Debating Education: Oxford 2.0 style

The Economist has taken the initiative to start a debate series. In the series, a range of topics will be debated in the Oxford 2.0 style. The first topic being debated is… Education. And you can decide on the topic that’s being discussed.

Five propositions that the Economist sees the most far-reaching and divisive aspects of the education debate, are short-listed . It covers a variety of topics ranging from the place of foreign students to the global digital divide to private contributions in higher ed.

Here are the 5 selected propositions:

1. This house believes that the continuing introduction of new technologies and new media adds little to the quality of most education.

Over the last several decades, large investments have been made to equip primary and secondary schools with computers and teacher training (to use technology). Now it is time to examine whether there has been a sufficient return on this investment. Does technology really offer substantive advantages to students? Does technology accelerate or impede real progress in education? Similarly, does technology serve as a teaching crutch or does it offer the ability to promote sustainable change in the worlds classrooms? And if so, is the technology deployed today being used to best possible advantage? What conditions need to exist in schools for technology to have an impact?

2. This house proposes that governments and universities everywhere should be competing to attract and educate all suitably-qualified students regardless of nationality and residence.

Should countries limit the amount of foreign students admitted to its university programs? How do you educate on a global basis while still maintaining focus on national competitiveness? As markets and corporations increasingly become transnational, the nature of work and the skills required to execute that work, are changing. Ideally, what sort of education will the next generation of students need before they enter the global workforce? Is globalization already changing the nature of how students are being educated? What is the right thing for countries to do?

3. This house believes that companies donate to education mainly to win public goodwill and there is nothing wrong with this.

What is the real agenda for large corporate education donors? Does corporate education philanthropy actually provide teachers and students an advantage, or is it simply an unassailable marketing effort to promote corporate brand reputation? Furthermore, does the introduction of corporate money into an educational institution inherently bias the educational agenda of those organizations it purports to help? Does the inherent value of corporate support outweigh any potential negative effects on institutions beholden to corporate donations? Or is corporate support the best sort of enlightened self interest that directly meets the needs of schools, students and teachers.

4. This house believes that the “digital divide” is a secondary problem in the educational needs of developing countries.

Much has been written about the “digital divide” between developed and developing countries and the role that technology might play in supporting economic development. But can technology actually contribute to improving the quality of education in emerging countries? Do schools in emerging countries currently have the capacity to adopt new technologies, and if not, run the risk of further exaggerating current inequalities or even create new ones? What corollary policies and programs should be enacted for technology to support the advancement of education in developing nations?

5. This house believes that social networking technologies will bring large changes to educational methods, in and out of the classroom.

Social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook have now become a ubiquitous part of many students’ lives. The value of social networking has been defined, in one sense, as the collective power of community to help inform perspectives that would not be unilaterally formed – e.g. the best thinking comes from many not one. Others argue that significant time spent on social networking platforms actually distract students from their studies. So a question emerges, could the introduction of social networking tools be useful in a formal classroom setting? Additionally, is the concept of social networking a progressive, but legitimate, form of student-to-student and student-to-teacher collaboration?

You can select the proposition that’s most important and vote for it here. The highest ranking propositions will then be debated, with the first debate coming up on Oct 15th. Rebuttals are at the 18th, closing arguments at the 23rd and the winner is announced at the 26th.

My opinion? Most important and relevant would probably be proposition 4. On the other hand, proposition 5 would be very interesting…

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