Friday, June 28, 2013

One Laptop Per Child News report on a downturn of their success

Since 2009, I've been following quite closely what's happened with 1:1 computing initiatives. One reason of course was that I managed a large-scale implementation in Europe on netbooks and I needed to know what's working in the field and what not. The OLPC project was always something that was an inspiration, but also to a certain degree, a worry.

With our project, we really quickly realised that although both projects were working on enabling students' access to ICT devices, our goals were rather different. Whereas the OPLC project was about reading, writing and arithmetic (i.e. replace bad teachers or the lack of teachers in general), our project was not about substituting teachers, but about changing pedagogical models in schools.

In a recent article on OLPC news, the downturn of OLPC was discussed. I found the following passage an interesting remark which fits with our own feelings of OLPC - it was always hard to find any supporting evidence for their really appealing storyline.

The underlying core issue was - and continues to be - that OLPC never bothered to invest in building supportive evidence for its own narrative about the impact of its work. This makes it easy to (rightfully or wrongfully) criticize the project and gives OLPC precious few solid arguments to counter with. - See more

Sunday, June 02, 2013

Can German dual-education system become an export item?

The PISA study is often used to evaluate the success of a national education system - something that makes every Finn (e.g. me) very proud of our education system. But how do we know that the PISA study is evaluating the right thing? The fact that the youth unemployment figures hit high numbers in many European countries begs the question - are the national education systems providing the youth with right skills to survive in today's and tomorrow's world? And on the other hand, is the labour market doing its part to provide jobs for the youth? 

The Economist had an article on the topic, namely, it looked at the dual-education system in some of the European countries:
With youth unemployment in Germany and Austria below 8% against 56% in Spain and 38% in Italy, Mrs von der Leyen [Germany’s labour minister] has won Europe’s attention. Germany recently signed memoranda with Greece, Italy, Latvia, Portugal, Slovakia and Spain to help set up vocational-education systems. 

Interestingly, we do not hear often talks about German's education system in conjunction with the PISA results ( results in 2009 were not statistically significantly different from the OECD average, but read this one for more). But when the youth unemployment is discussed, Germany is often mentioned with its below EU average rate.
The myth of an educational paradise also starts to crumble when we take a look at the job market: In October 2010 Finland had a youth unemployment rate at 20 per cent. (a quote from this paper)

The Economist's article offers some interesting insights and recent studies in the field, but also points to a sort of a warning at the end against the idea that the education system alone can do miracles:
Yet the system existed in the 1990s, when Germany was the “sick man of Europe” and had high unemployment. German success today surely owes more to its labour-market and welfare reforms of a decade ago and to unions’ wage restraint. In an ageing and shrinking population, demography also helps, as fewer German graduates choose among more open jobs.