"Bear in mind that the wonderful things you learn in your schools are the work of many generations, produced by enthusiastic effort and infinite labor in every country of the world. All this is put into your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honor it, add to it, and one day faithfully hand it to your children. Thus do we mortals achieve immortality in the permanent things which we create in common." - Albert Einstein

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Education and the Internet

This research comes from a network of young people based at the University of Warwick. The social and educational network called IGGY recently looked at the role of the internet in basic education. The work is quite a small survey. It certainly does not represent the entire globe although it covers several countries: US, UK, Australia, South Africa, France, Netherlands, Singapore, and Pakistan. Clearly, the survey does not even capture the most populous countries. Nonetheless, the findings may be worthwhile to look at. So, here are some of the results. These figures are copied from the final report without permission.

The first one relates to how frequent the internet is being used in homework.

One might ask the same question in the Philippines. My guess is that the above figure is far from what is going on in the Philippines. What may be closer to the Philippines is the scenario from Pakistan (which is quite an outlier when it comes to the above results). For Pakistann the IGGY researchers write:


  • A number of children are not going to school at all
  • Quality of education and access to the internet still seems impossible for many children living in Pakistan
  • The internet is being used for education only at private and elite schools.

    • None of the government schools have the facility of internet, whilst only the private and elite schools provide internet facilities
    • The schools which do provide the internet provide it mostly to the administration staff who use it for their own communication and research purposes

The next figure is quite telling. The survey suggests that students with learning difficulties are more likely to benefit from the internet:

The report has the following summary and recommendations:

• The internet in Education facilitates certain areas of skill development (e.g., independent learning more than others (e.g., communication).
• The internet has a positive influence on pupils with learning difficulties and thus online learning platforms should be used more frequently with these pupils to aid development.
• The skills acquired from gamification and coding are beneficial for school pupils and should be more widely incorporated into the curriculum.
• Online learning platforms should be widely and freely available to all pupils across the globe.
• The incorporation of flipped classrooms and MOOCs will shift the way in pupils study allowing for more flexibility and personalisation in how they work.
• The internet should be introduced as a learning tool much earlier in schools then it is currently, e.g., 11 years and below.
• Online safety should be taught more rigorously and consistently across the curriculum.
• Teachers need to be at the forefront of integrating internet into education, i.e., ‘digital ambassadors’ – to achieve this, teachers need to receive on-going training and support from the government and educational organisations.
• Advance pupil development through teacher training by 2020
• By 2020 for the internet to be more widely available to school pupils aged 11
• Increase global access to online learning environments
• Pupils with learning difficulties to benefit from technological advancements
• Emphasise online safety, cultivate digital citizenship and responsibility
• By 2020 all schools should be using blended learning programmes in their curriculum
This report comes from a junior commission (These are high school students) that has ten members: 2 are from UK, 2 are from Pakistan, and from each of the following countries: South Africa, Singapore, Netherlands, Canada, France, and Australia. This group of young researchers is very much aware of the limitations of their study. In the report, he commission writes:

Firstly, the participants (i.e., teachers and pupils) who completed the questionnaires were not representative of the world's entire population and only reflect a small sample size. In total, we contacted participants in 14 different countries receiving over 200 responses. Thus generalising the findings for application to other countries not included in the study would be difficult. This said, countries identified to take part in the study were selected to be diverse, representing different social and cultural norms, to help overcome this issue. Therefore, overall considering the timescale (i.e., two-week data collection) and resources available, the research is far-reaching in terms of participant recruitment. A related issue is that many of the participants were our friends, classmates, or teachers and so were therefore more likely to share similar viewpoints. Again this latter point is a difficult criticism to overcome considering the availability of participants was always going to be dependent on existing contacts. 
Moreover, an internet connection was necessary to complete the questionnaire. This means demographically deprived areas may not have taken part in the study due to a lack of resources. The sample of participants is not random; they were all interested in filling out a questionnaire on the subject of Education and the Internet which may mean that responses were more ‘pro-technology’ then a baseline group would be. However, this is an issue for any piece of research; people who take part are more likely to be interested in the topic under investigation and this may affect the viewpoints identified. 
In conclusion, these limitations should not in any way deflect from our project findings and recommendations. Instead, by providing transparent information about how the research process was completed, the context in which the research should be understood is more appropriately communicated.
These limitations do point out to which types of school systems and students their findings really apply. The fact that this survey was done over the internet means only those who had access to the internet were able to participate. Thus, even with internet access and presumably, schools that are better equipped, the impact of the internet is not really that overwhelming.

Education and the internet share quite a bit in common. Both potentially can improve our living. Both have a promise of benefiting mankind. Sadly, this hope may just be an illusion. Both education and the internet may be falling short. Because right now, both are just magnifying and crystallizing the difference between the rich and the poor.

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