Digital learning and global poverty

Those of us working in online education received a boost to morale this week from an unlikely source.

Arnold Schwarzenegger, governor of California, declared that it’s time for schools to embrace the era of digital learning. Announcing initiatives in education spending, he wrote in the San Jose Mercury News:

“Why are California’s public school students still forced to lug around antiquated, heavy, expensive textbooks?….

….around the world, well-respected educators have designed customizable texts to meet the unique needs of their students”.

I can’t claim that the governor was referring to OneWorld Guides but we did our bit for his cause this week. We’ve repackaged the poverty component of our Country Guides into a Google maps environment. It needs some tidying up but the result is a miracle of compactness – over 30,000 words covering 63 developing countries are accessible from the map.

There’s no need to navigate the internet, let alone turn the pages of a book. And the map requires no satchel to move it about. I can reproduce it at the bottom of articles such as this one, and encourage colleagues – and maybe even external publishers – to display it on sites relating to global poverty.

I’m more wary about Schwarzenegger’s reference to Facebook and Twitter as evidence that school-kids are ready for digital learning. Social networking sites for youngsters thrive by recreating the informal world of conversational repartee, where quick wit scores ahead of concentration.

Our new poverty reduction briefings make a concession to the demand for downsized content. Effectively they lift a 400-500 word extract from the full 2,000 word Country Guide.

I’m uneasy about this however. Isolating an assessment of poverty in Ghana from the interconnected issues of food security, climate change and healthcare possibly runs against our brief that Guides should create order from fragments.

Nevertheless, it’s apparent that even 400 words may test the Facebook generation. Indeed, the OneWorld UK team misses no opportunity to draw my attention to the wonders of Twitter. Here’s a typical OneWorld tweet from last Friday:

Democratic Republic of the Congo: Life in Limbo

This comes from OneWorld TV, our current internal champions with over 2,000 followers. They have been groomed to understand that the message refers to the latest film posted on the site.

That makes sense, an alert for new material. But new Guides alas are few and far between, albeit for lack of resource rather than subjects.

The dilemma posed by the brevity of popular communications in relation to the complexity of our mission is a recurring issue for OneWorld UK. Our discussions always prompt me to think of a passage in one of Richard Holmes’ volumes of biography of Coleridge. While still at school, the poet was admired for his skill of reciting verbatim two or three pages of a novel after a single reading.

Such is the power of cultural change that it can reprogram our neurological operating system over time. Not that Coleridge was any slouch over the 140 character distance:

Or if the secret ministry of frost
Shall hang them up in silent icicles,
Quietly shining to the quiet Moon.

Now that’s worth following.


this article was first published by OneWorld UK