Open Source Education

The Massachuesetts Institute of Technology provides free course notes, reading lists, results of experiments and videos of lectures. This first class education is available free of charge. So where’s the catch? Why do students (or their parents) pay £40,000 a year to attend? It’s all about the piece of paper at the end. The degree itself is not free. So it is not gaining knowledge, but proving it has been gained that costs money,

It is not just the MIT who are bequeathing their knowledge to the world. Many other universities are following suit. The likes of Wikipedia, Wikiversity and myriad teachers explaining  things on YouTube for the benefit of school children and students the world over. Some students are distant learners who, by choice or not,  learn outside the conventional school. Some are school children who were not paying attention when their teacher explained it, or else the teacher simply did a bad job. If education is free, why is the UK spending £64 billion pounds a year on it?

Just as open source software attacked the near monopolies of operating systems, open source education bypasses the teaching profession. Would it be possible to have a national education system that does this?

Education is like a fire, once kindled it burns and spreads of its own accord. The kindling process should be over by the age of thirteen or once the child has learnt the basics of English and arithmetic. After that, they teach themselves, or, to put it more accurately, they are taught by unpaid teachers rather than paid teachers.

What is it that can be learnt in a classroom or lecture theatre that cannot be learnt from a book, a podcast or a film? Schools provide discipline. They have to because so many students are studying against their natural inclination. Knowledge gained by browsing the internet and encyclopedias is far more likely to be retained and enjoyed.

Schools provide motivation. But is this really useful? After all, the prime motivation for study is money; a degree results in a well paid job. However, for a child, the adult world is remote and so a more immediate reward is needed: cash prizes for exam results. Any number of subjects can be taken to reflect a more eclectic mix of subjects which a self-service curriculum is bound to generate. The rewards can be calibrated to encourage those subjects which Universities and employers deem more useful or rigourous.


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