Thursday, 22 January 2009

Blogphilosophy: does the international eLearning we provide make the world a poorer place?


Jonathan Gosier who currently lives in Kampala, Uganda has just published a post on singularities of globalization and convergeance.

In his post he says that "Increasingly, people the world over share the same cultural moments. The Presidential Inauguration of U.S.A. President Barrack Obama on Tuesday was among the top events witnessed by more eyes on this planet than ANYTHING ever…in all of human history. This is not only due to the increasing number of methods available to consume media (the Web, Satellite TV, Digital TV, Mobiles etc.) but due to increasingly global nature of everything about us."

I agree with him that the USA is taking over once again. Although I am in favor of the president shift towards Obama, I do feel it is strange - and at the same time very meaningful - that a formality as an inauguration is headline news across the world. I cannot help but think that with Obama the US supremacy in the new world order has become clearer. In my opinion the supremacy of one nation (whatever nation it is or however it is called) is a loss for human diversity, human creativity and human knowledge creation. Do not get me wrong I love the creativity of Americans and their culture, but I also love other cultures and their creativity. This dichotomy in my thinking sometimes gets the better of me when I am asked to be involved in setting up eLearning projects in South countries.

With introducing eLearning in regions that are increasingly investing in technology I tend to feel a bit awkward. Promoting education for all is of course without doubt a good thing. But when that education is not constructed locally or with locally build technology, it makes learners and/or learner providers dependant on outside manufacturers, non-local educational methods and knowledge. For instance, if I am building a course I use software's, although I try to use the open source softwares as much as possible, I am sometimes seduced to working with commercial software for some reason I find valid at that time. So by delivering that type of eLearning courses, I am promoting indirectly the softwares (and supposed necessary connectivity) it needs to be viewed. The methodology used in these courses is also pushed, although other regions might benefit from their long lasting educational methods. By offering courses, regions might be seduced in getting the equipment necessary to follow these courses, so they buy technology that is in most cases sold from other - more dominant - regions. The same with the content. If content or one type of knowledge is pushed, don't we risk losing other valuable knowledge? In certain areas they use medicines from local plants, but if knowledge is pushed that disregards those local medicine techniques, they risk to be lost (just because the pushy knowledge people did not pick that specific knowledge up).
So although I want to promote knowledge, critical thinking, ... I indirectly help big companies from the north to sell their products to the south. So in a way I help to promote a monoculture. And monocultures are bound to fail in the longrun, because it is diversity that keeps all of us fresh and evolving rapidly.

If enabling learning is not a participatory process in which a diversity of methodologies, knowledge, personal insights can be exchanged and build upon, we risk losing the knowledge that is out there, yet not (fully) accounted for. That is one of the reasons why I am a promotor of participatory learning techniques. Nevertheless this doubt of whether or not I am doing the right thing keeps on popping up.

Thankfully I learn a lot from my colleagues in other regions. They come up with great solutions, find new hardware and software solutions that ease my mind, but still. Do we all need to learn the same things in the same world and consume the same things and as such disregard diversity? Is one culture a good solution for us all?

(Cartoon by Nick D Kim, nearingzero.net.)