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What Happens When We Get to 1 to 10 Million?

It seems not so long ago when our discussions around 1:1 were focused on individual schools that were seeking to pioneer the possibilities technology-richness might provide for our young people.

We were looking for individual teachers possessed by a passion for the possibilities; individual hero leaders driven to explore new boundaries, and individual educational leaders who had seen a glimpse of what universal access could mean for their young people. It was as far from scale as anyone could imagine, with the focus firstly on sustainability, supporting the champions, driven by the impact of what others saw happening in these isolated classrooms and schools.

But it worked.

What started in one school, became two then ten, then states, countries and soon scale became a real possibility. Maine crossed new boundaries as a whole state bought in, and before long we saw Portugal, Uruguay and many more whole countries catch the contagion of 1:1.

It now seems almost surreal, while at the same time very real; that forty years after the idea, twenty years after the seed was planted, we are at a point that at one time was simply a dream. Current best estimates from educational and industry leaders I spoke with during the BETT week in the UK suggest that by the end of 2011 we will see more than ten million young people in K-12 with their own personal portable computers in 1:1 initiatives across more than 30 countries around the world.

So it’s time to celebrate….or is it?

When so many people measure success in numbers we can also easily be mislead into thinking that big numbers matter, and in one sense they do. Finally after all this time, and through the efforts of so many, the notion of universal access is accepted as inevitable, an obligation and, in the words of the President of Uruguay, the Right of every child. But now, the time when all seems ‘won’ is the very time for us to focus, focus, focus.

Over coming months you will hear and see a lot more talk around young people, laptops and 1:1, but listen carefully, because now is the time when we have to drive the focus of everyone’s conversations beyond very big numbers like ten million. The next challenge we will face, inevitably, will be the backlash from a failure to meet expectations, because for many of the emerging large scale 1 :1 initiatives, there has been an alarming failure to define reasonable and achievable expectations. While I’ve always been one to champion universal access in the most trying of circumstances, it’s only been successful when expectations have been set accordingly, and most importantly there is a realistic program to develop the necessary support structures that will create success.

What does it mean if a country decides to commit to a 1:1 program for its 1.5 million young people so they can develop 21st Century skills?...I know it sounds good, and I think many AALF colleagues are fully aware of the implications of such thinking…but what about everyone else?...what about the broader mass of parents and the wider community…and dare I say it, journalists who are left to make their own interpretation of how giving a child a laptop will enable them to be ‘21st Century Literate’?

An even bigger problem is time; most countries think in election cycles, and no matter how committed your educational leaders may be, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and all the young Romans won’t become 21st century learners between elections- so let’s start people thinking more realistically about the time for the impact to become seriously effective, and most importantly, identifiable.

Additionally in the rush to announce big numbers, too many have failed to put in place some of the fundamentals that respected colleagues within the AALF community have come to know only too well.

We’ve tried to provide a basic framework with our 21 Steps program which we developed with Education Queensland, which takes care of the essentials that are too often overlooked in the rush to fulfill political promises. But many of the large scale initiatives that are being announced as election promise pay lip service to such process; the ‘drop laptops from helicopters” approach is becoming increasingly common; sadly.

So we are at a critical point and we cannot afford to loose either our nerve or our focus; we talk of educational transformation being a marathon not a sprint, well now we will be tested.

Just because we hear of the big numbers we all once dreamed of, don’t believe we have won; this is a much longer event than 20, or even 40 years, and we need to be both resilient and focused if we are to see the outcome our young people truly deserve.

….as always, I’m very interested in your thoughts…

Best regards,

March 8th, 2011 @ 3:04PM | 0 Comments | Post a Comment