“A third of all American adults own a smartphone and for many minority and low income users, those mobile devices have replaced computers for Internet access.” So beings an article in today’s Washington Post. As usual, education is overlooked in the discussion — yet from the facts in the article the implications for engaging students in knowledge rattle the foundation of education as we know it. And that is a beautiful thing.
Those groups who are most under-served by schools today are carrying the world’s knowledge in their pocket — accessible there through their smartphone’s web browser. Minority and low income kids have not been lavished at home with cool PCs (in the olden days of the 1990s) and laptops (more recently). Their internet access has too often been in dysfunctional school computer labs where their online time has been limited or nonexistent — and controlled by curriculum and filters.
The Washington Post article explains:
Of those who solely rely on smartphones to surf the Web, most are minorities, younger than 30 and have low incomes. They’ve found mobile devices as a suitable replacement for buying expensive computers and paying DSL or cable modem bills every month. . . . Cable and DSL remain faster, but that difference may not be big enough to justify their high costs for some consumers.
The implications here are global, and the trends are breathtaking serendipity. Here are the big steps as they have happened:
The internet began.
Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web (the web) in which anything can be connected to anything.
Experts have been pouring everything known into the web for nearly 20 years.
Cellphones have morphed into smartphones.
Smartphones have web browsers — so everything known can be looked at by their owners.
AND NOW –
The smartphones are proving the cheaper, and thus preferred web access.
Minority, low income, and young users are carrying smartphones.
And, best of all, knowledge delivered through those smartphones is post racial!
In the last seven days, eBooks written by Homer have been downloaded 3708 times from Project Gutenberg according to the project’s Top 100 listings. In the past 30 days, Project Gutenberg has made 4,141,776 eBook downloads.
The downloads are free. Over 4 million people have received books to read on their handheld devices at no cost. And these numbers are only from Project Gutenberg. There are many other free sources for eBooks plus the entire worlds of Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble Nook and many other booksellers who increasingly offer eBook versions of their merchandise.
We are not waiting for the day when it is practical to read books on a mobile device. That day is here.
This post is to suggest a large concept for the future of education. The concept has two parts:
1. The standardized concept is obsolete for knowledge that is nationalized (USA), culturalized (Moslem), state enforced (China).
2. As what is known by humankind becomes a global networked that each youngster interacts with individually, nurture of each child needs to remain individually local.
Let’s say a student in Lincoln, Nebraska with her iPad, a student in Alexandria, Egypt with his Android phone Web browser, a student in Shenzhen, China using a laptop — the three will simultaneously be learning about earthquakes here: Latest Earthquakes in the World
How can it make sense for each of the three to be required to learn from that earthquake webpage different stuff required by education standards in Washington, Cairo, or Beijing? Government, religious, cultural standards become irrelevant when an individual student is interacting directly with globally vetted knowledge.
If we did not have the schools we have now in Lincoln, Alexandria, and Shenzhen, what kind of education would we invent for the new connected world in which our children will live? We need to figure that out.
For sure, our goal is not to fix the schools, it is to educate our kids. And in the process we must be sure they continue to have our nurture at home as knowledge becomes global and virtual.
Gallup reports this week that: Young Arabs More Connected in 2010: Cell phone access jumps in low- and middle-income countries. The above chart is from the Gallup report, which begins:
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Technology’s pivotal role in the change that swept the Arab world in late 2010 and early 2011 underscores how quickly its young people are gaining access to information and communication technology. Gallup surveys conducted before the unrest show 87% of 15- to 29-year-olds across the Arab League say they have cellular phone access, up from 79% in 2009. Home and community Internet access are up, too, but not nearly as much.
These facts and figures do not indicate how many of the young Arabs have internet access on their cellphones. Surely many do, and surely smartphones are flowing into young Arab hands. Smartphones deliver handschooling because smartphones browse the Web and the Web is now where the most authentic and up-to-date resources for knowledge are located.
While Facebook and other “social networking” dominate media stories about the role of connectivity in the Arab Spring, young Arabs have schooling of the future in their hands. Are they using the Web to learn? At the very least, the boys have a device by which to explore, challenge, and add to what they are taught in school and those girls who are denied school have a means to interact with knowledge.
Today PajamasMedia has an essay by Hege Storhaug titled: The Stifling Effect of Muhammed’s Life and Teachings on Muslim Society: We need a constructive and fact-based debate about Muhammed’s life and his meaning for society today.
Beyond the school subjects that mobile browsers are increasingly providing to students across the world, the full sweep of Truth is becoming available to each individual. That astounding fact holds enormous hope for the decades and centuries that lie ahead. That is the topic of this comment that I wrote in response to Storhaug’s essay:
There is a new, fascinating, inexorable cause for predicting the turning the tide against the centuries of oppression of individuals by Islam: the mobile Web browser! The devices are even small enough for a woman to conceal in her burqa. A lot has been written about the role of social networking in the Arab Spring: truth networking is powerfully part of this and its impact is only beginning. Within a very few years essentially every person on earth will have a way to view the broad world through his/her own browser.
Jesus told his followers at the Sermon on the Mount: “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:32) The new global networking of Truth is a glorious dawning hope for humankind.
Waiting for Superman is a GREAT movie. But something should be added!! While waiting and working for super schools with super teachers, we can do this immediately: show every kid how to learn everything known by humankind through the device they already have.
I saw Waiting for Superman this afternoon for the first time. In thinking about it afterward, I realized I could remember no mobile devices being used by any of the kids. This is both archaic and inaccurate. I can remember way back in 1999 being at a mentor meeting attended by a dozen students from New York City public high schools. We were sitting around a conference table at a business office in Manhattan. Just out of curiosity, I asked them how many were carrying cellphones. They ALL had them, and that was twelve years ago.
It is uncertain that very many more American students are truly going to have the great schools and teachers the movie longs for. It is very certain that essentially every school-age American will carry a Web browsing mobile device — and probably already are. While we are working for the great schools with great teachers, why not also work to show youngsters how to handschool themselves.
I knew a brilliant black woman from New York City who had a Ph.D from Columbia University. She gave up her other careers to work as a first grade teacher in one of the worst schools in Harlem. She explained to me: “If I can get them at that age and teach them to read, they will be okay.”
We should do all the things suggested and implied in Waiting for Superman. We should do one more thing: Teach individual students how to learn everything known through the mobile Web. That is another way to help them to be okay.
UPDATE: This Handschooling post from a year ago gives more on how learning can be done with individual devices:
Ignoring intertwingularity was education’s shark jump