Solving the education conundrum for the poor through innovation

This is a part of my senior thesis; Poverty can only be solved through innovation. I use education as an example of an application of what I mean by innovation and how it applies to solving poverty. Here I offer a summary of my argument (for education).

I have a thesis that the only way to solve poverty is through innovation. We solve our first world problems through innovations. That is how we have progressed. But for programs to solve poverty, we try the same old models OVER and OVER again! We know that they did not work before. But we continue to pour in money into a system that does not solve the problems.

Applying this to education, I see the possibility of completely turning the model of education on its head through MOOCs. MOOCs gives us the ability to scale quality instruction with very little cost. The old (current) model of education depends on students being present in a classroom where they are dependent upon the instructor to teach them the material. For this model to work, you need to build (physical) infrastructure i.e. schools. You need teachers (and pay for them) to teach. You need textbooks, which are printed on paper and have costs attached to them. You need notebooks so that students can write on them; additional cost. They need to come to a physical location, which means additional cost in places where the population density is low. It also adds cost, especially to the poor, when they have to travel to get to a school. Finally, this model assumes that every single teacher does their job effectively, as being up to the least acceptable standard.

This model is a proprietary system (this is a very long video and my ideas build off on this). It has expensive parts that have to fit in to the system. The model is composed of schools as infrastructures and teachers who teach. Textbooks, notebooks, stationery items, travel (to the school) adds to the cost. Incumbents have a massive advantage from their competition in this model. Conclusion: this model is inefficient and expensive! It was built for the purposes to meet the needs of industrialization. Obviously, we need a new model now!

The new model will be based on giving the tools to students to learn i.e. tablets. With the falling prices of tablet devices i.e. Akash tablets, available to students in India for as low as $20 through government subsidies and unlimited data plans available for $2 per month, this is the new model that is cheap and can scale. This eliminates the need for physical schools, for individual teachers (the cost of finding and training them), for costs associated with supplying books and stationery. On the other hand, it provides an opportunity for an open model where the best instructions can be put together that can scale infinitely. Tablets also eliminate the need to supply printed books and stationery (hint: this saves the environment). The government could choose to build strong cellular network or leave it up to private companies to provide for the infrastructure. Since this resource is not exclusive to  just using tablets, but can be used for commercial purposes too, it has great potential to be sustainable.

There are additional advantages of building an education system based on MOOCs. It empowers students with the access to virtually limitless data. It also provides them with tools (and opportunity) to use their tablet devices the best way they can suited for their purpose. It also eliminates the need for batch based education. This will allow students to learn at the pace they are comfortable and this solving the problem associated with not everyone in the same class being at the same level of preparedness. The most exciting part for me is the ability of these students to make use of the resources to solve their own problems. The potential, I see, is virtually limitless!

Note: I will be updating this post, with more links to support my arguments.

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2 thoughts on “Solving the education conundrum for the poor through innovation

  1. By providing students with unlimited access to information, do you think that students would actually utilize the technology to benefit their education? Many students in my area already have unlimited access to information through their computers. They don’t usually spend their time learning on their own rather they do assignments because there is a due date set. The students would much rather look up funny videos on youtube or interact on facebook. I have taken classes in which there are not an actual teacher that teaches us, but instead we learn the information on our own through technology. It usually requires a lot of self motivation to do the work. The average student would unlikely want to put in the effort to learn information on his or her own. I also don’t agree that building is a negative aspect of the “old” model. Generally a road doesn’t lead only to a school; there are a lot of neighborhoods that are connected by the infrastructure that also happen to lead to a school. The building of a school has no problems to me. Students should be able to develop lasting relationships with their peers. If people only interacted through a browser, then they will have a harder time interacting with people face to face. I like how the quality of the teacher would potentially the highest with the new system; only the top teachers would be educating the students of tomorrow, but I doubt the teacher union would allow such a large change be passed. There is only a small percent of teachers that would be considered the top, so if we relied only on them then the rest of the teachers would end up losing their jobs. I would like your model better if you could come up to solutions to the problems I presented. If you were able to solve these problems, then we might have a revolutionary education system that benefits people better than the current system.

    • @jwang64: You have some great points and the motivation factor is definitely something to be looked at. However, my idea is really geared towards the poor who are not going to get access to the quality infrastructure that you are talking about in their lifetime. The model that I propose makes compromises with quality in certain aspects, but allows for cheap scalability of education to reach everyone. Finally, the point about teachers losing jobs; that is going to happen everywhere! Thus, people need to have skill sets that are transferable and can adapt to the changing demands of the workforce. You might want to watch this conversation between Mark Suster and Clayton Christensen on how half the universities will be bankrupt in 15 years. It is 30 minutes long: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=KYVdf5xyD8I

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