The other day at a tech conference Bill Gates made the claim that in five years time, an education received from the Internet will be better than an education from a University. This, of course, assumes the individual would be a self-starter. I’ve never talked to Gates, seen Gates, or have read enough on Gates to pretend I know a ton about the man, but I do have a few quibbles with that statement.
Without question, the Internet has changed the way people learn. Colleges and Universities are posting more and more of their content online to make it accessible and interactive with the students who attend their institutions. Not only are they opening their libraries and resources up online, but they are taking speeches made by world renown scholars and professors and posting them online and utilizing portals like iTunes U. The creed of iTunes U is “Learn anything, anytime anywhere”, which is great. As an educator myself, I love the idea of education not being tethered to a brick and mortar building. If you want to learn something and you’re in the middle of the forest, you should be able to. Giving the ability to all learners to have access to education on demand promotes further and higher education.
Gates also explains that an education that is received online comes at a significantly lower cost than attending a traditional college or University. The escalating costs of a college tuition is a restrictive barrier for many people to get the education they need to further themselves both as individuals and as workers in an increasingly global economy. This too, I agree with and would encourage.
Here’s what I don’t understand. Gates believes that the best education will come from the Internet, but who is doing the teaching? In this scenario, is everyone just teaching themselves? This gives me pause, because I know many past students that use the Internet to “educate” themselves on issues they think are important.
For example, did you know that 9/11 was a conspiracy brought on by the United States Government? It’s true. I know that because students of mine showed me evidence.
And did you know that our President, Barack Obama, was a former CIA agent? All true. This website proves it.
See, without some structure and the ability to bounce ideas off of trained scholars, educators, and peers, whose to say that everything learned from, say, Wikipedia, isn’t 100% true? I love the idea of learning from sources on the Internet, but left to their own devices, there are many people out there who would not carefully vet the information they are receiving.
Need to Hear More About….
In his foundation’s 2009 newsletter, Gates talks about the inequities in education. He says that:
…for the country as a whole, we believe improving education is the key to retaining our position of world leadership in all areas, including starting great businesses and doing innovative research. So in addition to the foundation’s work to improve the lives of the poorest worldwide, we started our U.S. Program to help reduce inequity in the United States.
A noble goal to be sure, and a very real problem. There is a lot on inequity in education, and I doubt few rationale thinking people would disagree with that. The problem, then, is that with the best education coming from the web, far too many kids and young adults will be cut out of that loop. Internet access and the use of computers is still a vast divide between the haves and the have-nots, although it appears to be slowly shrinking. I’m curious to know how Gates would suggest the poor and underprivileged would get access to this education.
As with most things, the answer probably comes down to money. I love that the web is becoming a source where people go to get information and extend (or begin) their educations. Without a well thought out and equitable plan, however, this education will most likely go the way of higher priced colleges and Universities. Only for the fortunate few.