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4 economic essay's on future education
Sophie van de Kerkhof
The essays this week are about economic case studies that look into the field of
education. Everybody needs education to get a job, feed themselves and their children
and to grow as a human being. But the way education is spread around the world is not
always correct. There are high costs for enrollment at universities, people do not have
money to put children in school or there are no possibilities getting a computer and internet
to connect to education. Other things are the high initial costs of new technologies and
new teaching and learning methods and the education of teachers.
The following four short essays will discuss four case studies concerning economic
aspects of education.
Nikki has written a piece on the digital divide and the One Laptop per Child program.
Charly has discussed the costs of new educational methods. Sophie looks into the
economic consequences of an online open source database of knowledge. Pieter-Jan is
discussing the future personalized education.
Please feel free to comment on these essays on our blog!
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The OLPC Program and its Economic Potential
Nikki Kamps 310850
In this short essay I wish to explore the connection between economic development in
third world countries and digital learning. For this I will use the example of Nicholas
Negroponte’s OLPC Program.
It has often been pointed out by sociologists like Karl Marx en Pierre Bourdieu that you
need money to make money. Those at the top remain at the top and it is extremely difficult
to make it there when you’re from more humble descent. According Bourdieu, the upper
class sustains itself by passing not only economic capital, but also cultural and social
capital on from one generation to the other. Their children have much better chances at
making it big. This, according to Bourdieu, partly explains why children with a higher class
background do better in schools (Bourdieu, 1986).
Now, I assume that Bourdieu is talking about the upper-lower class distinction within
continental Europe. But what if we, in the spirit of the global village, take this analogy
further. Most of the inhabitants of third world countries would represent the lower class.
Inhabitants of countries that are more well off (the Netherlands and also to some extent
the United States) are the upper class. The economic fortune of the upper class creates
opportunities for the inhabitants of first world countries. Because their children are much
more likely to receive a good education, the economic fortune and therefore the prosperity
remains in the same place. Those living in third world countries are left in a negative spiral.
The possibility of a good education would give third world countries the opportunity to
create their own prosperity. However, money is needed for education. Not just for schools
and books, but also for infrastructure and the means for children to reach the school. Also,
children are often expected to work in order to help feed their families, the opportunity cost
of the time used to educate children is simply too high.
Digital learning could play a vital role in turning this around. The One Laptop per Child
project of Nicholas Negroponte is a great example of this. By offering laptops to children
who would otherwise not have the means to get an education he creates opportunities for
them to improve their own economic situation when they are older. As Negroponte says
himself: “What children lack is not capability, it is opportunity and resources”.
By making technology accessible to children of third world countries, Negroponte offers
the children opportunities to educate themselves. With its emphasis on individual learning,
it also solves the opportunity cost problem. Children can now learn on their own time. It
also eliminates the need for spending any money on books.
We believe that digital learning can have a positive impact on all learning environment, but
initiatives like that of Negroponte shows that it can really make great strides towards
improvement in the most unlikely of places. It can create opportunities that before were
hardly imaginable. With a chance at an education comes a chance to better one’s life. This
also constitutes a strong connection between digital learning and possible economic
development in third world countries.
Several TED video’s on Nicholas Negroponte’s project: http://www.ted.com/search?
The website of the OLPC program:
Bourdieu, P. 1986. "The forms of capital", in J.C. Richardson, The handbook of theory and
research for the sociology of education, Greenwood Publishing Group.
Costs of new education
Charly Rozenberg 295682
What about the economic aspects of the production of new goods for digital education. It is
a question that in my opinion is quite often not asked because we all want to see a
beautiful future for education with great opportunities, but without wanting to think about
the costs and investments it needs.
The demand for new means of education through new technologies creates a
opportunity for universities and institutions alike to become competitors in a world where
we all need to keep on learning. Digital technologies and improvements change the way
students are taught and are becoming a threat to traditional universities. Demand for a
new way of education, costs structures and new technologies that are implemented
(Hanna, 1998: p. 66) will create “competitive advantages sought by universities who are
experimenting with new models include responsiveness, access, convenience, and quality
at a reduced cost for students.” (Hanna, 1998: p. 91)
An article by Josh Catone (http://mashable.com/2009/07/24/education-social-
media/) shows a similar story where people can subscribe to services through social
media websites to educate themselves. Three examples are given: “The university of
people”, “Opencourseware” and “Free textbooks”
All three examples talk about diminishing marginal costs when spreading digital
content. With a Creative Commons license in place, content can be used for non-
commercial use, in this case for education. Initial costs are high because of the production
of a lecture or class, but the cost of spreading knowledge will be very to low to zero.
A first critique to these new ways of education is that people need computers. And
computers can be expensive. The costs of new technologies that need to be brought in a
class room are piling up (new beamers, computers, internet connections). Another cost is
the education of the teachers. With the improvement of technologies, teachers need to be
brought up to speed with new teaching methods to use the full potential of new media.
Secondly, the quality can be very different of new media than that of the traditional
education methods. Everybody can share there thoughts and there meanings, but learning
from a real professor with textbooks and literature of an established academic level is still
the standard within the realm of education.
I myself am a huge fan of new digital ways to learn new things. I like gadgets, I grew
up with the internet and I use the digital highway as my personal encyclopedia. The
coming of the new digital era to the university is for me a logical step which I think is very
good. But we all need to stay critical of the means by which this digitalization is
implemented in the curriculum of the education programs. As said, first costs are
very high for changing the methods and secondly, quality standards have to be
secured in order to keep a high level of academic research for the future.
Catone, J., 2009, July 24th. In the Future, the Cost of Education Will Be Zero.
Hanna, D., 1998. Higher Education in an Era of Digital Competition:Emerging
Organizational Models. JALN, Vol. 2, Issue 1, March 1998, p 66-95.
So we’re not making money,
we’re making education
Sophie van de Kerkhof – 324062
In my essay I will look at the consequences of an online open source database of
knowledge. There are off course consequences for the publishing industry, for educational
institutions, authors and lecturers. There will be positive as well as negative consequences
concerning these digital developments. I chose this subject for my essay because of a
presentation I found on ted.com. It’s a presentation from a researcher from Rice University
who has set up a project called Connexions. I think it’s a great project that shows great
similarities with what we developed last week for an assignment where we had to think of
peer production of educational content in the future. But after watching the presentation on
Connexions I immediately had questions about the economic consequences of this
On the website of Connexion I found some definitions of the project to make you
understand how it works: ‘ C onnexions is an environment for collaboratively developing,
freely sharing, and rapidly publishing scholarly content on the Web. Our content commons
contains educational materials for everyone —from children to college students to
professionals —organized in small modules that are easily connected into larger
collections or courses. All content is free to use and reuse under the Creative Commons
"attribution" license’ (Connexions, 2009).
So right now there are big publishing companies that publish textbooks on various
subjects. They work with authors who write these books and when they are finished,
students and teachers just have to buy this book (for a lot of money) and they have to deal
with the content of the book available. But when all the information from textbooks will be
available online through Connexions there will be negative and positive economic
consequences for publishers and for authors. On the other hand there are only positive
consequences for students and teachers.
So the process of a textbook written by a single author will change into community
authored materials. People still like to have the information touchable in book-form; so on
demand publishing will be the next step. This is a very inexpensive way compared to
classically published textbooks. These personalised, on demand published books, operate
in the long tail. Only a few books with the same content will be bought, so these books will
not become ‘bestsellers’ such as Harry Potter. A consequence is that there will not be
made a million dollars on a particular book. But the on demand publishers, or Amazon for
example, will make money on all the different personalised books together. So the
eventual seller will make money (Amazon or Coop) but the middlemen is totally cut out in
this process. So there is a direct line from costumer, a student or teacher, to the seller. No
intermediaries. These intermediaries deal with negative economic consequences of this
project. They probably have to change their profession and focus on this new way of
In the end the educational information will become cheaper, easier available and probably
qualitatively better because it is perfectly adapted to what a student needs or want to
learn. It also like ‘Minksy's dream come to a reality, where you can imagine all the books in
a library actually starting to talk to each other. It's the interconnections between ideas that
teaching is really all about’ (Baraniuk, 2009). So in the end these students will be have a
better education what in the end will benefit the economy. Let’s hope that this new way of
providing content to students and teachers does not make teachers unnecessary. I think
it’s still important to keep the interaction between students and teachers, because talking
and discussing subjects is also a good way of thinking critically and really understand the
So when all the teachers, scientist or other people contribute to this huge
knowledge database they probably do this because they want to make their knowledge
available to others in order to get education to a higher level. These contributors are
intrinsically motivated to do this, it’s a social benefit rather than an economic benefit.
Because of the creative commons licence they are assured that no other will commercially
use and benefit from their comment without attributing the author. But this does not mean
that the author will automatically earn money with contributing to the database.
What we’re doing by helping to build these kinds of knowledge databases is actually
not making money, but making education. In the end it will benefit everyone if education is
of high quality and globally accessible.
Connexions. Website van het project Connexions van Rice University. www.cnx.org.
Richard Baraniuk’s presentation for TED on open-source learning.
Future personalized education
Pieter-Jan Oddens 316393
With the introduction of the world wide web to a mass audience, the function of internet
was at first sight described as a new form of media that provided new communication tools
for common people. Media studies described investments in technology, leading fast
growing parts of the internet, as a mere economic happening. Websites that provided
commercial goods and information, grew much faster than other web branches. These
commercial enterprises yielded money to invest in more web development and thus
technological prosperity. By the year 2000 almost all self-respecting business companies
saw the opportunity to go online, created their own web-space and communicated in a
commercial matter (Lister, M: 2009).
Today, information providing websites, like for instance Youtube, use updated
technology to provide the huge demand of output to millions of viewers each day.
Companies that were once founded as an altruistic collaboration to launch new
creativeness, are now faced with huge money investments and branding to keep up to
technological standard (Ots, M: 2008). Commercial business plans are used to keep up
further research and future maintenance. My question is; How can this technological effort
be used for education?
In means of education, a result of new technology called open source software is paving
the way towards future education. Open source software enables the user to use the
software freely. In return one can choose to contribute by providing user information to the
developer. With providing this information the developer can improve the software without
Combined with a new social media platform called XML, open source software and
social networking can provide students all over the world to personalize their demanded
pieces of learning material in a chosen language. This enables students living in poor and
isolated countries to get educated and gain progress (Baraniuk, R: 2006). The One Laptop
Per Child program, used in parts of South-America, is a practical example of this theory.
By giving children laptops you enable them to shake off isolation and make them start
learning (OLPC program: 2009).
Quality of content and artistic ownership are still a problem in this new development.
People without ownership will freely use content and copy it. Quality and ownership must
be controlled by agreeing to user agreements. This sets the rights to the owner, so every
modification on the content is also property of the owner.
The ongoing processes of media development considers a large investment of time, effort
and money. This investment includes research, development and control. The economic
process of free market is needed to attract new investors to contribute to new technology
investments. Commercial benefits must also be tolerated. Altruistic ideas are good for
developing social media theory, but money investments are still needed to realize new
technology. Education can benefit from these technological opportunities and leap to future
Lister, M. et al. 2009: New Media, second edition. London: Routledge
Ots, M. (2008). Media and Brands: New Ground to Explore. Jönköping: JIBS