The two fundamental problems of education

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While attending the 2009 Canadian e-Learning Conference I was suddenly struck by the fact that there were two very different ways that people were trying to better education. There are simply two things that need to be accomplished before education is fixed. These are:

  1. Access
  2. Reform

Access is an obvious challenge, there are too many people in the world that do not have access to a good education.  Reform on the other hand is less obvious, but also necessary, even the best education that is given to the wealthiest of people is deeply flawed and missing something essential, that education has to be fixed.

Now, here is the problem, where do we devote the most of out attention in order to have the maximum impact possible? On the one hand, giving the uneducated even the most basic education seems to be the most important, but again, do we want to be giving them a deeply flawed education? However, we can’t ignore those that suffer while we slowly chip away at the entrenched problems that education currently faces.

Since both are necessary, the only real course of action is a two-pronged approach. Whenever dealing with one problem we need to constantly be mindful of the other. This can be done as they often go hand in hand. The best example of this has to be the open education movement. By creating open and free educational resources (as well as encouraging their re-use) we not only provide access (by lowering the cost of providing/consuming education) but also help with reform, as we allow (and encourage) educators to build on and refine what others have done… creating something much better, instead of continually reinventing the wheel.

Of course, open education is not the only way that we can marry these two goals. The one laptop per child initiative, efforts to utilize technology in the classroom, project-based learning and a whole host of other movements and projects are capable or bridging the gap between these two fundamental educational goals. All that it takes is some thought, creativity and awareness. I challenge anybody who is working to try and improve education to really think about which one of the problems they are currently addressing and to look for ways to augment their effectiveness by addressing the other problem.

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4 thoughts on “The two fundamental problems of education

  1. Great article Andre,
    I believe that these two goals are both important but which one is more important depends on where you are and your wealth.
    When I was at the Clinton Global Initiative meeting in February, Clinton said that for $25 billion dollars we could put every child on the planet in k-12 classrooms with qualified, university trained teachers.
    Compare that to the $1+ trillion being on the bailout. We can mobilize when we put our mind to it but something tells me developing world education isn’t a priority now.
    Its a shame.

  2. Agreed. The problems are major. But I’m not so sure about the plausibility of the suggested solutions–especially since not only do they require a seemingly large sum of money, but they also appear to require taking away a lot of business/profit from companies.

  3. @Tyler I didn’t propose any solutions… simply problems. Solutions only come after a thoughtful evaluation of the problems. The solutions do not have to be expensive (well planned open educational resources is an example of cheap solutions to the access problem). As for it taking away from business profit, as I eluded to in this post I believe that education is fundamentally important as it provides high quality human capital, something that has a much greater return on investment than any business venture society can come up with. Governments should invest due to the fact that the long term gain is gigantic.

  4. The Fundamental Problem of Education is the problem of being able to randomly select a group (control group) of children from the world’s population and instruct them in the use of mathematics. Math is the key. The rest follows.

    The next revolution is a revolution of education, that will be made possible by the use of virtual reality technology.

    Until that revolution occurs, NOTHING will change. Don’t waste your time.

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