Socioeconomic barriers

On this blog, we’re always talking about problems in education that need solving. One of these is the socioeconomic gap in access, quality, and achievement. What specific issues should stakeholders in education be aware of in solving this problem? Here are some examples:

High cost

Sure, in most countries public education is funded by the taxpayer, so it’s ostensibly free. Unfortunately, this isn’t the whole picture. Even in the developed world, public education is often of low quality, requiring learners to supplement their instruction with expensive, resource-heavy private services. And outside of primary school education, the world is full of people who want to learn something but aren’t able to because of prohibitive costs.

Poor access/low quality

In low-income areas of developed countries, as well as those in the developing world, access to quality education is in short supply. Good teachers are few and far between, and other educational resources are even more scarce.

Lack of relevance

As we discussed in our commentary on curricular problems and in our last post, the things that are being taught in public schools are often irrelevant to the learners. For example, often people who require instruction in a trade will receive an abstract education that is of little use in advancing their career aspirations. There are no services broadly available to effectively and cheaply educate interested people in a subject they find relevant or necessary to their life or career advancement.

In our next installment, we’ll be talking about the ways in which online education technologies can help to address these issues.

Relevance in Education

At Rukuku, we’re always thinking about solutions that will give people options when it comes to education. One of the problems we are trying to solve is the problem of relevance: we want people to be learning things that are relevant to their personal interests and professional goals.

The United States is respected around the world for its venerable system of higher education. There is much to laud: there’s no doubt that we have some of the world’s best colleges and universities, greatest opportunities for research and innovation, and most talented people.

Unfortunately, American education is also severely deficient in one very important area: real-life career training. When it comes to technical or vocational programs, or even just learning a relevant skill at one’s own initiative, we do not have many quality options available. This is in stark contrast to other developed countries, such as Germany, where only a small fraction of people attend full-fledged universities, with most opting for narrower professional programs.

In a recent exchange of political slurs between our president and candidate Rick Santorum, the latter called Obama a “snob” for suggesting that everyone should go to college. It’s a shame Santorum’s many years of higher education didn’t teach him any tact, because he missed a perfect opportunity to make a serious statement on the matter. What he might have been trying to say, in his indelicate Santorumish way, is that there should be a lot of alternatives to the traditional four-year higher education model. That, actually, would have been a pretty sensible thing to say. If he had said it.

As important as higher education is to many people, there are many other people who do not need to attend universities and learn useless things that will not help them to become productive members of society. There was a time in America when it was possible to be make a great living doing a skilled trade without having to go through the motions of receiving a (completely useless for many) bachelor’s degree. Those days can return if we’re willing to accept the idea that college really isn’t for everyone, and that many of us would be better off learning real, useful skills instead.

This argument has some seriously positive economic implications, too. The United States, once the world’s most prolific producer, currently exports much less than it imports. A lot less. We don’t make anything anymore in this country – and I daresay part of the reason is that we’ve forgotten how.

Now, you can talk all you want about how our labor can’t compete with cheap labor from Asia, and how we’re destined to become a 100% service economy, and all that jazz. But guess what? The Germans clearly didn’t get that memo. Despite having one of the most expensive labor forces in the world, they continue to produce everything from washing machines to cars to electronics to medical equipment to Märzen. You can go ask their $18 billion trade surplus if you don’t believe me.

College is undoubtedly one of the most important ways to encourage an educated, productive population. But it should not be the only answer, and if you still think it is, perhaps you ought to get off your ivory tower!

What do you think, readers? Leave your angry comments below.

The history (and future) of online education

Infographics are a wonderful way to organize information in a useful and visually pleasing way.

Here’s one about the history of online education. Though slightly dated, the data allows us to pretty confidently extrapolate where this trend is going in the future.

Check back this later this weekend for more discussion of the hurdles faced by education, both traditional and online.

How are we going to motivate today’s learners?

All ideas are on the table, and of them is gamification.

Learning in a packed college lecture hall does not seem to be most people’s idea of fun. I distinctly remember one day when I came into my Econ 101 lecture right after having been to traffic court: I couldn’t help but notice that the general excitement level was lower in front of the professor than it had been front of the judge.

What is gamification?

Gamification is essentially the application of game mechanics and game rewards to real-life situations. It’s based on the concept that humans have an innate desire to engage in reward-based activities. It’s used by retailers to engage customers, employers to involve workers, social networks to excite users, and so on, and it’s been shown to improve productivity and involvement across the board.

How can gamification be used by educators?

Education is particularly well-suited to this concept: gamifying learning can help to engage otherwise bored learners and push them to succeed by infusing some fun into the learning process. People instinctively look for payoffs, but the payoffs of education are typically long-term. Applying some features of a game to the educational process means that the reward structure will also include short-term gratification – something we all enjoy.

This is especially exciting in the realm of online education because of the vast interactive possibilities provided by a digital interface.

What do you think about the potential of gamification in online learning?

Let’s learn some geography!

As I lamented in Friday’s post, we Americans aren’t terribly good at geography.

If our schools aren’t willing to change that, let’s take it into our own hands.

Sporcle is one example of an existing site that gamifies learning in a pretty cool way – especially when it comes to geography. My favorite basic quizzes are US States and Countries of the World.

At Rukuku, we think that new, interactive online resources can really help to fill the gaps that our school system leaves behind. That’s one of the ideas behind the solutions that we’re working on here. If you’d like to stay updated and have a chance at our launch, we invite you to sign up!