Education is necessary, expensive and regularly a state run monopoly. Education is necessary, both to improve the lives of individuals, and to increase the productive potential of the economy. This will not change, but technology is making the other descriptors obsolete. Private education is now available in some countries for a dollar a day, and the rate of private schooling in the developing world is rapidly increasing. There are three main drivers for this, move over reading ‘riting and ‘rithmetic; recruitment, resources and reach are in town.
One of the hardest things in any school system is to find people to do the schooling. Education is a hard job, it involves both people skills and intellectual skills, many degrees required for teaching could earn more money elsewhere, and standards for teaching are rigorous. Technology blows these problems away. Firstly, and most simply, it’s far easier to hire a teacher when you can post an advert online for free rather than putting costly adverts in every classified page you can find. Secondly, in countries with few formal licencing programmes for teaching, online tests and interviews make it easier and cheaper to weed out the underqualified and inept. Finally, and most importantly, in many cases teachers are no longer required to even understand the subject they’re teaching. As pioneered by Bridge International Academies, it is possible to mass produce lesson plans, and simply hand them to teachers as scripts to read. Of course, some knowledge helps, and this probably only works for primary education, but a good primary education allows much easier learning in later life and is immeasurably important for the individuals’ development.
Secondly, we have resources. Textbooks are expensive, and it makes sense that they are. They benefit from almost no economies of scale, occupying tiny markets. A business studies textbook cannot be used for economics, an American textbook cannot be used in Australia, an AQA textbook cannot be used for an Edexcel course. Textbooks have incredibly short runs, needing frequent revisions, and must be printed in colour so that charts and colour coded diagrams make sense. The ability to distribute a textbook as a PDF takes away the need to print it, the ability to constantly update an online textbook means no regular reprints and chain private schools offering their own qualifications, or internationally recognized qualifications, means textbooks access a larger market and can thus be sold cheaper while still making a healthy profit. The ability to constantly update a textbook is also invaluable for subjects with current events components, like economics or international relations.
Finally, reach. Many people worldwide who do not have access to education do not lack it because they are poor, they lack it because there is no demand for a local school if there’s only three children in walking distance, and because the costs to open one would be astronomical. The use of online tuition, offered by many universities and academies internationally, and online formal and informal short courses such as the ones available on FutureLearn allow these people to gain useful skills that increase the productive capacity of the worldwide economy.
Technology is the best thing not only for individual students, but for every world economy and for humanity as a whole. It’s influence in education should be welcomed with open arms.