Friday, May 28, 2010

Education Across Borders: Reassessing The Challenges

As I continue to explore the possibilities of a web-delivered model of education, I am faced, all too often, with the question how to 'port' education across the borders. The enquiry is a many-edged one; my exploration is not just taking me into the nuances of curriculum design or certification, and the policy frameworks for education in different settings, but also to the fundamental 'social' nature of education. With the renewed perspective, I would think I have made the transition from a 'publishing' paradigm to the 'education' paradigm, and this is making a significant difference in my thinking.

Let me stop a moment and explain how my thinking has evolved. I started with a bit of wide-eyed wonder for the foreign degrees, and thought of building an efficient system of delivery of education, by which the learners can achieve these degrees without having to leave their home countries. This is, of course, in line with the existing models of online education, and following closely the models like U21. However, this is essentially a supply side perspective. A publisher's perspective, as I mentioned, which makes a business case based on the 'foreign degree' fetish.

The problem with this approach is manifold. First, this is not the real thing. Of the millions of students who travel abroad every year, most travel for the sake of experience and exposure, not just for the degree. The model of online education offers the degree minus the exposure, which is not going to excite the traditional seekers of education much. And, because I was trying to set up a business, which will require a high risk premium given these uncertain financial times, the education provision is not going to be cheap and will not expand the market significantly.

But, above everything else, this will remain a supply side proposition. There is an industrial presumption at the back of this design - we know what is needed - which is not exactly true in a rapidly changing, global world. This model works in the current, home country setting because the colleges were to service an specific economy, a finite area with a defined culture and a requirement which Politicians and policy-makers know about and can help shape. However, the moment that national perspective is taken away, education across borders lose its key relevance, and unless this can be re-framed to be radically learner centered, demand driven, any cross-border provision is likely to fall short.

Quite obviously, technology should facilitate greater flexibility in terms of what can be offered and how learning can be structured. But economics determines the choice and the application of technology, and unless the business model of education, which remains supply centred and not demand driven, is radically transformed, it will always be a challenge to create an education offering which is in tune with the host markets.

While these are all difficult challenges to respond to, and may be it is not possible to successfully negotiate these challenges anyway, one can build the education provision sufficiently building in the host country's social setting in the offering. This is why my current thinking is to work on collaborative programmes, with like-minded colleges in the host countries. The idea is to create a global programme and allow dynamic designing of the content, delivery and social experiences in collaboration with host country partners, as well as within a community of all partners.

The underlying assumption of such an effort will be that all societies are global today, and while an education provision with completely 'foreign' perspective is useless, a completely 'home grown' model is increasingly irrelevant. So, while the learning context must be set by the host community, which the learner will come from, reside in and ultimately be expected to contribute to, this must be done in coherence with the global context and other learning communities.

It is an interesting journey to put such a programme in place. It is easier said than done, because the Academic community has its own power equations and those very real considerations need to be taken into account. However, it is possible, because the need to change is apparent to both learners and educators, and the moment of change - when the traditional assumptions of nationalism, economics and social life are being fundamentally questioned - is now.

2 comments:

mandeep said...

Hi Supriyo
I think that this "globalised economic model of education" has a very direct linkage to corporatisation of education which we are seeing today in bits and pieces. Yoday I am aware of business houses wanting to set up education delivery models backward (or forward) integrating from the needs of the industry.
They typically study and define the skill gaps between what industry needs and what is available as an output from the education model largely controlled by politicians and policy makers.
The curricula, delivery mechanisms, placements etc are then worked out with the objective of meeting these specific requirements thus completing the demand supply equation.
Where "globalisation" will be required is in the field of constant updation of curricula including case studies and delivery mechanisms (including online). In its fully evolved state, this will truly transcend borders and bring like minded learning communities together.
Regards

Supriyo Chaudhuri said...

I am an optimist, at least as far as the redeeming power of technology to shape and push forward human societies are concerned. However, I am not so sure that our abilities to imagine and set up business models are that sophisticated. Lots of cases it is the business model which comes in the way of realizing what would have been possible technologically.

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