Information Age Education
   Issue Number 25
September, 2009   

This free Information Age Education Newsletter is written by David Moursund and produced by Ken Loge. For more information, see the end of this newsletter.

“Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.” (Article 26 of the December 10, 1948 United Nations document: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights.)

During the past 60 years, the world has made significant progress toward achieving these global educational goals. However, there is still a long way to go.

Meanwhile, there has been a steady growth in needs for a still higher level of universal education. Part of this is because improvements in transportation and communication have made the world “smaller.” Or, as Thomas Friedman puts it, the playing field has become flatter. There is steadily increasing international competition for jobs. See http://iae-pedia.org/College_Student%E2%80%99s_Guide_to_Computers_in_Education/Chapter_2:_Inventing_Your_Future.

Part of the need for still more education is due to the rapid growth in the totality of human knowledge. Many of us already suffer from Information Overload. At the same time, we all suffer from Information Underload—not enough of the “findable and understandable” right information at the right time. (See http://iae-pedia.org/Information_Underload_and_Overload.) Thus, one major goal in education is to help students gain ICT and information retrieval knowledge and skills to help represent and solve problems in the various disciplines they study. (See http://iae-pedia.org/Problem_Solving.)


Books and Education

Most of us have heard the story about Abraham Lincoln (February 12, 1809–April 15, 1865) that is captured in the following quote from The New York Times, September 28, 1901.

How did Lincoln acquire his education? When, in 1819, his father had settled at Pigeon Creek, in Indiana, and had built a rough log cabin, Lincoln went to the village school for a few weeks. During his whole life he never was altogether more than four months at school. At Gentryville Abraham’s father ran up another log house, and in it there was a big fireplace, and here the lad would light a fire. He would lie down flat on the floor, before the hearth, and thus resting on his stomach his head upon his hand, he would read and study. There was no writing paper. Fortunately, there was a large wooden shovel. On this he would write, using a bit of charcoal. When the shovel was covered over with this copy, Lincoln would scrape it clear with his knife and begin over again.

The quote given above indicates that Lincoln was largely self-educated. (The Wikipedia article at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abraham_Lincoln states that he had 18 months of formal schooling.) Lincoln was an avid reader and was able to gain access to books. Note that there were no free public libraries in the United States during Lincoln’s childhood. However, a variety of people and organizations had small private collections that he could borrow from. The Carnegie-funded public libraries, beginning in 1890, vastly expanded the availability of pubic libraries in the United States.

Now, of course, we take it for granted that children can easily gain access to books. However, even now many children in the United States grow up in homes in which there are very few or no books. It is still common for projects to be implemented that lead to providing some free books to children in such home environments.

Learning to read opens the doors to formal education and to self-education. The initial learning to read can occur through formal schooling and/or through home schooling. A third grade level of reading skill provides a sufficient start for many students to begin to make serious progress in reading to learn.


Roles of Computer Technology

In terms of informal and formal education, computer technology is doing two major things.
  1. It is making the world’s largest library readily available to a steadily increasing fraction of the world’s people. This is a new type of library with the built-in capabilities to solve a wide range of problems.
  2. It is making multimedia interactive aids to learning available to a steadily increasing fraction of the world’s people.
The future of these trends seems very clear to me. The world now has the technological knowledge and skills to provide every student in the world with connectivity to the Web (the world’s larges library) and to each other (telephone, text messaging, email). We have the knowledge and skills to develop highly interactive intelligent computer-assisted learning (HIICAL) materials that are usable by students of all ages, including people who are just beginning to try to learn to read. (Voice input is steadily improving.)

To ground this possible future in current reality, the total number of cell phones in the world will be approximately one for every two people on earth by the end of year 2010. Perhaps 20% of the total, and a much higher percentage of the newer cell phones, are designed to access the Web. Thus, it is easy to see that the world has the ability to provide every student with Web, telephone, and email connectivity.

Many people and organizations are already providing free instructional materials on the Web. A particularly “bright spot” on the horizon is President Obama’s proposal to commit $500 million to the development of hybrid-type HIICAL open source courseware for use at the high school and community college level. See: http://chronicle.com/article/Obamas-Great-Course-Giveaway/47530/?sid=at&utm_source=at&utm_medium=en.


David Moursund’s Visionary Declaration of Human Education Rights

Here is my vision. It can be viewed as an extension of the United Nations statement at the beginning of this Newsletter. It is based on a worldwide need for more education, the steadily increasing availability of electronic multimedia documents, and the steady improvement in computer-based aids to student learning. My purpose in this section is to promote (and provoke) careful thinking and continuing discussion of some of the big issues in education throughout the world.

Free (public-funded) education should be available to every person on earth, Kindergarten up through the 14th grade. This education should include routine access to Web and other sources of content, email, and telephonic connectivity. It should include routine access to highly interactive intelligent computer assisted learning materials in all curriculum areas that are routinely taught at these grade levels. It should also reflect the fact that education is a human endeavor and is substantially enhanced by appropriate and continuing interaction with and help from parents, grandparents, siblings, and other childcare providers, and by well-qualified human teachers. (David Moursund.)

Above the 14th grade, education should continue to be available and free to students who have the needed innate and developed ability and mental maturity, and who demonstrate a major and continuing commitment to take good advantage of the education.

This visionary statement lacks many important details. For example:
  1. Careful thought needs to be given to the mandatory level of educational achievement or age of student choice for school leaving. The free schooling should be available throughout one’s lifetime, and many may decide for early school leaving and later return to school.
  2. Education needs to be balanced amount the personal needs and abilities of the student, the current and potential needs of the student as a contributing member of society (responsible citizenship, job, homemaker, voter, etc.) and the needs of the student’s culture, country, and world.
  3. The availability, and quality of HIICAL will steadily improve in the years to come. This will facilitate some possible major changes in the roles of humans (parents, grandparents, siblings, and other childcare providers, and by well-qualified human teachers) in education. In addition, continuing improvements in the capability of ICT tools will facilitate some possible major changes in the content of curriculum. Taken together, these types of possible changes will prove to be a major challenge to our informal and formal education systems.


About Information Age Education, Inc.

Information Age Education is a non-profit organization dedicated to improving education for learners of all ages throughout the world. IAE is a project of the Science Factory, a 501(c)(3) science and technology museum located in Eugene, Oregon. Current IAE activities include a Wiki with address http://IAE-pedia.org, a Website containing free books and articles at http://I-A-E.org, and the free newsletter you are now reading.

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