Is there a crisis in education? Can technology help solve it?
University applications by UK students have dropped by 1% according to figures released by UCAS last week. More students are being put off by the tripling of tuition fees to £9000 per year and the prospect of leaving with over 40k worth of debt before even starting their careers.
In light of this the NUS and other organisations are constantly trying to improve what are termed 'access' rates at Higher Education institutions. Access is about encouraging and enabling students from non-traditional backgrounds, such as those from low socio-economic groups, care leavers and people who are the first in their families to attend University, into studying for a degree.
Some Universities are fantastic at this, with places like the London School of Economics awarding on average £6k to their post-graduates, meaning finance is less of a barrier. However Oxford and Cambridge's student population is still overwhelmingly those who have come from private fee-paying schools. But what does this mean for the current climate within education?
I think it brings a requirement for more accessible and practical forms of learning. The internet has been called an 'open democracy' due to its capacity for providing platforms for free thought and free speech. Similarly, the internet has also brought knowledge into the homes of the masses (as long as they know how to Google) like nothing before it. New technologies can be the ultimate leveler in access to education. Online platforms providing information, skill sharing and tutorials can be reached from anywhere on the globe and are non-selective in who has access. They can also be far less expensive than most courses at Universities or training centers. On the flip-side of this, admittedly the experience of the learning and the boarder benefits of attending a physical course are somewhat compromised.
It seems to me that over the next few decades, as technology advances and education becomes more diverse in what it provides, from apprenticeships to degrees, it is technology that can ensure everyone has the opportunity to learn. Most people won't go through the doorways of Oxbridge, I certainly never will, but the vast majority have their own computer and this can be the new, far more open, gateway to achieving educational or training wants and needs.
Recently, I started a new project, Jewelry From Home. It's very much an experiment and in its embryonic stages. Jewelry From Home is essentially a website that offers courses on jewellery making, providing a lengthy video tutorial (by an expert tutor in the field) and course notes to go with it. The video is bought by the student and is forever theirs, accompanying them as they make and create, helping to guide each piece. I'm interested in seeing how greater appetite there is for this type of educational technology. If this way of learning is going to bring skills to those who want to learn, but might not for mobility or financial reasons, have the ability to visit the London Jewellery School or an arts institution, why shouldn't there be courses still available to meet these access needs? I hope it does facilitate people who may not otherwise learn new techniques and skills, but for many who are well practiced at jewellery making it will simply be a few hours of productive fun or a brushing up on techniques.
Could this kind of platform work with other areas, beyond the arts world? Quite possibly. There are many free 'how to' videos or filmed lectures online, but rarely are they both by experts and curated in such a way as to ensure a quality learning experience. In the future, as education relies ever increasingly on technology, its exciting to think about the new ways people will be able to develop their abilities and the doors this could open up.
We all know that online learning will never be quite the same experience as attending a course, but for those who can't, using technology as a way to level the playing field and improve access to education is revolutionary, and a focus I am sure we can all get behind.