Education and Training, 2015

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Eduction is sometimes highly valued — it is remarkable how much time can be spent in eduction, sometimes over twenty years. Education is also on the edge of the disruptive innovation of remote learning, as indeed do tertiary education establishments — Universities — with regard to their relationship with researchers, all of which calls into question the costs and function of these physical institutions. But we’ll start at the opposite extreme: with just how little education may be valued and the wide reaching consequences. Specifically we start with the lack of availability of primary education, and so illiteracy, of young women, shown in the cartogram blow, followed by the conventional map showing the same data.

Illieteracy among young women

Cartograph -Illiterate Young Women, 2015

 

Conventional Map- Illiterate Young Women, 2015

 

The number of illiterate young 15-24 women predicted for 2015. Comparison of the source data illustrates the considerable uncertainties and gaps in information. For example the UNESCO IfS database estimates young female illiteracy will be 14.2 million in India by 2015, but the most recent figures in the database are of 27 million in 2006 and 31.2 million in 2001. The sound point to draw, allowing for the uncertainties, is that that female illiteracy among 15-24 year olds is concentrated in the Indian sub-continent and a belt of countries across central Africa. Source: UNESCO IfS database and UNESCO

Equal access by girls to primary education is a glass half full in many parts of the world. From 1970 to 2009, according to UNESCO, it grew from around 5-10% to 40-50% in South and West Asia, the Arab States and Sub-Saharan Africa, and from 45-50% to 60-65% in Latin America, the Caribbean, East Asia and the Pacific.

India is the stand-out country for female illiteracy.

Although it may come as a surprise, India is the stand-out country for female illiteracy, in terms of the numbers involved. UNESCO reports the number of male illiterates in India fell slightly between 1990-2009, within a growing population, to around 100 million. The number of women grew slightly, to over 180 million. In China, by contrast, male illiteracy fell from around 55 to under 20 million, and female illiteracy from around 125 to some 45 million. Other stand out countries with excess female illiteracy are Bangladesh and Nigeria, both in excess of 20 million and growing.

Ashok Khosla, TARA and the wider impact of basic education for women

There are good reason for highlighting basic education specifically for women. Ashok Khosla has highlighted the practical positive consequences of tackling illiteracy, including female illiteracy, in rural India. Where the opportunity for education is available, it will be taken. One long-standing interest of Ashok has been TARA, which ensures that livelihood support services are provided to marginalised people, including vocational training to help aspiring entrepreneurs to set up their own businesses. Success also requires a few basic things, such as a reading light so that people could study in the evenings. One such initiative, an Indian all-women paper recycling business producing hand-made paper, in 1988 had 25 women workers between 23-35 years old. In 2009 23 of those women still worked there. The women were empowered, and the outcome was welcome for them and the wider community.

the paper-producers had two additional children. On average, 23 additional births would have been expected

Now for the wider impact: Between 1988 and 2009 the paper-producers had two additional children. On average, 23 additional births would have been expected of rural Indian women with the same demographic. Noting that this was not a forced choice for the ‘TARA’ women and their families, this has major implications for the future pressure on resources arising from that reduction in births. To illustrate one aspect, the combined package of education and enterprise creation, Ashok estimates, would have cost between -$10 and $4 per ton of CO2 saved (i.e. a likely net benefit), which substantially undercuts traditional thinking about abatement costs including CCS (Carbon Capture and Sequestration for fossil fuel electricity), energy efficiency and afforestation.

TARA, and the wider Development Alternatives Group, of course supports far more than female empowerment, but this small insight makes a powerful point.

Higher up the chain, progress …

In secondary education, participation, judged by country, is roughly equally split between male or female bias and parity. As one might expect, those countries with lower female literacy rates also tend to have a male bias to participation in secondary school. Where assessed by UNESCO, such as for Southern and Eastern Africa, although there is huge variation between countries, an underlying tendency is suggested for females to do sightly better in reading tests, and slightly poorer in mathematics.

Global enrolment in tertiary education increased by 500% between 1970 and 2009, to 165 million students, the largest increases being amongst those with the lowest attendance in 1970. The enrolment rate for tertiary education increased from 11-26% for males, and from 8 to 28% for females, meaning that women have a slight dominance at the global level. Again, it is those countries with lower female literacy rates where men predominate over women at tertiary level. The proportion of women tends to be greater at first or second degree level, but is lower for Ph.D’s and dramatically lower (under 30%) at research level, although this includes earlier generations.

First Ripples of a Growing Revolution

physical presence is becoming a matter of utility, rather than necessity. For those wanting to learn, this is an astonishingly development. For educational establishments it is a problem

Education, for now at least at the tertiary level, may be on the verge of a revolution. Once people had to assemble at schools or universities because that was the only cost-effective way of teaching. As high speed internet grows, physical presence is becoming a matter of utility, rather than necessity. For those wanting to learn, this is an astonishingly development. For educational establishments it is a problem. Lectures were always an inefficient way of learning. High quality low cost or free MOOCs — Massive Open Online Courses — are gaining ground. Institutions saddle students with increasingly large debts, but stripped of administrative costs and increasingly irrelevant infrastructures such as physical libraries, offer increasingly questionable returns.

For researchers, keeping your work behind a pay-wall isn’t a very smart business model

Indeed for the institutes this carries over to their role as a hub for research, where exactly the same issues arise of what exactly they offer for the rent, at least for those many disciplines not requiring more than access to the literature, and the computing power now available on any laptop. Researchers, not institutions, of necessity conduct all of the steps from research consortium creation, proposal development, finding funding, managing, to final publication. Open access to literature is becoming increasingly available. Indeed universities can’t afford universal access to all of the journals that are relevant to all researcher. Researchers can obtain research directly. But third parties are excluded, including the private sector who are increasingly likely to be funding future work. For researchers, keeping your work behind a pay-wall isn’t a very smart business model. It is also frustrating for policy makers, NGOs, journalists and those other parts of civil society who are excluded from this information, especially where the research is paid for or subsidised by citizens.

It is important to keep in mind ‘What’s the point of education?’, which for vocational education is that which makes one more employable

Returning to tertiary education for employment, up to M.Sc. level, what unassailable role do educational institutions have? It is important to keep in mind ‘What’s the point of education?’, which for vocational education is that which makes one more employable or, put in other words, what most captures employers needs. Consortia of individuals certainly need to collaborate to produce excellent course material. But it is not clear that that requires present day institutional infrastructures, or their costs, despite the number of prestigious universities already putting their materials online. Indeed, employers should be agnostic about who prepares the course material. What is important to the employer is the quality of the assessment, and that can be done entirely independently of the course, and students will pick and choose from many, largely as a result of reviews of other students. Designing good assessments, and avoiding fraud, requires skill and could likely be done better. But they also don’t need the current educational infrastructure. As getting good employees is important, businesses might well pay the (relatively low) costs of evaluations, meaning that the cost to students would be low or nothing.

Technology does not just affect unskilled jobs — indeed there is an incentive to destroy highly paid jobs

In combination that would be a truly disruptive innovation, putting many teachers, administrators and support staff out of a job. Technology does not just affect unskilled jobs — indeed there is an incentive to destroy highly paid jobs. But it would also leaving some generations of disaffected recent students seeing themselves saddled with debts that the coming generation will not have. So how might education adapt? One argument is that a physical meeting place is required for students to build inter-personal skills. That makes sense, but again it is not obvious that the current infrastructure is required, and in MOOCs such networks between students arise remotely. Demonstrable team skills might well be very important to an employer, and valued by them, but it is not something currently emphasised in tertiary qualifications.

And then there is the dark side about how educational establishments might try to maintain their position, regardless of the general good for society. Institutions and academic publishers might have a shared commercial interest in restricting access to information and charging a fee on the gate. But they don’t have control over researchers or course material providers, who may increasingly act as free agents, assembling their own collaborations as and when required. Another dark side are fees, in some ways the higher the better, that maintain exclusivity, if exclusivity is considered important by students (or parents) for establishing personal networks that matter for future careers. Neither social reformers, or employees looking for the greatest number of highly skilled, affordably educated employees, should favour either.

There is a good argument for maintaining a diversity of educational approaches. There is also good sense in maintaining pure academic research

There is a good argument for maintaining a diversity of educational approaches. There is also good sense in maintaining pure academic research. Whether society will ensure either is an open question. It is also likely that people will continue learning through their lives, doing small courses rather than big degrees. Authorship of such will remain, and high quality may attract a fee, but of a few tens of dollars spread over hundreds of thousands, not tens of thousands spread over less than a hundred. Examination and verification of qualification will remain, attract a fee, and may or may not attract various levels of automated assessment.

Whatever the outcome, Education is living in interesting times.

Source: Trends to Bend. modus vivendi, 2014, MMG