Educating all Children and the power of technology

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The aspiration to educate all children in the world is relatively recent. A product of the inclusion of the right to education in the Universal declaration of Human Rights in 1947, it produced one of the most remarkable transformations in the shared experience of humanity. I call these efforts to give all members of our species the opportunity to develop the skills they need to become self-authoring individuals and to collaborate with others in improving the world: the Global Education Movement. This concept includes a very wide range of individuals and institutions: teachers, school and education administrators, higher education institutions, including those who educate teachers, providers of services to schools and teachers, governments, foundations, among others. Important also in supporting the work of these individuals and agencies are international institutions of various sorts, that support the work of governments and of non-governmental organizations.

I have recently completed a study of a small subset of leaders of this Global Education Movement. Those we have had the privilege to educate over the last two decades in the masters degree program in international education policy at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. I present the results of that study in the book ‘One Student at a Time. Leading the Global Education Movement’. This book will be launched with a public discussion at the Harvard Graduate School of Education next Monday, September 18th from 5-7pm in Longfellow Hall. This discussion will be livestreamed. To mark the occasion of the launch of the book, in English and Spanish language editions, the book will be free on kindle over the next couple of days.

One of the themes discussed in the book is the importance of collective leadership, of effective collaboration across the many different agencies, represented in the roles that these leaders I study in the book, work in. In conducting the study, and in preparing the discussion which will take place next monday, I realize the great extent to which this work is enabled by technology. Technologies which have developed over the last two decades, many of them much more recently. These technologies are also critical to supporting the kind of collective leadership I argue in the book is essential to make the education that 1.2 billion students receive each year relevant to the needs of the present and, more importantly, of the future. I am not referring to technology as a tool to assist students in learning. That too is a field which has experienced a revolution. I am referring here to technology as a tool to help sustain a global movement of leaders advancing education for all. It is so obvious how crucial technology is to enable this work, that we may not see it.

I see a number of discussions these days in various media about the challenges that technology brings to democratic politics or to the future of work, such as the risks of the eco-chambers that it enables, or the threats that artificial intelligence poses to jobs. These risks are real, and we should think about them. But we should also reflect and appreciate how technology allows us to do things today which would have been unimaginable just a few decades ago, how it augments our capacity to make the world better.

I will illustrate how technology is central to the work of the global education movement examining how it enabled the study of the leaders of such movement I just completed. I began this study with an online survey I administered to all graduates of the program using Qualtrics, a powerful online survey tool. I was able to analyze these data using SPSS and Excell, and for the open ended texts, depended on Dedoose, a platform for the analysis of qualitative data. All of this was enabled by the use of the internet and gmail, which allowed me the opportunity to communicate with 1000 students in 80 different countries in a much shorter period of time than would have been required absent those means of communication. I followed up with conversations with some of these former students using skype and voice over the internet phone conferencing. Amazon allowed me the means to distribute this book worldwide, in paperback and as an electronic book, immediately upon publication. We produced a Spanish language translation of the book assisted, in part, by the powerful algorithms in Google Translate. My former students and associates have been discussing this book in Facebook and in a twitter chat. The book launch next Monday will be livestreamed using Youtube. This blog in Huffpost allows me to share this reflection with those of you reading it.

I am grateful to the thousands of software engineers whose work coding these various programs made possible for me to take stock of what a group of leaders around the world do as they work to create opportunities to educate all children. My hope is that this reflection will increase the effectiveness of these leaders and of others, as they learn from the lessons drawn out in the book. I am hopeful that, as technologies such as these continue to develop exponentially, so will our ability to collaborate across all boundaries for the purpose of helping all children, youth and adults learn what they need to make the world better and to live fulfilling lives. This will accelerate and deepen this remarkable transformation in the shared experience of humanity which the global education movement has made possible, in this way increasing the odds that the quality of life for all in the planet will improve.

In a very real way, those of you who code these tools, and your colleagues who work in the organizations that make such great products, are also part of the Global Education Movement. For your contributions to this work I thank you!