By Madeleine White, educationalist, writer and Head of Strategic Partnerships, Whizz Education.
I love books. The sense that I am holding something that belongs to me is precious - even down to the physical smell. This sense of ownership was extreme in my teenage years. I refused to lend anyone my books - somehow they were a part of me. Now, in my forties, and after years of exposure to shared, digital information and content via the internet (and more lately my Kindle), this has relaxed. I do still need something though, that validates my personal experience of this acquisition of knowledge. Sharing my thoughts by blogging and writing goes some way towards making this happen - however, I still feel slightly adrift. At an event I attended last week it suddenly struck me that other people might feel the same. The topic under discussion was ‘the competitive market for digital content providers’. The need for ‘knowledge ownership’ was only referenced in terms of the attachment that many educational purchasers have to physical books. The concept was not addressed at all within a digital landscape. This mirrored discussions I had had during my visit to Iraq around educational strategy and procurement decisions.
Put another way, a lovely new textbook one can physically hold, implies the potential of knowledge in a way that information presented on screen just doesn’t. Even if we don’t yet know the contents of a book, the fact that we can hold it presupposes future acquisition of – or even a right to - that knowledge. Digitalisation of content, especially when it is then shared via the internet, creates a completely different experience. Even though this medium offers a much wider repository (as opposed to the pages of a printed book) knowledge can no longer be owned in the same way. This is a radical shift and has far-reaching consequences as it supposes parity, i.e. all participants are shareholders in each other’s experience of - and access to - knowledge. In this brave new world for example, although his knowledge and experience is valued, an Oxford Don has no more or less of an important role than, say, young Malala Yousufzai from Pakistan. This teenage girl, shot by the Taliban a few months ago, is an equally important contributor to the overall pool of experience and knowledge. The same goes for the CEO looking for a workforce able to manifest his vision, the worker who cleans his building or indeed the teacher who facilitates both learning and a desire to learn.
This is completely contrary to the historical educational paradigm – which is essentially elitist. In this model ownership is retained by the few who then disseminate the commodity (in this case knowledge) in a controlled way, with ‘top down’ rewards. The right qualifications lead to the right university. A top degree leads to a top job, knowing the right people will get you to the right places… This has always worked in the past and many would argue it still does. However, the significant drawback is the limit that this model places upon the pool of human resource that can be drawn upon. This is particularly apparent when set against the almost infinite talent that exists when factors such as geography, gender or economic resource are not factored in.
What does this have to do with ownership of knowledge? The model above applies if knowledge is a commodity - in which case the scarcer it is, the more value it has.
However, in a world which sees a population increase of 150 every minute this paradigm is no longer sustainable. Making something freely available also has its pitfalls though, as it is often perceived as worthless. This is where the sea change comes in; today value is starting to be given to the vehicle which leads to scalable transfer and sharing of knowledge. Good educational technology makes innovative use of content and tools that are free. This is a service. Recognising the value of this service by commoditising it, drives the knowledge economy and allows us to make the most of human capital on a global scale. By delivering content, reporting usage and then communicating the return on investment, Educational Technology makes the sharing and transfer of knowledge sustainable. This reflects the fact that knowledge is the sum of all parts, as are we.
I will be chairing a panel which explores the role of the private sector in creating a sustainable education and skills pipeline. Hosted by the Middle East Association on 27th February in London, this event features many high profile speakers from both business and government sectors, including Rt Hon Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean, Salah Khalil founder of the Alexandra Trust, Hiwa Jwanroyi, Director of Education and Cultural Affairs, Kurdistan Regional Government in the UK and corporate representatives, including Accenture. This will be the first in a series of three events and focus on Building Human Capacity in MENA. Please join us!
Madeleine White is Head of Strategic Partnerships for Whizz Education. A former teacher and mother of, 3 she is passionate about education, communication and CSR and has written extensively around her experiences.
Since starting in 2004, Whizz Education’s mission has been to raise standards in Maths. Maths-Whizz is used by thousands of 5-13 year olds in 8 countries, with major growth coming from the USA, the Middle East and Russia. By mid-2013, Maths-Whizz is expected to have launched and rolled out into 10 markets. To support this model of sustained, positive growth, Maths-Whizz is supported by Whizz Education offices in London, Seattle and Dubai. Additional support is provided through authorised international partners. Whizz Education is looking forward to other international market entries in 2013 and always welcomes strong partner approaches to support further international expansion.