Getting to a Quality Education is more than reading, writing and arithmetic
by Lisa Glenn, New Global Citizens
Given the recent focus on for-profit, digitally-focused schools such as Bridge International Academies, there has been a good deal of conversation about how we can provide students in underserved areas with instructional resources using the internet and digital tools. In the US, we have continued to see the advent of digital tools as the solution to all educational disparities. The challenge with these tools is the same challenge facing any other kind of resource. A desk can be a wonderful, inspiring workplace or a depressing, dilapidated pile of timber, depending on how it is used. Digital resources are not a panacea, but only a tool, used for specific purposes and in specific situations. Our focus must be on not only tools, but also on long-term solutions in order to achieve a high-quality global education for all students.
As we advocate for universal education, we must remember that more is included in education than reading, writing and arithmetic, although those skills are certainly important. We’ve seen education opportunities extended to so many across the world, and so we must now begin to advocate for high-quality education for all. The challenge comes in determining what a high-quality education looks like beyond those fundamental skills.
When you ask educators why they began teaching, they often say that they wanted to help their students to make a difference in the world. They wanted to teach students to think critically, be creative, and to work collaboratively. This is echoed by many companies and organizations, as reported by Dr. Tony Wagner in The Global Acheivement Gap. What companies require from students isn’t just raw knowledge, but skills and competencies--abilities which may or may not be included in basic teaching apps.
“...the global achievement gap, as I’ve come to call it,” says Wagner, is “the gap between what even our best suburban, urban, and rural public schools are teaching and testing versus what students will need to succeed as learners, workers, and citizens in today’s global knowledge economy.” This “global achievement gap” is often overlooked when compared with the challenges of providing basic educational resources to the masses, but now that we are so much closer to the goal of universal primary education for all children, we must begin to consider the quality of education over its simple existence.
Digital resources and online education systems can be good models if they are teaching students to think critically, to become innovators, and to artfully solve conflict. While reading, writing, and arithmetic will be a large part of this kind of education, so will collaborative learning strategies, the arts, cultural learning, and digital citizenship. Online resources will not bridge the entire gap. We will need high-quality digital resources as well as professional capacity building for teachers, high-quality facilities and infrastructure support, and community development in order to achieve high-quality education for all.
We like to talk about education as the silver bullet. But no longer is it true that the simple ability to read, to do math, or to write a letter will enable students to take on the global economy. Learners must have so many more tools at their disposal in order to have the kind of success that their predecessors got just from learning how to read or write. As a result, providing only basic educational services will only succeed in perpetuating an ever-widening achievement gap. We must all fight tirelessly to see the day when all youth receive a high-quality education.
Lisa Glenn is the Director of Programs at New Global Citizens.