Bridging the gap between theory and application in education is a challenge any educator can appreciate. From the lofty ivory towers of university studies on the effectiveness of PBIS to student-centered learning, students in a “classroom” are the final repository of knowledge from many different streams of abstract ideas that are transformed into practical or useable action items. Today’s classroom is far more dependent upon the highways of digital traffic than could have been imagined even 10 years ago. The advent of easily designed elearning modules and robust LMS software has made the progress of realizing equitable education far more of a reality than in previous years.
However, a large question mark remains regarding the future of equitable education in spite of the technological advances that ostensibly makes higher education more accessible for all. Will a bifurcation in the second wave of development lead to further calcification of existing financial and social structures in society?
In the last 20 years, education reform efforts have shifted the weight of learning from a teacher-centered activity to one that is far more individually-centered and activated. With the arrival of the “Fourth Industrial Revolution,” as Klaus Schwabb coined the term in 2016 at the World Economic Forum, colleges and schools across the world have been preparing to jump on board the train of change towards equitable education as statistics show a 68% penetration rate of the overall world population. Out of a total population of 7.59 billion people, 5.13 billion are uniquely mobile users.
Even more importantly, while 80% of the market has been reached in Europe and North America, mobile connectivity is growing by leaps and bounds with cheaper connectivity rates in Africa, India and Southeast Asia. India leads the race with the astoundingly cheap rate of $0.26/1GB of mobile data.
So, with connectivity more readily available and 5G technology coming out in 2020, many businesses and schools are scrambling to provide cutting edge training through the use of elearning and blended classes. A major difference exists, however, regarding the use of technology by the innovators of mobile devices in the second half of internet development.
Educators or instructional designers may enthusiastically leap at the opportunity to develop cutting edge elearning opportunities for education and training. However, statistics and polls show that the majority of the developing markets for mobile technology lean decidedly towards entertainment or timepass, “the Indian-English word for killing time.” According to Payal Arora, a professor at Erasmus University in Rotterdam, “the internet is the leisure economy of the world’s poor.” (The Economist June 8, 2019).
Other statistics on the uses of the internet also appear to support this bifurcation in market development and clearly predicts this split in use from learning to entertainment. It’s not that education will disappear from the internet but rather that the drivers of use will not be the altruistic dreams of raising the boats of everyone to add to their knowledge bases.
Rather than looking at this fascinating development as a doomsday prediction for the future of education, a moment of opportunity for the development of elearning is clearly at hand. Clearly, the use of long-winded lectures and, ironically, print-based materials are moving to the back of the tool box for educators. But the transition to extensive video and social media platforms for elearning need to be planned more methodically by educators in concert with businesses, industry and religious entities. Many schools and elearning companies appear to have foreseen this development as can be witnessed by the number of rapidly expanding online schools and elearning training opportunities. But the progress of technology is quickly outstripping the educators and other movers and shapers in our communities who are supposed to be shepherding and leading students towards this brave new world of digital learning.
New bridges are required to ensure that, rather than a mindless focus on just the Internet of Things (IoT) or efficiency with AI, schools and educators are crafting a new role for themselves. Non-profit organizations such as Participate or Centerpoint Education are working to amp up the network of teachers, administrators and organizations for the professional development of teachers but are technology companies connecting to the educational world quickly enough to avoid a drop to the lowest common denominator for education? Electronic gateways designed to try and monitor student use of the internet in schools may simply end up being an endless game of cat and mouse with Google search queries magnetizing to porn or shopping sites as they do now.
If our world is truly heading towards a “merging [of] the physical, digital and biological worlds in ways that create both huge promise and potential peril,” (World Economic Forum, 2019) then collaboration for altruistic purposes of an improved civil society, not just for profit, is of the utmost importance.
The Fourth Revolution will be no revolution if it simply reinforces the gap between the rich and the poor as it already doing right now. Rather, the Fourth Revolution, “… is an opportunity to unite global communities, to build sustainable economies, to adapt and modernize governance models, to reduce material and social inequalities, and to commit to values-based leadership of emerging technologies (World Economic Forum, 2019).” Let’s all work together to address the impending bias of global bifurcation that exists in technology by investing more time in human relationships face-to-face, less time facing our smartphones and figuring out creative approaches to ensuring that the face of our future society is a synthesis of the best technology has to offer, not the worst.
Cindy Yee Au is a seasoned secondary education teacher and learning designer. She has a passion for helping people navigate the new education opportunities available in the Fourth Revolution to confront sociological challenges.
How the pursuit of leisure drives internet use. (2019). Retrieved 23 September 2019, from https://www.economist.com/briefing/2019/06/08/how-the-pursuit-of-leisure-drives-internet-use
Fourth Industrial Revolution. (2019). Retrieved 23 September 2019, from https://www.weforum.org/focus/fourth-industrial-revolution