I was inspired to call this blog post, “How to Educate a Planet” based on a research study that was highlighted in the Harvard International Review. The purpose of the research was to investigate the connection between the personal computer and educational attainments in developed and developing countries. In the study, they highlight two major education initiatives: the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) goal of establishing universal primary education (UPE) and Nicholas Negroponte’s One Laptop per Child (OLPC) program. The programs are identified has representing two very different approaches to improving education on a global scale.
Based on several metrics of education, a relationship was found between educational attainment and technological penetration, however, the researchers could not identify a causal relationship. As the authors of the article state, “It may well be that the arrow points in both directions: Computers do facilitate education, but being well-educated may also facilitate the ownership and use of computers.”
Larger issue of digital equity
The article raised some very important issues when discussing global education efforts. First, designing better educational systems requires identifying the variables associated with exemplary educational performance (Nyiri, Crabtree & Pelham, 2009). Those variables may be technological penetration, the value placed on education, access to knowledge, enrollment rates, teacher-student ratios, teacher compensation, et cetera. By studying the relationships between the variables, a complex web of influence begins to emerge and can used to guide educational efforts that are more resilient to fluctuations.
Second, it is of critical importance to consider the needs and wants of the population that you are identifying. One major critic of the OLPC program is that often these laptops find themselves in the black market in developing countries because families prioritize the need for food over access to knowledge for the sake of education and are thus willing sell the laptop to buy the food. Populations that still lack many of the basic necessities of life are in a weak position to consider the benefits of increased access to knowledge and education. Development work should prioritize providing the basic necessities of life, however, a reasonable approach to increasing digital equity should be undertaken as well.
A precursor to using technology to access knowledge is placing a high value on knowledge. In countries where access to food, health and shelter are still low, accessing knowledge through computers might not be as highly valued and thus efforts to increase access to knowledge through computer distribution would be inefficient and misguided, as some critics of the OLPC program have indicated.
So, what can we do as a globally connected community to increase the value placed on knowledge in developing countries?
I think the answer is to generate more knowledge that would be relevant and useful to developing countries. Then, the question becomes: what kind of knowledge is valued in developing countries?
Nyiri, Z., Crabtree, S., and Pelham, B. (2009). The Power of the Personal Computer. Harvard International Review Journal: Agriculture. Source: http://hir.harvard.edu/agriculture/technology-and-education