Recent figures regarding the state of the nation’s education system have raised concerns in the US. Most of the new jobs in the coming decade require more than a high school education, but less than 50 per cent of Americans under the age of 30 have a college degree of any kind. This is compounded by the fact that recent cutbacks in Federal spending mean less money for education, further complicating the situation.
Faced with this scenario, a number of non-profit foundations are looking at ways to address the issue. Foremost among these are the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, along with four others. These have come together to launch an ambitious initiative to tackle the issue, using online learning tools. Using a core fund of $20 million, courses will be created for community colleges and those attended by students from low-income families.
The effectiveness of technology in delivering teaching is still being debated, with researchers claiming that better teachers and fewer students make of a more impactful teaching experience. If technology is well-designed, it can help tailor the learning experience to individual students, facilitate student-teacher collaboration, and assist teachers in monitoring student performance each day and in quickly fine-tuning lessons.
The technology benefits improve with the age group of students being catered to, and higher education has a number of projects based on this premise. The new initiative, Next Generation Learning Challenges, focuses on the college years. It is looking for innovative tools that can be developed and shared across networks of colleges. The grants, for $250,000 to $750,000 each, are intended to scale up such efforts, so they become self-sustaining. With technology improving to a point where this is made possible, program members say it is perfect to meet the gap in education delivery, especially for cash-strapped colleges that have an incentive in trying online tools. The tools will help them prepare larger number of students for an economy that requires highly skilled workers more than ever.
Research has shown that the hybrid version of teaching takes lesser time than a traditional class, but the retention levels of learning of the former are the same or sometimes higher than the latter. The program’s supporters look to these initiatives as tools to leverage teachers rather than to replace them.
The tools are considered especially useful as means of delivering technical skills to various categories most importantly the low-income set. The Gates and Hewlett foundations worked closely with four other education nonprofits in creating the initiative: Educause, the Council of Chief State School Officers, League for Innovation in the Community College and International Association for K-12 Online Learning.