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October 15, 2008

Nonconsumption of education outside the U.S.

by Michael B. Horn

Staying with the nonconsumption theme from last week, let’s think about the biggest area of nonconsumption in education that just cries for disruptive education models to come in and make an impact: poor children in the developing world.

According to a September 29, 2008 Newsweek article titled “Education: It’s Not Just About the Boys. Get Girls Into School,” “73 million children worldwide don’t go to primary school. Three times as many never go to secondary school.”

This is an area ripe for innovation.

In Gene Sperling’s book What Works in Girls’ Education, he writes about how focusing solutions around educating girls in essence gets the most bang for the buck in improving society. A barrier is that families are often uncomfortable when their daughters have to travel long distances to schools that don’t even have separate latrines for the boys and girls, for example. Another barrier in developing countries is even when they make education free, which benefits the poor immensely, they can’t afford or find the teachers they need to account for the spike in students.

It’s not hard to see how e-learning could help. The trick will be in devising models to get effective solutions in the hands of the would-be students. Many have already identified mobile solutions as the way to go, and I expect that learning on mobile devices will have a much greater impact abroad than in the United States for some time—for the same reasons cell phone usage in Africa has leap-frogged that of the United States.

Indeed, companies like Qooco in China have already made an impact in this arena. Unless the United States is on the ball, it’s entirely possible that truly student-centric solutions will emerge in the developing world well before they do in the United States as well. What other groups are making an impact like Qooco? How are they doing it? For those who spend time studying this world, what trends do you see?

– Michael B. Horn

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