Here at the Harlan Institute, we recognize the educational value of the Internet and the potential it has to provide teachers with low-cost, relevant, and effective alternatives to costly traditional programs and textbooks. According to a recent article from TechCruch, it seems Bill Gates shares our enthusiasm for the future of online education.
“Five years from now on the web for free you’ll be able to find the best lectures in the world,” Gates said at the Techonomy conference in Lake Tahoe, CA today. “It will be better than any single university,” he continued.
He believes that no matter how you came about your knowledge, you should get credit for it. Whether it’s an MIT degree or if you got everything you know from lectures on the web, there needs to be a way to highlight that.
He made sure to say that educational institutions are still vital for children, K-12. He spoke glowingly about charter schools, where kids can spend up to 80% of their time deeply engaged with learning.
But his overall point is that it’s just too expensive and too hard to get these upper-level educations. And soon place-based college educations will be five times less important than they are today.
The Internet is inherently egalitarian. With Internet access and a computer, teachers everywhere have access to the same educational resources and materials. Too often, teachers in struggling school districts are stuck with outdated and worn textbooks. Why do we continue to use these increasingly outdated teaching methods? Gates points out some of the weaknesses with these conventional, costly textbooks:
One particular problem with the education system according to Gates is text books. Even in grade schools, they can be 300 pages for a book about math. “They’re giant, intimidating books,” he said. “I look at them and think: what on Earth is in there?“
According to Gates, our text books are three times longer than the equivalents in Asia. And yet they’re beating us in many ways with education. The problem is that these things are built by committee, and more things are simply added on top of what’s already in there.
Gates said that technology is the only way to bring education back under control and expand it.
Technology will significantly decrease the rising costs of education, while also providing students everywhere with the same learning opportunities. If state education boards, school districts, and teachers continue to incorporate online resources into the classroom curriculum, we can simultaneously beat the economic downturn and give our students the education they need to fully take advantage of life’s opportunities.