global education

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2008 in review: What happened to this year's predictions?

[Photo by darkmatter]

At the beginning of this year, I released five predictions for global education in 2008. How did I do?

It’s a mixed bag, ranging from being completely off to spot on… with some surprises, too!

Prediction #1:

Largely driven by the moderate success of OLPC, Linux will emerge as the platform of choice for K-12 technology leaders. The OLPC will demonstrate that not only is Linux different, but it can also be used to do new and different things. Instead of using new technologies to teach the same old curricula, new technologies will be used to teach new things.

What really happened: Linux didn’t take off, but the OLPC spurned an entire ecosystem of cheap, portable computing. We’ve seen this in the form of exploding sales netbooks by Acer, Asus and other small-form, low-powered, low-cost producers –as well as products intended to compete with OLPC, including a $98 laptop from China.

Prediction #2:

Web 2.0 will continue to democratize the globalization of higher education as more students and professors embrace open communications platforms. This means university administrations will have a harder time “owning” their global agendas.

What really happened: Web 2.0 technologies are continuing to democratize the globalization of higher education; but there’s little evidence to suggest that administrators are making the most of what is happening, let alone the question of “ownership.” Of course, there’s also the problem that nobody really knows what “Web 2.0” really is, except as “a piece of jargon.” Some schools, however, have began to experiment with integrating their services with YouTube, Facebook, Flickr, etc., providing some hope that they will be able to leverage the power of Web communities.

Prediction #3:

Because of the influences of #1 and #2, education-oriented open source development will boom.

What really happened: The open source development boom hasn’t happened, but it also does not seem to be lessening. Moodle continues to develop as a popular course instruction platform, and other institutions have copied MIT’s OpenCourseWare program –but, these innovations all predate 2008. With a few exceptions (like OLPC), the open source/open access movement has made little new headway in 2008. Software in higher education, however, remains largely centered on proprietary formats.

Prediction #4:

Chinese orientations toward the rest of the planet will change during the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. The Chinese widely view that the award to host the Olympics is a sign that their country is progressing positively –and of international acceptance. During the Olympics, however, much of the international attention will focus on revisiting the Tiananmen Square Massacre, the government’s treatment of political prisoners, the annexation of Tibet, the mainland’s relations with Taiwan, catastrophic ecological destruction throughout China, and many more sensitive topics. Unless if the Chinese can distract the world with Olympian splendor, they will have to endure international condemnation. What will this do to the millions of Chinese school kids who were drafted into generating national spirit under the false assumption that the world thinks China is doing a great job? Will China reorient its education system away from the West?

What really happened: As expected, China had a hard time navigating the additional attention of human rights and ecological issues. What was not expected, however, is that China would muscle such a huge effort to manage its public relations image. This was most evident in the spectacle of the opening ceremonies, but also with the scandals that plagued the government and Olympic organizers as they tried to manage China’s image.

What does this mean for Chinese education? The Chinese government managed media relations well; and, as students at Anqing Teachers College told me in October, “the successful implementation of the Beijing games is evidence that China is prepared to lead the world.” China is not reorienting its education system away from the West. Rather, it intends to reorient the West toward China!

Prediction #5:

India’s the place to be. As more U.S. companies quietly continue to offshore their creative work to India, India’s knowledge economy will boom. The world will take notice of this in 2008.

What really happened: The jury’s still out. We’ll have to wait and see. In a 2005 report, the World Bank noted that India is in the bottom third of the global knowledge economy, and hasn’t improved much in the previous ten years. Has it changed? We’ll watch this one closely in 2009!

Stay tuned for five new predictions for 2009!

Dropping Out–Or Leaping Ahead?

Even in a week packed with all kinds of dire predictions about the economy, it was hard to ignore this headline: Kids Less Likely To Graduate Than Parents. (See the AP story here)

According to the report by the Education Trust, more than one in four high school students in the US drop out before graduating, and the numbers are even more alarming in urban schools. This makes the US the only industrialized country in which young people are less likely than their parents to earn a high school diploma.

There are plenty of reasons for hand wringing and navel gazing about what’s gone terribly wrong with our education system, but there’s also a surprising opportunity to offer high fives.

You see, the numbers don’t tell the full story. Obviously, there are a lot of kids dropping out of education altogether, but because the formula used for calculating graduation rates varies by state, we don’t really have any idea what those kids are doing once they leave high school. Homeschoolers, virtual students, those who spend a year abroad or get alternate types of diplomas (three of my four daughters fit this description) are all tossed into the drop-out pile.

As part of the research for my book, I’ve been fortunate to have an opportunity to talk to over a hundred students across the US who are the antithesis of the you-want-fries-with-that? image we hold of the high school drop-out. In fact, some of the most motivated, accomplished, articulate, and clear-headed students I’ve ever met would be counted in most state tallies as drop-outs. The good news is that they’re too busy racing through college, traveling around the world and landing their dream jobs to worry much about such labels.

That’s right. They’re “dropping out” of high school in order to fast track—they’re entering college early. And by the time their classmates are reaching for that high school diploma, these “drop-outs” have earned enough college credits to transfer as a junior to a four-year university. Many earn their college degree by the age of 20–with no debt—before their high school buddies have even picked a major, and they’ve spent enough time abroad to become fluent in a foreign language (or two or three) and develop a clearer perspective of themselves, their culture and the world in general.

Look, there’s no question that there are many challenges to overcome in our approach to education, but when you read about the low high school graduation rates, remember that there’s a silver lining: those numbers also reflect the fact that an increasing number of kids who are smart, bold, innovative and on fire to learn in an adult setting are leaving high school far behind in order to blast forward. These future leaders are defining education in new ways—and they’re the ones to watch.

We talk a lot about the need to pay attention to the way we educate our brightest students.  What we don’t mention is that while we’re arguing about the best program to implement, these smart kids are finding creative ways to educate themselves.

We can learn a lot from them.

(Guest post by Maya Frost)