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Megan Summers

Impact Entrepreneurship Group

TEDCRED 500+

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Is the internet, not formal education, the new great equalizer?

Education then, beyond all other devices of human origin, is the great equalizer of the conditions of men, the balance-wheel of the social machinery. – Horace Mann

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  • Oct 7 2011: These questions always strike me as bizarre and myopic. They are so self-centic to those of us who live and work amongst the poorest people of the world. What relevance does this false dichotomy, this binary between the internet and formal education, have to us? None. In Timor-Leste, according to the governments' latest statistics, 90% of the population use firewood for cooking, almost 70% live in serious to extreme poverty and less than 0.2%, mainly government workers and NGOs, have internet connections. Great equalizer huh? The great equalizer is feeding starving people, demanding access to decent health conditions, protecting the poor from exploitation and so on. Please try not to fetishize a technology that is overwhelmingly servicing an elite few and is most often the province of chatter with little real impact As we say here 'talk does not cook rice'.
    • Oct 7 2011: I agree with the sentiment here. These types of discussions highlight to me how educated, middle-class Americans are, by and large, so out of touch with the economic and sub-cultural reality of not just the world outside the U.S., but much of own citizens. We need to focus on first things, first. Water, sanitation, basic nutrition are still not part of the equation for billions on this planet.
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      Oct 7 2011: anyway i think that internet access exists even in poor areas. But the Internet does not address their problems.
      There are places to learn math or quantum mechanics, but I am not aware of a place to learn how to grow food in a dry area or how to get a microcredit.
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      Oct 7 2011: I'm repeating myself here, but check out the "Hole in the Wall School." If this were put into place (from donor computers), maybe the people would only be dependent on Western NGOs for a generation or two instead of much longer. They can learn about farming and microcredit on the internet, I think our money would be well spent putting these "Hole in the Wall" computers into villages and letting the education spread organically. Why not have privileged Americans raise money for water pumps, farming, AND donate computers and money for the internet. That way they could have clean water and eventually learn to maintain it themselves. Let the kids lead the way. This isn't an either/or proposition; if Western schools each adopted a village (and enjoyed the relationships and cultural exchange this would allow), we could very quickly drastically increase the literacy rate in a few generations AND being working on the problems you mention. And thank you for the work you are doing.
      • Oct 8 2011: Stephanie, thanks for your comment. I know the Hole in the Wall people. We a struggling at the moment with a prior basic - electricity. About 82% of Timorese do not have access to electricity. Solar power is coming slowly, donating and installing would be a magnificent help before or at the same time as computers. Generators are most often highly polluting, difficult to maintain and of course develop a cycle of debt - money for the petrol or diesel. Its solar power kits and computers that are needed, ideally together but if not solar kits first for my money.
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      Oct 7 2011: @Richard: Ummm...this discussion is not for 3rd world people without access to the Internet, so calling it myopic or self-centric IS bizarre. Of COURSE it's irrelevant to those living without the basics of climate control and (fairly) reliable electicity and microwave dinners and filtered water available on tap--or in bottles from the supermarket. This discussion isn't for those folks any more than a discussion of the relative dangers of cholera vs. malaria or leprosy vs. the plague are applicable to most of us here in America. Those folks are not going to "catch up" with the industrialized or information-based economies of the rest of the world no matter how much education OR Internet access we provide--at least, not in my lifetime. To those of us writing from comfy chairs with laptops over wireless connections sipping a non-fat, low-foam Chai Tea Latté (with a splash of Pumpkin Spice!) in Starbucks, however, the discussion is very relevant. I've heard a lot of rumblings, lately, about the lessened value of formal education, and how it has a reduced and lengthened time to recoup the ROI, and a lot of sage, elder folks are giving advice to young folks about the alternative educations available, like vocational schools and such. But I'll tell you this: as a society, we still respect (and for our leaders, we EXpect) those degrees. Consequently, the difference in where you will end up in life with and without a degree is going to remain large for quite some time, Internet or no. Further, the most valuable things I learned at school during my years of formal education were NOT the knowledge itself (most of which has a shelf-life and hard expiration date) but my learning about a larger world through encounters with people from other cultures, my skills at time management and prioritization, the moral and ethical guidance from my instructors, the ability to organize thoughts and speak and interact with my fellow students, teachers and those I mentored along the way.
      • Oct 8 2011: Ummm Thomas.... a conversation point about people who don't have access to internet because of poverty is not relevant to you, your laptop and your armchair, and by extension others? You do them a disservice, read their comments.

        Your statement "This discussion isn't for those folks any more than a discussion of the relative dangers of cholera vs. malaria or leprosy vs. the plague are applicable to most of us here in America" is tragically self-centred. Look around you.There are people FROM ALL OVER THE WORLD commenting about situations in both the 'developed' and 'underdeveloped' worlds. Must an issue discussed here only be for "most of us here in America"! Are you a site administrator?

        Re your "cholera vs. malaria" comment. Sure some health issues don't affect you and me directly, like malaria, which isn't a problem where I am from - Australia. However I happen to believe, alongside millions of others, that just because a problem doesn't touch me directly, it doesn't mean I shouldn't or can't discuss, care, donate, advocate, take action and so on. To do otherwise would be the very definition of myopia, also known as nearsightedness.

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