e-G8 – Rupert Murdoch: Education Is the Last Digital Holdout

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro

Rupert Murdoch, chairman and CEO of News Corporation, presented “Digital’s Next Frontier: Education” at the e-G8 Forum, “The Internet: Accelerating Growth,” which was held in Paris, May 24-25, 2011.

The actual talk begins at the 2:28 mark, and the entire video runs for 23 minutes. From Murdoch’s perspective, the world’s children are human capital. However, our educational systems are broken and wasting our children’s potential. Schools represent “a colossal failure of imagination,” and one of the reasons is their inability to keep pace with change.

The greatest change of all is the digital revolution, which frees people from the “tyranny of time and distance,” and it’s occurring in every field except one — education. He says that a time traveler from the mid-19th century would find that schools today haven’t changed much. The classroom is still defined by a teacher with a book and a blackboard.

Murdoch claims that throwing money at education isn’t working. He sees schools as “job programs for teachers and administrators.” However, he believes schools can improve through the wise use of digital technology. He cites, for example, the Harlem Success Academy, which provides laptops for all students in the upper grades. The achievement levels of students is extremely high, especially in the sciences.

He says that computers alone aren’t enough. Applications that engage students are also critical. He cites two schools in the U.S. where iPads were given to all students, allowing them to become more interactive in their learning.

Digital technology also allows for personalized or individualized learning. Students can work at their own pace with online tutors and videos featuring, for example, master teachers from anywhere in the world. He cites a school where iPods are used to monitor each student’s reading performance.

Murdoch sees technology as a means to expand the walls of the classroom, bringing the best learning resources to all the children of the world, regardless of where they’re located.

Finally, he says that technology won’t replace teachers. What it will do is remove the drudgery from teaching and learning. In closing, he challenges educators to “bring [their] own schools to the table.”

10 Responses

  1. Rupert Murdoch has taken on education for the benefit of the world and also for profit — as his recent hires and acquisitions attest. What he says in his speech is not at all diluted, in my mind, by this profit motive, which he left out entirely.

    He said, “If we had a gold mine on our property, we’d do whatever it takes to get that gold out of the ground.” This metaphor is obvious, and we ignore it at our peril.

    To me, the most telling thing he said was “The key is the software that will engage students and help teach them concepts and learn to think for themselves.” The “think for themselves” is especially important to the future.

    As we might have said 50 years ago, a computer is just a doorstop without decent software. Education has suffered from the software that was provided to it, by and large. Too many schools turned computers into the instruments of learning “keyboarding.” Too many classes used computers as substitutes for other, simpler technologies and adopted office software to the classroom. That software is not targeted to education by any stretch of the imagination, and it took considerable imagination of some teachers to make it do good things for their classes. But, not every teacher was so talented.

    Vast quantities of early education software hit the market because only art and modest computer programming skills were required at grade levels where the subject matter was relatively simple — reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic.

    Now, we’re beginning to see newer software options at higher grade levels. Why not much more? Why aren’t vast numbers of people building great education software? Because you have only a few choices of how to support yourself when doing that. Writing professional-grade software is a very expensive activity.

    You may be an academic with a grant who may or may not hope to commercialize the results of your efforts. Due to time and funding limitations, your software may not be ready for prime time when the grant ends. You may also have problems bringing together the various expertise resources at the high level required.

    You may be in a large company or be an entrepreneur attempting to bring your vision of a new idea in education to life. In either case, the return-on-investment (ROI) will be the problem you face. I had an angel investor representing a large angel network tell me point-blank that educational technology (including software) has too low an ROI to justify investing.

    I think that this perception is wrong. Education is the second-largest “industry” in the United States after health care. The problem is not that the ROI potential is bad. It’s that the marketing models make it difficult. However, Rupert Murdoch sees the business possibilities as well as the imperative for society.

    I hope that he proves the angel investor wrong. If so, we’ll see both the literal and figurative gold mentioned in Murdoch’s metaphor.

    • Harry, re: “What he says in his speech is not at all diluted, in my mind, by this profit motive, which he left out entirely.”: not quite. He starts his conclusion (listen from 21:37) with:

      I challenge us to learn from what works best, wherever in the world we find it, and put it all together. And my company is determined to try in a big way.

      He only speaks of commercial educational initiatives. Zilt about Open Access resources like MIT OpenCourseWare, and so many other ones. And he only enthuses about commercial products: funnily enough, about Amazon’s Kindle e-book reader, when he describes the Harlem Success Academy, which the US Department of Justice and Department of Education expressly forbade the use of in colleges and universities last June because it discriminates against the blind. And the US Office of Civil Rights specified that the prohibition of devices that discriminate disabled people naturally also applies to K-12.
      Etc. See our discussion in the ETCJournal Diigo group about Jim’s bookmark of the Guardian’s Rupert Murdoch uses eG8 to talk up net’s power to transform education review of his speech.
      Beware of ruthless tycoons bearing gifts peddling their wares.

      • He is certainly a ruthless tycoon. No one, not even he, would dispute that.

        The point here is that even Murdoch sees the future of education. His words are accurate in many respects.

  2. Hi, Harry

    Even though your first comment here was republished as as a separate article in Rupert Murdoch on the Money About Importance of Software, as you re-replied to my reply here, this is where I’ll continue the discussion.

    Yes, software has its importance, but the problem is that Murdoch is onto the money he wants to make with software rather than on the money about it. And this slants everything he says. It also slants his critique of the outdated present state of education: he just bashes public school teachers and administrators, but never once mentions the political framework within which they have to work.

    His counter-example, Harlem Success Academy, a charter school, can draw on abundant private funding, while most public schools can’t (see Arthur Goldstein’s July 30, 2009 More equal than others). Due to the No Child Left Behind Act in the US, and similar laws elsewhere, public schools depend on the students’ results in standardized tests for their funding. If you have to teach students towards getting good results in such tests on slender means in order to at least keep these slender means, you don’t have much time left for activities that enhance creative learning, whereas you can if you have more money for that. Nowhere does Murdoch criticize the concept of funding dependent on standardized testing. On the contrary, he takes the results at these standardized tests as an unquestioned measure of school success,

    Sir Ken Robinson also criticized the outdatedness of present schools in his classical 2008 A Change of Paradigms lecture at the Royal Society of Art (see its subtitled version with transcript). But Robinson analyzed the Victorian economic and sociological politics behind the model of education that is still ours, And from there, he pleaded for changing these politics to make them fit the present and possibly future economics and society, by furthering a model of education that encourages creative learning. Contrary to Murdoch, he did not bash public (in the US, not UK sense, I mean) school teachers and educators: he acknowledged that if education politics further the continuation of a Victorian model of education, teachers and school operators cannot change it on their own.

    Robinson also addressed technology, but from the viewpoint of its effect on cognition and culture, and how educational politics should take this effect into account, which seems to me a far more interesting, fruitful and far-sighted approach than Murdoch’s promotion of exclusively commercial tech solutions.

    Finally, about the eg8 YouTube videos: in a comment to Jim Shimabukuro’s “e-G8 Forum – ‘Future Net: What’s Next?’”, I wrote: “Of neededly provocative interest (and interestingly NOT uploaded to the eg8 youtube channel): Lessig’s keynote introducing the Innovation Panel of the eg8. With English, Czech, Italian, Spanish and Ukrainian user-made subtitles and transcripts: universalsubtitles.org/videos/C6wmjKWrZwlP. ”

    I must correct that: actually, Lessig’s keynote is included in eg8’s Plenary V: Fostering Innovation: How to build the future YouTube video, from =:2:10 to 0:12:32. However, it is mangled by being dubbed with the track of the French simultaneous interpretation, by an interpreter obviously unfamiliar with the subject. So it remains preferable to use either Lessig’s own http://vimeo.com/24239427 video, which also focuses on his slides instead of mucking around with zoom in zoom out, or the universalsubtitles.org/videos/C6wmjKWrZwlP subtitled version of it.

    Lessig, after having described in detail various catastrophic effects of the tech industry’s influence on government policies, concluded thus (from 8:51)

    We should say to modern democratic government, you need to beware of incumbents bearing policy fixes. Because their job, the job of the incumbents, is not the same as your job, the job of the public policy maker.
    Their job is profit for them. Your job is the public good. And it is completely fair, for us to say, that until this addiction is solved, we should insist on minimalism in what government does. The kind of minimalism Jeff Jarvis spoke off when he spoke of “do no harm”. An internet that embraces principles of open and free access, a neutral network to guarantee this open access, to protect the outsider.
    But here is the one thing we know about this meeting, and its relationship to the future of the internet.
    The future of the internet is not Twitter, it is not Facebook, it is not Google, it is not even Rupert Murdoch.
    The future of the internet is not here. It wasn’t invited, it does not even know how to be invited, because it doesn’t yet focus on policies and fora like this.
    The least we can do is to preserve the architecture of this network that protects this future that is not here.

    So while Murdoch advocates for less government in education from a software seller’s view point, Lessig also advocates it, but his is a different, socially ethical “less government”: less government as long as governments let themselves be directed by commercial incumbents like Murdoch.

    No wonder, considering the general Sarkozyish approach of the e-G8, that whoever is in charge of its YouTube Channel chose to privilege Murdoch’s keynote over Lessig’s one there. But should educators?

    • I’m not disagreeing with you. What struck me was that EVEN Murdoch recognizes certain facts about education. I did not hear him bashing teachers in his speech.

      Blaming teachers is a complete waste of time and breath. If you find a failing teacher, ask why that teacher is failing. You’ll find the problem in the system that trained, hired, assigned, and supported that teacher. (One such example was my own son who quit teaching due to this situation.)

      If you find a failing school, ask why that school is failing. If you dig deeply enough, you’ll mostly find the problem in the lack of political will to make necessary changes in how we deal with universal public-supported education.

      Without the political will, we must necessarily seek alternatives. Finland had the political will to fix its mediocre education system and did so to their great credit. I just don’t see that change happening in the U.S. Murdoch focuses on fixing things where the government is not able to. Never mind that his own policies and media outlets contribute to this situation.

      He rightly points out that hardware technology is not going to make the difference in schools, except inasmuch as the cost of hardware declines. It’s software that can help out. Were there no problems, the software would be optional. However, we do not live in education nirvana.

      Without the problems, we can still benefit from software that allows for student-centered learning at individual paces and that provides highly interactive learning experiences to augment other learning experiences.

  3. PS Roberta Ranzani – who also made the Italian subtitles for the above-mentioned Lessig’s keynote at the e-g8, and who followed the e-g8 in real time – has just sent me the URL for a Storify page where she has aggregated tweets hashtagged “#eG8” sent during it: The future was not invited in Paris. Quite fascinating (click on “Load more” at the bottom to see them all.

  4. I’m not saying I have all the answers, but I certainly think this leaves a number of unaswered questions.

    In this video from France, I hear Rupert Murdoch negatively compare education in the US to it’s counterparts in India and China.

    As if India and China are comitted to educating all it’s children from the age of 5 to 18 (or in the case of students who are underserved and handicapped a few more than that).

    Our national test scores (of nearly all student popluation) is consistently compared to the cream-of-the-crop students in nations such as India and China who weed out the best students very early on. Kids from the wrong bloodlines or poor kids get to work in factories instead of going to school. And this makes the U.S. education system look bad? To whom?

    Let’s face it – many school-aged kids in the U.S. have no desire or motivation to learn (or even worse, perform well on standardized tests from which they percieve no benefit).

    In the U.S., our education system isn’t an employment program for teachers (as Murdoch says) as much as it is a program to “keep-kids-off-the-streets-until-they-are-old-enough-to-know-better-than-to-commit-crimes.” On a per-capita basis of $5,000/year per student, I find this to be superior to the idea of putting kids to work in factories like China and India do with their students who don’t do well in school.

    But maybe our country would be better off financially if we’d have our kids spend half their school day popping out plastic toys or shoes and cleaning latrines or begging in the streets to pay for their 1st class education. Maybe our kids would appreciate their education more. NAH…. they’d just go to work in bigger numbers for the drug dealers.

    Let’s be real — innovative charter schools like the one Murdoch cites have the benefit of taking the cream off the top of public schools, leaving the rest to be compatively poor. Are we punishing the stupid kids by not helping them strive for something despite the odds? Is that the American way?

  5. […] Reads e-G8 – Rupert Murdoch: Education Is the Last Digital Holdout […]

  6. Most charter schools do skim students to some extent, some to a great extent. Yet, their average performance is about the same as public schools. Charter schools, in large numbers, are not an answer. The best-performing ones may have some ideas to contribute to the discussion.

    Testing 8th-grade students may allow some other countries to do better due to some winnowing, but does not explain Finland or Singapore, nor our ranking below Poland and Hungary.

    You don’t have to agree with every point Murdoch makes to agree with his overall assessment. Picking on parts of his argument obscures the real story.

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