The Education Democracy has arrived : Guest Post by Bleicke Petersen

Dear Supercool Friends,

following the emotional recapitulation of education from ancient Greece until today.
Thank you Bleicke for this great post!

University 2.0 - The Education Democracy has arrived

Education is king. Parents know it. Politicians bring it up before election. But what they count on as a way to win votes may soon be out of their control.

The Web 2.0 has brought the power to the people. Everyone can now share their stories with the whole world. Show off their pictures. The sheer mass of people connected with each other makes the internet the single most powerful pool of information on the planet.

There is no single person on the internet who knows more than an encyclopedia. But the combined knowledge of millions of users forms the Wikipedia.

No one photographer has snapshots of every conceivable situation in his portfolio. But on flickr, hundreds of thousands of contributors share their pictures, creating a collection so immense there is probably no comparison. At the time of this writing, over 3,000 new photos were being shared every minute.

So the technology enables people all around the world to share whatever they have - facts, photos, anecdotes and music.

But let's take a quick look at the state of education.

The first university, the Academy of Plato, was established around 385 BC in Ancient Greece. Plato, student of Socrates, had realized that while his teacher was a great one, his teachings were being wasted. Socrates' famous method of teaching was one of direct communication with another person. Every time he taught, he would only reach one single student. Surely there had to be a method to teach more than one person at the same time?

Plato founded the classroom. A place where people meet to learn together - from each other. This way, if one were to teach, he could reach an entire group of people. Plato also wrote down the teachings of Socrates, which is the only reason we know about Socrates to these days! Socrates himself never took any notes that we know of. Had it not been for his students writings, Socrates' teachings would be lost forever.

What Plato did for learning, over 2000 years ago, was revolutionary. What was previously a 1-to-1 medium of communication now turned into 1-to-many. And while knowledge was lost the moment it was being spoken, it could now be preserved to last over thousands of years. Generations after the speaker died, people hungry for knowledge could still learn from his ideas.

But what about education today? Everyone wants it, that's for sure.

Parents push their children into the machine that education is today, willing to spend tens of thousands of dollars.
Students sit on the floor in overcrowded classrooms, writing down everything the professor says, afraid to forget.
Politicians publicly fight each other to decide whose methods, curriculums and principles of learning are superior.
Students newly enrolling are put under immense pressure by the fads going around the media: this month you have to study in economics, next month you should become an engineer. Then again training to be a doctor is always a good thing, unless you should go for law.

Other people have no chance to receive any decent education. What about poor kids? Learning these days is expensive. Even if you discard the university fees, living for three to four years without any income doesn't pay for itself. That is, if you find a university teaching what you want to learn. If you live in a country that has an educational system providing these topics. And if your topic of interest happens to be fashionable in said countries politic interests.

Try learning to brew beer in Iran. Try researching an unbiased history of the Third Reich in Germany. Or try to learn something that nobody really gives a shit about - like how to be a good wife and mother.

Somewhere there is a person who desperately wants to know this stuff. Imagine a young woman, married for only a couple of months, not knowing how to cope. Or imagine the history student interested in the topic that a whole generation of grandparents won't talk about. Or imagine the little boy in India who wants to create his own website, but can't even afford to move to a big city with a university.

What if we could extend Platos ideas. Create a classroom for everyone to teach whatever they want, to whomever is interested. Independent of country, age, color, sex or wealth. And, like Plato, let's take record of all the learning that takes place. This way, the knowledge doesn't get lost and can help thousands of other learners who didn't have the chance to be there live. Maybe because they were in another time zone. Maybe because they had to work all day and can only quench their thirst for knowledge in the evening. Or maybe because they were born two thousand years after the learning first took place, just like with Socrates. Wouldn't that be nice?

Today, we have the technology to provide this classroom. Everyone with a connection to the internet can log on to such a virtual community and learn whatever they want. For teaching, one would merely need a microphone and maybe a webcam, so students can hear and see them talk.

Today there is a computer in nearly every home in the developed world, and even people in poor countries have access to the internet by one way or the other.

In this virtual classroom, we can teach things that nobody ever dared teach in a public school. We can teach what no politician ever deemed important enough to put on his curriculum. We can teach what people actually want to learn.

The democracy of information on the internet means that whatever people want, we can give them. And most people who never had the chance to give back to education now realize they can.

A european wife married for twenty years can teach to a new mother in South Africa. A tech-savvy chinese worker can teach programming to an interested grandfather from Australia. A japanese teenager can teach kanji to language students all over the world. And why not record it all, so future learners can benefit from the lesson?

What Plato did for education over 2,000 years ago, we can now multiply a thousand times. Harnessing the power of the virtual classroom, and with it, the power of the people, education is soon to become a Web 2.0 resource like facts are on Wikipedia and photos on flickr.

And once the flood gates are open, education will never be like before.