Earlier this month, The Economist announced a winner in the 21st Century Cyber Schools Challenge. There were many strong submissions, and the team decided that the two runners up also deserved recognition for their outstanding solutions. We will be posting solution summaries from the Challenge winner, Andrew Deonarine, as well as the two runners up in this Challenge, Tristram Hewitt and Daniel Rasmus. Congratulations Andrew, Tristram and Daniel.
Below is Tristram's summary of his solution:
Imagine a school house in a Nicaraguan village. One hundred students, each with nothing but a laptop, independently engage in their lessons. A precocious twelve year-old collaborates with an Ecuadorian peer on a biology project about rural water contamination over the cyber school learning platform. To her right, an eleven year-old, who tended the family’s coffee plot for the past year, plays a computer game to practice basic addition.
In this cyber school, semi-automated teaching systems power an individualized education. Students learn basic concepts, broken into independent lesson modules, through a mix of multi-media programming, games, interactive assignments, and live teacher contact. Structured peer interactions build creative and critical thinking skills. The teacher’s primary task, then, is not to “stand and deliver” but to facilitate student movement through pre-designed lessons. On the ground level, social workers supervise the school house; encouraging students, engaging parents, and creating the socio-emotional foundation required for academic success.
Grade levels do not exist. Rather, students advance through a course sequence outlined in the primary and secondary school curricula, each of which has a distinct purpose. While primary school teaches the minimum skills and knowledge required for participation in economic and civic life, secondary school prepares students for a vocation or university.
Combined, these elements form a scalable school model. Automated teaching technologies keep costs low by enabling high student-to-teacher ratios. Centrally managed courses improve quality. Local support systems ensure widespread access. Children in the developing world enjoy a newfound opportunity to realize their potential.