The challenge of connected learning

Schermata 2016-04-01 alle 11.32.01In our connected world, even learning shall become more connected. Education cannot stay behind progress and should instead follow innovation, be more integrated and accessible to most people.

More than 180,000 people actually live in Kakuma refugee camp north-west Kenya, over 800 km far from the capital Nairobi. As reported in an article published on Chronicle of Higher Education, students who live in refugee camps hardly make it to traditional university. For this reason, the University of Geneva established within the camp InZone, a learning hub in which students are tutored online with high-quality, but-low-cost, post-secondary education – the cost is 300$ a year per student and there are no extra living costs because students are living with their families.

The lab is covered with solar panels to power the computers and the air-conditioning system, vital for the learners but also important for maintaining computers in the extreme climate of these lowlands where temperatures can exceed 40 degrees during dry months. Of course, there is work to do. The available seats in the lab are not enough for all the students in the camp who are willing to take courses and it is distant from the other sides of the camp, making it difficult for students, especially for girls who are worried about security, to reach it safely.

Fewer than 1% of refugees of university-going age are currently having access to higher education worldwide. There is plenty of scope for connected learning then, which means gathering students in a real place but teaching them through online courses, allowing them to have an education they could not receive otherwise. Furthermore, making students meet “in person” brings the advantage – so far, exclusively for traditional university – of personal interaction and idea sharing, keeping costs low and accessible.

The idea of connected learning is far from remote, even in affluent countries. It rethinks learning and leverages the strength points of the two educational poles apparently challenging each other: traditional and digital education. Since the beginning of the MOOC era, the polarity of these two tendencies seemed clear, as two elements unable to co-exist. However, they can integrate powerfully and effectively, strengthening each other.

Education is a right, a collective good and not a privilege restricted to some people. The Europe 2020 targets for education require each country member of the EU to reach the baseline of 40% of graduated population by 2020. With its current 22%, Italy can reasonably reach no more than 27%. The innovation in this field needs, above all, the connections we will be able to establish: between school and university, between university and the labour market, between people and opportunities.

There is work to do, here too. But in the words of Jean Paul Sartre: “revolution is not a matter of merit, but of efficacy, and there is no heaven. There is work to do, and that’s all”.

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