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January 27, 2009: Technology & Education

Topic Host: Tiffany Ivins

In your opinion, is the "right to education" a basic human right? Why or why not? In your opinion, does technology enable better *access* to free, high-quality educational opportunity and are the costs (economic, social, cultural) worth the benefits?

To prepare for our dialogue session, please spend about 30 minutes doing the following:

1) Browse 2 links on "Right to Education" and the 4 As (the right to education must be available, accessible, acceptable and adaptable):

2) Watch this 4 minute video on Youth-Managed Resource Centers (YMRC) in Nepal.

3) Browse this website to learn about projects where information and communication technologies (ICT) are central to social and economic development.

4) Find out what is happening with Open Educational Resources, Open Content and Open CourseWare.

If you are still interested, here are some more links (not mandatory for discussion, but interesting):

Testimony to the Secretary of Education's Commission on the Future of Higher Education (Wiley, 7 pages)

UNESCO Open Training Platform


Open University (UK) Open Content Initiative

Rice Connexions

Carnegie Mellon Open Learning Initiative

National Repository of Online Courses


  1. Great topic, Tiffany. I'm really excited. Just wanted to share a few thoughts before the actual dialogue. I hope others will follow suit and post some comments before and after we meet.

    On the question of whether education is a basic human right, I am torn. I have never thought of it that way. I have always thought of education as a privilege that governments and families should provide and promote as if it were a right, simply because it makes sense for the general well-being of a society. But to say it is NOT a right also makes the denial of education (I’m thinking specifically of the Jim Crow south, the early Christian church, women in many societies, etc.) a mere bad decision rather than a violation – which doesn’t feel quite right. On the other hand, if education is elevated to the status of a basic human right, then who exactly can claim it? And from whom? Are children and adults equally righted? Can you punish governments for denying it or simply failing to provide it? I’m interested in hearing what people think about this.

    With regard to Open Educational Resources, I am really intrigued by the limitless possibilities the OER paradigm offers. Being able to bring resources to everyone everywhere is the great power of modern technology. I have concerns about controlling quality and monitoring exploitation. It takes a relatively savvy person to discern between legitimate information and pure propaganda or straight-out lies. Is a bad or misguided education worse than no education at all?

    On a personal note, I think to know Tiffany is to see the principles of OER in action. Number 7 under the Best Practices section on the wiki states: “Free Riders (lurker) paradox – the more the better,” which is a less elegant way of phrasing something Tiffany consistently says and lives: “There’s always room for one more.” Looking forward to the discussion, Tiff.

  2. So having just attended my first discussion group (and only half of it at that), I'm not sure I'm qualified to share my thoughts, but I did want to verbally digest a couple things that stuck out to me tonight.

    I am mostly intrigued by this idea of whether education is a basic human right. Carrie said something that I found interesting: a "human right" is something that is timeless and for all people. I'm not sure I agree with this statement, and more salient to our discussion, whether education falls into that definition. Carrie said something else to influence my opinion that education most likely does NOT fall into that definition: she said that education was not as necessary to survival 100 years ago as it is today. I agree with this perspective and therefore must disagree that education is a basic human right as it is not timeless. If we did not need education then like we need it now, it is not a timeless commodity.

    I would suggest, on the other hand, that a basic human right can be defined in accordance with the "inalienable rights" identified by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence: that whatever is necessary to maintain our life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness is a basic human right. Jefferson borrowed this phrase from John Locke
    who believed that the right extended to life, health, liberty, and possessions. By this definition, and Locke's broader inclusion of our inherent rights, education is a right only if it is necessary for the maintenance of one of these inalienable rights. As Carrie commented about how the world has become a place in which education is vital to economic, political, and social survival, perhaps education IS necessary to the maintenance of these inalienable rights. Perhaps then education IS a basic human right.

    Having come to this conclusion, however, I don't believe Locke or Jefferson believed that a right means an entitlement: just because I have a right to a own home doesn't mean someone must provide it for me. In fact, Locke's wording was "no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions," not "everyone deserves and should receive life, health, liberty, or possessions." Even if education IS a basic human right, I'm still not convinced it is the responsibility of a government to then provide it to its people.

  3. Heidi and all,
    Ed and I were also talking about those "inalienable rights" on our way to work. I like the way you analyzed them.

    To me (and Ed), the "pursuit of happiness" means growth, learning, and learning to love. "Life" might include the opportunity to make a living. Education can play a role in both of these.

    Jefferson said we are "endowed by their Creator" with certain inalienable rights, and AMONG THEM are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness (in other words, this isn't an exhaustive list.)

    Clearly, many people are deprived of those rights. Those who believe in a Creator who endowed us with rights have a responsibility to work for a future in which all people have these rights. The opportunity for education is a pretty important key. At least that's my belief.

    (sorry for the disjointedness but I'm running out of time....)

  4. As I listened to the sound bite that Carri shared at the end of the discussion, previewing next month's topic of lessons we can learn from the depression, I started thinking about how it applied to what we had just discussed. Notably, when he mentioned that when the power went out, they had to switch to kerosene lamps in their restaurant. Relating that to the topic of technology in the developing world, it made me think that it's important to preserve knowledge of the way that things have been done in the past, even if those methods are now obsolete or less efficient. It's okay to switch to Bic pens instead of bamboo pens, but it seems important to save the knowledge of how to make/use the bamboo pens, in the event that future events force us to forgo some of the things we're used to having now.

    I was raised in a home where we had a decent-sized vegetable garden and each day in the summer I had several hours of chores tending the garden. In the event that the economy really went in the tank, how many people would be ready to grow their own vegetables? It may not be the most efficient way to grow vegetables, but I'm glad that I have that knowledge to fall back on, and that people have written books on how to do these things.


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