietrobelli, 34). Therefore, the availability of education institutions is crucial in developing the poorest countries’ markets.

The problem of technological education and education in general are deeply intertwined and have posed a major problem for African and some Asian countries for a long time. Yet, today we see a shift in dynamics of the younger generation’s inspirations as more and more young people want to have an education. This is largely due to the growing connectivity of the world and the ability of young people to see the benefits that education could provide. Platforms as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and others allow people to “share” their life stories and experiences, thereby, inspiring others. This has been argued by some to be used as a tool of spread of Western values and Western education; while that may be argued, when it comes to scientific education that argument does not stand. There is a clear need for skills connected to science and technology, as without them a state cannot successfully develop.

Joshua Kim mentions that Africa is currently experiencing difficulties in building more classrooms for its rapidly growing number of enrolled students. The entire African continent, according to Kim, has only about 1,000 colleges and universities, considerable less that can meet with the number of students seeking to be enrolled. Kim defends the solution being in mobile learning, which would provide education for the “masses” instead of it being limited to a small number of elite citizens (Kim, 2015). This is especially true for the developing states corruption levels affecting access to education and where opportunity and access to education is limited based on one’s birth. Mobile learning could be a way to open up the education system for those in remote areas or those deprived of education because of their social “status” in that state.

Another useful feature that is unique to technological education is personalization. Both Morrison and Cavanagh have talked about it being crucial. While Morrison focused more on the benefits of being able to track individual progress of students better by using apps that allow to see what parts do students spend most time on, Cavanagh focused more on the cultural diversity of today’s classroom. He mentioned the different language and academic needs that students demonstrate today and that technology can accommodate those needs (Cavanagh, 2014). For example, students in developing regions would have different priorities in their education as well as sometimes different skills that they would need to develop than students from the developed countries. Technology could assist in that need better than traditional education.

Another important benefit of utilizing technology in education is, as stated in the UNESCO report, improving the measurement of literacy levels through employment of new tests that are being developed by scientists (UNESCO Report, 22). New ways to measure development are being discovered such as the HDI (Human Development Index) which is now being widely used.  To develop even better ways to measure the country’s human and economic capital, technological education is necessary.

One of the most beneficial characteristics of technological education is that it affects all areas of the society’s development - from healthcare and child mortality to agriculture and gender equality (Williams, Strusani, 2014). For a country to stimulate growth from within, technology and education are important issues to be considered.   This general shift towards online learning and the use of the Internet in the education process has inspired many ideas for international collaboration, breaching barriers and developing international cross-cultural connections. Technology has already proven to be the best solution for delivery of education into the most remote and poor areas. However, it faces major challenges today - international mobilization, gender inequality, economic disparities between countries, teacher training, political instability, etc. All of these need to be addressed by a united multilateral approach coordinated by regional as well as education experts and supported by NGOs and intergovernmental organizations such as the UN. 

Polina Bayramova is a senior at American University in Washington, DC., majoring in International Relations. Her focus is on comparative governance and global economy. She is also an intern for The Millennium Project. 

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Tue, May 19, 2015 06:07 AM (about 29960 hours ago)
Excellent article. Am from Kenya and corruption is one of the key challenge to our economy growth
 
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