Whatever the new decade brings for technology and education, one thing seems fairly sure: the internet will only continue to become an almost undiscerning part of everyday life. As I sit typing this blog post on my netbook in the hills of West Java in Indonesia, I continue to be amazed by the simple fact that at any time during my three week stay here I can switch on, plug in and access the net cheaply and with a minimum of fuss.
With a little help from a 3G broadband USB modem which I managed to unlock from the 3 network last week for about six dollars (thanks http://www.online-unlock.com) and an Indosat 3G broadband SIM (about thirty dollars), I have unlimited access to the net for the next thirty days!
A couple of months ago, I spent five weeks in East Timor. While 3G broadband access wasn’t an option there, the country has managed to set up a fairly good mobile phone network and you can find new mobiles as cheap as US$7 on the street. It’s easy to see that in only a short time, 3G technology will bring many in the developing world access to the internet and mobile phones could well be the key.
I now find myself arguing with many education experts that have quite outspoken opinions on what is and isn’t good for technology education in the developing world. Like the many opponents of the OLPC (One laptop per child) initiative, such experts argue that technology – though clearly important – should not be central to the concerns of school development in countries like East Timor.
While I don’t have a full case of evidence behind my position (although the EU council’s amendment 138-46 does lend some weight to this issue), I will continue to argue that internet access can and should be a basic human right for everyone in the world. The fact is that kids can with relative ease afford mobile phones and that such phones might be used in the near future to access resources like Wikimedia (with its free textbooks and encyclopaedias) or the Gutenberg online library of free e-books. The irony is of course that in many communities where mobiles are a fact of life, these kids can’t get access to traditional text books and teaching resources!
The bottom line is that it has never before been this easy for people such as myself to sit here and post this blog entry seemingly from the comfort of my netbook, USB modem and hotel deckchair. Perhaps this realisation might suggest that the potential for the internet as a vehicle for worldwide democracy, empowerment and social mobility might be just around the corner. At least we can dare to dream, right?