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Disruptive technology being used to justify privatisation

November 15th, 2011 by Graham Attwell

That technology is a disruptive element in education is hardly a new idea. What perhaps is new is that the disruption is becoming a subject of debate in the popular press and by bloggers outside education technology.

And in the process the debate is being mightily confused, perhaps deliberately. Take, for example, the recent blog entitled ‘Why online education is ready for disruption, now‘, written by online journalist  Courtney Boyd Myers about a talk by Clayton Christensen, who quotes an article by Alvin Tofflers “The Third Wave” at Edutopia.

Tofflers says:

The schools of today are essentially custodial: They’re taking care of kids in work hours that are essentially nine to five — when the whole society was assumed to work. Clearly, that’s changing in our society. So should the timing. We’re individualizing time; we’re personalizing time. We’re not having everyone arrive at the same time, leave at the same time. Why should kids arrive at the same time and leave at the same time?

So far so good. The article goes 0n to document the rise of online education in the USA. And then this is used to slag off Harvard as making no investment in making its teaching better in comparison tot he university of Phoenix, which it claims is investing 200m dollars a year in improving teaching.

Phoenix is always quoted in these articles. And certainly the number of students passing through the university is impressive. According to Advertsing Age:

The school heaps more than $100 million a year into measured media alone and is a highly efficient marketing machine that spends more each year than Cheerios or Tide.

In a field where most old-line universities spend a few million a year at best, the University of Phoenix is an anomaly for its approach to both education and marketing. It’s the country’s largest private university, with more than 400,000 students and 230 campus and learning-center locations. Its parent, Apollo Group, posted more than $3.1 billion in revenue during fiscal 2008 (Phoenix represents about 95% of Apollo’s net revenue).

In the interview Chrsitensen goes on to compare teachers with the Luddite movement in the UK, popularly regarded as a metaphor for resisting technology. What is not pointed out was that the Luddites were protesting aginst lack of jobs due tot he introduction iof technology, not against technology itself.

The article continues:

The rise of online education could effectively render terrible teachers redundant, while bolstering the careers of talented educators. There’s a word for this; it’s progress

How these terrible teachers are identified is not clear, or indeed why they are so terrible, nor indeed for the assertion “Human beings with the best education tend to do the best in the marketplace.”

However that word ‘marketplace’ is revealing. The privatisation of education is being presented as progress, as inevitable progress driven by disruptive technologies. Its a lie. And is not good for anybody, except for advertising agencies and private corporations.

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