My entry in the Google 10×100 contest

Ignorance is the root of all that kills, and true knowledge is the root of all virtue. The Internet has done an amazing job of educating the masses in ways that were never before possible, and we can already see real world improvements as a result. So let’s take the Internet to its obvious conclusion and streamline that power by giving everyone access to free education.

Make a website where anyone can upload education material. In addition, have public schools record their classes and/or produce Internet-ready educational videos and give them to the world. This site would be like a hybrid between YouTube, Wikipedia, any free E-book site and Itunes University. It will be open source, and anyone can add to its content.

The content would be arranged like a college course listing, except it will include every subject from every grade level. The structure would be further subdivided into sections/chapters like in a school text book. This way people will be able to find the content they want to study.

The site would include videos and downloadable course material for every single class you could ever take in school, from kindergarten to a doctoral degree. I’m talking about unlimited, free education for everyone, 24 hours a day, anywhere in the world where there is Internet access. Children in inner city school who don’t have good teachers or can’t concentrate in class because of all the chaos going on around them can watch classes online at night and pick up what they missed or didn’t understand. People who can’t afford to go to college can watch videos of upper level sociology and anthropology classes. People with depression can watch psychology classes and come to understand themselves on their own. People in third world countries can watch videos on farming at their local Internet cafe. Young professionals could watch law school or philosophy classes on their lunch break. Poor kids won’t ever need to pay for another tutor again.

It won’t lead to a degree (at least, not at first).  The site is based on the philosophy that education is more important than degrees because degrees don’t make people better: education does, and only when our entire society is fully educated will we ever hope to live in an ideal society.

update: The Google 10×100 contest awarded $3 million to  the Khan Academy after multiple people submitted similar ideas to mine.

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One response to “My entry in the Google 10×100 contest

  • john

    At several different times and in several different ways, you have written about the need to create or reinvent education so that it is free or nearly so. I recalled that recently when reading a Scripps Howard piece by Lauren Rosenhall, to which I put several links below. There is no doubt that this may be an idea whose time has come, as the Uncollege/Thiel Foundation movements show. At one point you invited people to comment if they would offer positive thoughts. I hope it is a positive thought to tell you that self-education is freely available. Self-education, at least for those near a public library whose interests don’t lie in fields requiring expensive hands-on equipment, has long been available and is so nearly free as to make no difference: the occasional book fine, after all, and the cost of going to the library are negligible. That is why the public libraries were termed the poor man’s university. However, educating people to the point where they are well-read and enjoy the richness of our civilization is not a sufficient goal. What you really mean is tying that goal of self-education to the economy so that people are rewarded for education and don’t have to beggar themselves int he process.

    That means, I think, two more requirements are necessary. First, you the self-educated person in this day and age the educated person needs to be not merely well-read and well-versed in a passive sense but engaged: able to reason and apply what he has absorbed. Second, the educated person needs to have his ticket punched: no matter whether the person is well-educated in mathematics or information technology or physics or humanities or philosophy, this busy world won’t set them at the respective tasks of mathematical work or I.T. or nuclear engineering or architecture or dance or even those games of whether Heidegger’s cat is or is not dead, unless they have some certification of proficiency. You and I may rail about this. Why can’t a prospective employer take the time to interview someone to find out if they are a fool or not, after all? However, a moment’s reflection shows why: there are so many to interview that any selection of the best or even merely the better applicant would take too long. Too, the process is likely to err: just think of the fools we elect (or the fact that a good fraction of us consider those elected at any one time to be fools).

    Let us first look at the Khan Academy. I think the Academy in several fields of knowledge sets out admirably a detailed means of self-education. For example, the mathematics is well-done. The humanities — which is principally in Khan’s terms represented by history is served not so well. However, where the Academy is strong certain pointers can be drawn. Where facts are to be absorbed, a combination of on-line text and lecture seems to serve quite well. Exercises test and tease the brain, as well as expose the student to the mode of application. Then, by linking itself to preparing for certain tests — the SAT and the California tests — the Khan model allows the student to prepare himself for a certification of proficiency.

    Of course, the question is whether this model can be expanded. I believe it can. First of all, I believe we are learning that in some fields an on-line “lesson” given first in news-story form, then in non-fiction narrative and then in deconstruction terms, would greatly expand absorption. (See Michael Miner’s article, horribly titled in its on-line version, at http://www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/university-of-illinois-campuscrime-website/Content?oid=4019973.)

    Moreover, I don’t equate this to merely rote learning. If, to take the humanities, I think examples of printed or on-line taped discussions about subjects could easily be added, a chance for on-line discussion among fellow-self-educating students allowed, and some rarer opportunities for discussions lead by the experienced added easily enough and cheaply enough. In that manner even the slippery concepts of humanities could be absorbed and made pliable enough for students to use in reasoning and application. If one reads the discussions in Plato, discusses the discussions with one’s fellows and then discusses them again under some guidance, one will become if not a budding Socrates at least someone conversant with philosophy of a certain kind and a certain mode of application.

    The problem is the certification. That is how — to take the line of a recent “Front Line” news broadcast — on-line for-profit colleges excel, for they take an existing college accreditation and unite both course-giver and certification-giver in one entity. They do so at an exorbitant cost, in part because they spend as much on marketing as they do on the cost of the education provided itself. And, of course, under the accreditation-rules, a college cannot just stamp for, say, $125 or $140, someone as proficient in a course or having achieved proficiency in a given field, for the accrediting body requires that the student take courses at or through the institution. Although some testing-out or advanced credit is allowed, I know of no accredited college where a student could, say, test out of three quarters of his or her courses without taking them. And thus the proficiency certification requirement leads directly back to the present, wasteful models of education.

    Let me summarize, quickly. I believe firmly that a person can, at present, achieve self-education and satisfactory understanding of basic fields of knowledge and our civilization, at low cost, through the public library. However, that traditional self-education is without means of developing ability to think and apply the concepts learned. I strongly believe that the means are at hand to achieve cheap on-line versions of education in which the self-student will become not merely well-read and well-versed, but able, as well, to think and to apply what he has learned. However, to motivate enough students one has to show how such self-education with that rigor leads to economic rewards and/or the social status of “achievement” . What needs to be de-linked and developed here is the certification. Surely a world that can achieve world-wide testing for English proficiency in TOEFL can figure out, in a similar way, how to reliably measure proficiency in chemistry or physics or the other measurable fields, and, likewise, test and measure proficiency in subjects as diverse as economics, social science, etc.

    If we can figure out the proficiency testing, in short, then I think the free or nearly free on-line education will follow.

    Rosenhall’s article:

    California teen entrepreneur asks: College? Who needs it …
    Jun 9, 2011 … Dale Stephens, 19, works in downtown San Francisco, where he promotes the UnCollege movement. He won a $100000 fellowship from a Silicon …

    UnCollege
    UnCollege is a social movement supporting self-directed higher. We empower you to change the world with or without a college degree.
    uncollege.org/ – Cached – Block all uncollege.org results

    1.
    20 Under 20 Fellowship Program Rules – The Thiel Foundation
    For a copy of these Official Rules or winners list, send your request in a self-addressed, stamped envelope to: The Thiel Foundation …
    2.
    Thiel Foundation Winners
    May 25, 2011 … Parents, do you hope that your children have the chance to become like Peter Thiel, the PayPal co-founder, Facebook investor and hedge fund …
    weirdnews.aol.com/tag/thiel-foundation-winners – Cached
    3.
    Thiel Foundation Gives $100k Awards to Under-20 Dropouts | The …
    May 27, 2011 … Over 400 applications were submitted when the Thiel Foundation first announced the fellowship last fall. One of the winners, 19-year-old Ben …
    4.
    Thiel Foundation Announces 24 Awards for Young Inventors | BuzzIT …
    May 26, 2011 … Thiel Foundation started by Peter Thiel, who co-founder PayPal and invested early in Facebook, announced that it will be awarding its …

    Like

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