Education trends (personal thoughts for Big U)

Colleagues at Big U have asked me to take part in a panel discussion this morning on trends and education to present a personal perspective. Perhaps the urgency of the matter is best illustrated by the quoation
“Education spending grew by 14% a year for the past three years and accounted for R140,4 million in 2008/09.”
from the information website of the SA government, on education  (or the archived copy). Of course, they mean “thousand million” or “billion” and not “million” and obviously it was not enough. These are my trends to watch in education over the following decade or so.

  1. Private provision. A recent study funded by the Ford Foundation points to tight restrictions on the provision of private higher education as one of the reasons for the fact that 50% of youth aged 23–24 are not disabled, not in education and not employed. The current higher education system has also failed to advance the current government's “Transformation” programme since the gap between minority students and the rest of the population has been growing over the past decade. Many developing nations (and the USA) have a extensive private provision in tertiary education. In his book The Beautiful Tree, author James Tooley has described the immense impact of private primary and secondary education in India and elsewhere.
  2. Technology. The obliteration of certain kinds of distance by technology will have a continued impact. However, it is not a panacea. A recent study at Duke University among over 150 000 learners, has shown how the introduction of home computers lowered test scores in reading and in mathematics, especially for students from a disadvantaged background.
  3. Cost and quality. There is little doubt that cognitive ability is positively related to economic growth rates. However, international comparisons are now showing the gap between quality and quantity, as measured in years of full-time education. As costs spiral, the public will increasingly ask where the value for money is.
  4. Cognitive science. Will insights about the difference between understanding division for fractions and being able to just to it, inform education in the near future?
I have put some further reading at www.kolmogorov.net/download/edulinks.html.

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