Global social progress depends more and more on education. The meaning of my assertion is captured more urgently in H. G. Wells quip from 1920: "Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe." Education is now running a lax race against catastrophe, in spite of the urgency implied by a recent international "social progress index." I will elaborate both points.
The global Social Progress Imperative was created in 2012 as a nonprofit organization in the U.S. Its Advisory Board is chaired by Harvard Business School's Michael Porter, who appeared in April (2014) on Fareed Zakaria's Global Public Square on CNN, which provides a transcript of their discussion. Recently published on the web in online format are the Imperative's Social Progress Index 2014, its Findings among 132 nations, its Watch Our New Video on Results of the Social Progress Index 2014!, and much more.
Reading more about the organization and its work reveals that SPI 2014 neither includes economic indices (such as GDP) nor ranks indices and nations on a zero-sum competitive basis. Instead the Index is a framework of social indices and nations' rankings designed to help advance humanity's progress, especially for every human in every participating nation. One of the organized charts from the data table of the SPI 2014 reveals that the United States ranks 16 in the overall aggregated macro-level index while being, among these cited component indices, at the index rank of 39 in Access to Basic Knowledge, 23 in Access to Information and Communications, 22 in Personal Rights, 15 in Personal Freedom and Choice, and 13 in Tolerance and Inclusion, yet nevertheless ranked first in Access to Advanced Education! These few indices and others not identified here can be useful in thinking about education's role in social progress in the U.S. and elsewhere. Perhaps my work over recent years can also be useful.
My long-standing career in and around education remains committed to social progress that can be derived from education. I'm pleased to be full-time with Ellucian and also active with the a) Board of Governors of Antioch University, b) Board of Directors of the IMS Global Learning Consortium, and c) Board of Vistors of the School of Information and Library Science at UNC-Chapel Hill (where I was a math professor and, at various points during a 30-year career, also a senior IT officer and an academic officer). I respect and owe much to these organizations but will not assume to represent their opinions on various positives and negatives that I describe here for education's role in social progress.
Incremental evolution within traditional education is unlikely to advance social progress, as will be suggested below by multiple problems amidst education's lax racing against catastrophe in the U.S. and some other nations. Some of the revelations below also touch upon how to revolutionize and synchronize educating and learning as a common-good purpose for advancing global social progress.
- Is "Access to Advanced Education" truly affordable today? Washington Post Opinion Writer Katrina vanden Heuvel published on April 22 (2014) her thinking about "Elizabeth Warren' s needed call for student loan reform." Senator Warren is attempting to resolve today's student debt crisis of $1.08 trillion, which is twice as much as in 2007 and now exceeding total credit card debt.
- Do SPI's Personal Rights and Personal Freedom and Choice require revolutionary attention and changes? Yes, according to Elizabeth's Dwoskin on April 21 (2014) writing for the Wall Street Journal that a "Student Data Company to Shut Down Over Privacy Concerns." InBloom is the nonprofit company selected and funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to control data that should instead be under the control of each learner and the rights and responsibilities that the learner has relative to various interactions and negotiations with educational, political, and other entities.
- In contrast to the "shut down" of InBloom is the growing success of the IMS Global Learning Consortium (IMS), which is the most accomplished and economically viable IT standards organization for interoperability among the applications and data systems used in education. A 2013 IMS project discussion touched on the nascent concepts of "educational positioning system" (EPS) standards and an early EPS-like application developed by Michael Mathews, Lone Star College, and a few other partners. The Global Positioning System (GPS) provides a thoughtful metaphor for the "Educational Positioning System" and its need to "flip" control of a learner's educational data and artifacts from the InBloom system to the learner's private control and personal rights available under an EPS application. While the EPS is transparent as a concept, it is complex as a potential system of IMS standards that would have to be tackled by collaborating IMS Contributing Member education institutions, education suppliers, governments, and others.
- When requested and supported by its Contributing Members, IMS helps develop and compliance-certify an increasing number of interoperability standards that can be adopted in order to forego often hidden integration time and costs among educational applications and data. "A New Architecture for Learning" was recently published in the EDUCAUSE Review by Rob Abel (IMS CEO) and IMS leaders Malcolm Brown and Jack Suess. Standards and architectures in many cases can enable major social progress initiatives that rely on education. For example, IMS QTI/APIP standards are critical to IT-delivered learning evaluations and assessments, including those under development for the Common Core State Standards Initiative in the U.S. The Common Core is developing core mathematics competency evaluations that can lead to advancing environmental, economic, and other forms of social progress. A number of states, including NC where I live, are on the verge of withdrawing from the social progress goals of the Common Core. This bodes poorly for the already distressed SPI 2014 U.S. rank of 39 in Access to Basic Knowledge. A similar mistake originated at state levels in the heyday of developing "no child left behind" when most states insisted on non-comparable proprietary assessments.
- Zakaria and Porter discussed their surprise and dismay not only on SPI 2014 U.S. rank at 39 in Access to Basic Knowledge, but also to the rank at 23 in Access to Information and Communication. These ranks are not overly surprising for two reasons:
- The Robert's Supreme Court in the U.S. often rejects social progress viabilities, which are seldom favored by more than four reliably progressive Justices. For example, a recent decision implying diminishing Access to Advanced Education was reported in "Supreme Court Upholds Michigan Affirmative Action Ban," which explains the Court's 6-to-2 decision of April 22 (2014).
- The Internet Society (ISOC) is a nonprofit, nongovernmental, global, open economic governance organization for the Internet. ISOC's social progress vision is that "the Internet is for everyone," unlike the Court's decision to uphold Michigan's affirmative action ban on college admissions. In spite of the exponential growth of Internet-enabled services and businesses, many nations and educating organizations have not yet enabled a model of Access to Advanced Education that can use the Internet and the IMS standards to scale up affordable learning opportunities and credentials for every human and for humanity.
- Scaling up education to affordable learning opportunities and successful credentialing for all is core to improving the learning progress indices analyzed by the Social Progress Imperative. Consider this related progressive abstract: "Education is being economically squeezed in a Holy Grail pursuit of educational justice and attainment at scale. Together, IMS standards-based mash-ups and an Internet-like governance model for the credentialing economy can improve flexibility and affordability for all beneficiaries." The quoted abstract frames my recent EDUCAUSE Review Online publication, "The Credentialing Economy: Transformed by and for Its Benefciaries," which accordingly defines "Education Leadership Commons" (ELC) to be an economic governance organization for the credentialing economy. The ELC model is akin to the ISOC economic governance model. ISOC and ElC also have similar economic governance characteristics that should be applied to common-good natural resources, as researched and recommended by Elinor Ostrom, who thereby became a 2009 Nobel Laureate in Economics before passing away in 2012. An ELC start-up work could be inclusive of the IMS, the Social Progress Imperative, various foundations such as Gates and Lumina, educational organizations, learners and their families, governments, suppliers, and employers. All would have to become open and agreeable to balancing economic rights and responsibilities mutually to their individual benefits and to the benefits of social progress that depends on educating and learning. The ELC start-up team would have to agree to design and sustain a long-term ELC financial model, which might have a parallel in ISOC. The .org domain managed by the nonprofit Public Interest Registry is a long-term source of funding for ISOC and therefore for many core ISOC affiliate members, such as the Internet Engineering Task Force and others. Two IMS-standards related projects could help think through a possible funding partnership for SPI, ELC, and IMS. One project could ask the IMS QTI/APIP Alliance to help develop the delivery of core learning readiness evaluations as evidence of Access to Basic Knowledge at various levels of accomplishment and cross-walks among independent learning readiness providers. CHEA leaders might also be interested in this project for evaluating critical thinking and basic fluency skills for learners. A second, less mature project could architect EPS standards that could help IMS Contributing Members pursue applications that would "flip" control of a learner's educational data and artifacts from the InBloom-like system to the learner's private control and personal rights consistent with improving upon SPI 2014 education-related indices. Meanwhile, some challenges in scaling up social progress to educating and learnng together are below. To include more than U.S. problems in scaling up, a few references are from the social progress theme "Rethinking Education: Shaping the Future" covered in the International Finance Corporation's 6th International Private Education Conference in 2014.
- Scale up educational attainment to increase the percentage of tertiary-credentialed learners among various adult populations.
- The tertiary-credentialed learners among U.S. adults at least 25 years of age have been near 40% for almost 40 years, suggesting that educating has been stagnant relative to the need for learning from inside traditional education.
- The Lumina Foundation focuses includes a core tag line on every Lumina web page: “to increase the proportion of Americans with high-quality college degrees, certificates or other credentials to 60% by 2025.” The Gates Foundation is similarly committed. President Obama and the Department of Education have similar attainment scaling goals. According to Inside Higher Education's Doug Lederman, “First in the World” will be administered by FIPSE as a $75 million grant program focused on educational attainment and finally announced on May 15 (2014), and the new attainment program will also address some of the goals of the President's August 2013 announced hope to “Make College More Affordable: A Better Bargain for the Middle Class."
- Scaling up educating and learning together was a core story told by an IFC conference panel featuring four leaders from Latin America and India. President and CEO Pete Pizarro of Whitney International in Latin America, for example, spoke to 1) scaling up learners through one IT-integrated platform, 2) focusing on learner centricity (as opposed to faculty and institutional centricity), 3) developing regulatory innovation because Whitney International's private campuses have to be for-profit in some nations (Brazil, for example) and nonprofit in others (Argentina, for example).
- Scale up educational justice by reacting to two critical factors:
- The strong statistical correlation at almost 1.0 between the levels of family income and the levels of credentialing in the family has been documented around the modern world for some time, including the efforts of the Census Bureau in the U.S.
- Families with middle to low incomes are an increasing proportion of the family population (in the US and also in many other countries).
- The two factors together imply that scaling up educational attainment proportions will require credentialing a growing proportion of learners from family incomes on low to mid rungs of the economic ladder.
- Scale up international financial sources to supply the various forms of grants and loans — especially micro-loans — that could become subject to the ELC economic governace of the credentialing economy as part of social progress to advance and sustain humanity’s environmental, social, economic, and educational justice.
- Scale up new forms of “educating” to start increasing 1) educational attainment that has been stagnant for about 40 years in the U.S. and 2) educational justice that has moved in the wrong direction in the U.S. partially as the result of higher education student loans currently in debt by more than $1.08 trillion that is greater than total credit card debt.
- Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World is the latest publication (2012) by Tony Wagner (Expert in Residence at Harvard), who keynoted the IFC conference on “Rethinking Education: Shaping the Future." He quipped that education needs to focus on creative and timely learning, not on educating as long practiced by traditional universities that now cannot meet the scale issue. He said that engaged, creative learners would benefit primarily from outlier faculty members and outlier executive leaders. Educational institutions in the US, for example, are managed and delivered by revenues based on credit hours or course hours, not on outlier faculty and executives interested in changing the old business models.
- Bill Gates and at least ten or so other famous entrepreneurs dropped out of “prestigious” educational universities over the last few decades in the US.
- The first paragraph of my paper on the "credentialing economy" (cited above) quotes that “education is the slowest form of learning,” according to media guru Tony Schwartz in the 1960s. Tony Wagner is trying today to disaggregate traditional educating and then redesign credentialing that can be scalable, flexible, and affordable to learners aiming at the professions and workforces researched and offered by educators helping to "pay learners forward" to assist humanity’s environmental, social, economic, and educational justice.
Scaling up the role of education in social progress is becoming neither affordable, accreditable, nor controllable by an increasing proportion of learners within the traditional practices of education. We need to synchronize educating and learning revolutions in order to advance social progress.