Sep 3, 2007

OpenEd: Week 1 - The right on education and Open Access

I have found a reason for blogging: David Wiley’s course on Open Education. Although it somewhat interferes with my thesis, it also enriches my knowledge about the subject. And since my thesis is about “open educational resources”, it might even be enriched by this course. This week’s assignment is about the “Right on education”. The text below is an answer on the following questions.

“In your opinion, is the "right to education" a basic human right? Why or why not? In your opinion, is open *access* to free, high- quality educational opportunity sufficient, or is it necessary to *mandate* education through a certain age or level?”


So what is the right to education? The Dakar framework for action (2000), regarding this matter, call this the human "right to benefit from an education that will meet their basic learning needs ..." and "access to and complete free and compulsory primary education of good quality".

So it is compulsory... and of good quality... and for free.. and we set the boundary at primary education now. Compulsory means being obliged by law, which in its turn requires countries to change their institutions in order to be able to make it compulsory. Compulsory means that kids will not be able to work at young ages. And that violators need to be punished (or educated?).
My initial response on whether it should be a basic human right: no. Of course, good education should be stimulated worldwide, but as long as there are people able to sustain their living and pursuit happiness without recourse to education, I don't think it should be considered as something every individual on this planet should have. It is just not comparable to right to live in freedom, without hunger, able to speak freely etc.

Open access to educational material means that anyone with an internet connection has open access... and not every person on this planet has an internet connection. Nicholas Negroponte's ambitious project, the One-Laptop-Per-Child (formerly known as 100-dollar Laptop), is trying to bring this access to poor regions in the world, but the poorest are still left out. This makes the two issues (free, obligatory, primary education and open access to educational materials) two different things, so you cannot say that open access is sufficient either, because there is no "open access" right now.

then almost all regions and people are connected to the internet, and it would be a great improvement. As Tomasevski (2001a) mentions:
"Getting the children, their parents and teachers involved in securing that funds for education reach their destination is not a particularly difficult task. It would rupture the vicious circle of enrichment of intermediaries and impoverishment of beneficiaries which aid often sustains." (p.21)
If you want to impose education, the above problem should be avoided. The open access to high quality open educational materials is important, but not enough to guarantee good education for all. These materials are probably contextualized for a certain environment/culture/ learning behavior, making them less practical for direct use. It would be wrong to "just" found more institutions and organizations to organize this knowledge into schools. Of course, external support might be crucial, but a large responsibility should be within countries themselves, or even better, the users and producers themselves. Open access also could improve chances of small grassroots initiatives worldwide addressing the need for education of those excluded because of

  • the inability of parents to pay any fees or expenses which may be required due to the loss of property and livelihood,
  • the absence of identity papers which are required for school enrolment;
  • the lack of knowledge of the language in which schooling is provided;
  • fear of the identification of children for what they are and repression or reprisals that may target the family if children are sent to school. (Commission on Human Rights, 1992)
Continuing on the last section, there is the problem of the "goodness" of education: What if the country is at war with another country? And implicitly includes biased material into education stigmatizing the opponents, which, in the end, will create a biased view inside kids, laying the foundations for a long-term conflict? Education is not just math and language, but also educating people to be good people. The inherent goodness of mankind should not be spoilt by biased educational practices.

Secondly, there are so many things that are necessary for a healthy and sustainable world, of which education could be one. We should not forget that billions of people have lived normal lives forever, without education. Well yes, the education in hunting, building houses, growing crops, taking care of animals, etc. Simple life is contrary to the vision we have on the world, and that vision is intertwined with the way we provide education. That vision is also a closed vision, but times are changing, as explained in Wiley (2006); "openness is the key to enabling other innovations and catalyzing improvements in the quality, accountability, affordability, and accessibility of higher education." Openness, participation, digitization, mobility, connectedness, and personalization are issues that need to be addressed when you want to stimulate or support education in a certain country. Otherwise an old-fashioned way of education will result in low effectiveness. I also believe that these "newer issues" may result in a better sustainable education system, but it could be too early to argue this.

Therefore, referring to the two issues mentioned by Greg (the right to refuse education), and Andreas (adapted to local realities) we should consider education as a means to increase people's chances on happiness within a certain environment. That may be through father-to-son hunting skills, or through a complex educational system where each person is supported to sustain this same complex environment. Well. When we then speak of the right of education, it sounds to me like something enforceable, something we can make happen. No thanks. We can give examples and resources, which are disseminated on the Internet, but what is done with it, should be something initiated by the end-user.

if it combines with qualitative education? I don't recall which newspaper, but about a year ago, I read about multinationals in India that used children in their factories a few days a week, but in addition provided free and high quality education. I think such a configuration might work in some countries where child labor can improve the living standard of families and the child's opportunities on better education. Derivatives are thinkable as well, such as a school on informatics where students are obliged to work for the school 1 day a week to pay for their tuition, but these are more applicable for older students, not primary school. The Netherlands now introduced a new law making education compulsory until 18 years of age (not 13, as in Tomasevski (2001b)), unless you have found a job to sustain in your living. A combination of working and learning is possible as well, and what you will see in many cases. But we should not forget that the Dutch economy is a good one, and that we have the privilege to pump billions into high quality education, and that every person has access to it. In poor countries this is impossible, and therefore I posted the (somewhat risky) statement about child labor in combination with high quality education.

About the quality and added value of education. If we consider education as something inherently good well, yes, then it would be unfair to exclude a part of the world population. Because we will become better than them, who not being able to become better. But education could stifle the development of an individual, or push him/her in the wrong direction. I don't want to sound too anti-capitalistic, but the focus within education (at least according to my experiences), and the worldview developed between students and in school buildings, is mostly about getting paid enough later. That means sustaining the existing structures and preparing individuals for that. Well, I don't really know, but have these existing structures been so positive for the world? Education for making money? Or education to make a better world? Two different things right?

I suppose everyone agrees that education should not only have a productivist view, but also "prepare learners for parenthood and political participation, .. enhance social cohesion and tolerance and, more than anything, .. teach the young that all human beings – themselves included – have rights."

Still, to get back to the productivist view of education: to prepare an individual for (professional) society, most importantly, to be able sustain one's living. That, largely, means work. When you talk about the right to education, you might as well consider the right to monetize that education. I have discussed that in an earlier section on child labor. Providing ways to make knowledge economically useful could be a form of financing education in countries where there is little funding.

Finally, a point about motivation. Motivation is the key to learning, and is not reached through imposition, but through support and stimulation. And listening. Mandating education to me sounds wrong. It is old- fashioned thinking, a Ford model for learning. We know some things pupils and students need to know, but we forget that motivation is more crucial, especially when information is at your fingertips. Kids can find the information if they want to, they can learn things themselves, if they want to. I hope I am right, otherwise the OLPC (One Laptop Per Child) project may not be so successful...

  • Commission on Human Rights – Analytical report of the Secretary-General on internally displaced persons, U.N. Doc. E/CN.4/1992/23 of 14 February 1992, paras. 70– 71.
  • Dakar Framework for Action - Education for All: Meeting Our Collective Commitments, Text adopted by the World Education Forum, Dakar, Senegal, 26–28 April 2000.
  • Tomaševski, K. (2001a) - RIGHT TO EDUCATION PRIMERS NO. 1 -- Free and compulsory education for all children:the gap between promise and performance, Novum Grafiska AB, Gothenburg, 2001.37837
  • Tomaševski, K. (2001b) - RIGHT TO EDUCATION PRIMERS NO. 2 -- Removing obstacles in the way of the right to education, Novum Grafiska AB, Gothenburg, 2001.37836
  • Wiley, D. (2006) - Testimony to the Secretary of Education’s Commission on the Future of Higher Education -- Panel on Innovative Teaching and Learning Strategies

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed reading this post. It was brave of you to say no, education is not a basic human right. Thank for you for pushing our thinking into some "risky" areas. At a minimum, I agree with your assessment that "It is just not comparable to right to live in freedom, without hunger, able to speak freely etc."

    Regarding your discussion of open education and the Internet, I don’t think that Internet access is a prerequisite for accessing open materials. Many are working on projects that involve putting these resources into print. While perhaps not ideal, this seems critical to me in establishing widespread access to content. There are also some innovative projects that are loading up buses with digital content and literally driving it out to the villages. My own feeling is that mobile phones are going to be a key to opening access. In many parts of the developing world, people are "leapfrogging" traditional computers and Internet for mobile phone access.

    Content needs to be repurposed into as many forms and formats as possible so that it can be accessed by as many people as possible.