Kudos to yet another great talk from the RSA.
I’ve been a fan of organisations such as Kiva and Zopa for a while now. Peer to peer loans make many-a-business-ideas and lives possible around the world and today I found out about an equivalent type of service for students in developing countries. Vittana is still in beta, but is already creating connections with many microfinance institutions in the developing countries to stimulate regional student loans.
I never fully agreed with the idea of free education, but I’ve always looked for systems that make it universally accessible whether through loans, scholarships or offering students part-time work. In principle, if you really want to go to university and you’re willing to work hard for it, nothing should stand in your way. If it’s complicated to get a loan in the EU, I can’t even imagine what it must be like in developing countries. Back in my student days, when I first moved to the UK, I was denied student loans in this country and the Polish banking system back home told me that since I’m not studying in Poland they didn’t want to have anything to do with me.
Education is a key way of changing societies, governments and the economies of developing countries. Ironically, the countries that most need educated people often cannot support their own domestic intellectual potential. Provided they take off, organisations like Vittana might be the single non-governmental way to allow more students to have a university education in developing countries.
The UN has launched a tuition-free open university. Much like the iTunesU, University of the People supports the idea of a globally accessible free education. So far unaccredited, the institution offers just two programs, one in business and economics and one in computer science. It will be interesting to see how much development, recognition and popularity this project might gain.
For hundreds of millions of people around the world higher education is no more than a dream, Shai Reshef, the founder of the University of the People, told reporters. They are constrained by finances, the lack of institutions in their region, or they are not able to leave home to study at a university for personal reasons.
Mr. Reshef said that this University opened the gate to these people to continue their studies from home and at minimal cost by using open-source technology, open course materials, e-learning methods and peer-to-peer teaching.
Admission opened just over two weeks ago and without any promotion some 200 students from 52 countries have already registered, with a high school diploma and a sufficient level of English as entry requirements.
Students will be placed in classes of 20, after which they can log on to a weekly lecture, discuss its themes with their peers and take a test all online. There are voluntary professors, post-graduate students and students in other classes who can also offer advice and consultation.
The only charge to students is a $15 to $50 admission fee, depending on their country of origin, and a processing fee for every test ranging from $10 to $100. For the University to sustain its operation, it needs 15,000 students and $6 million, of which Mr. Reshef has donated $1 million of his own money.
Digitall is a part of a larger network of mentoring and volunteering initiatives called TimeBank. TimeBank acts as an umbrella organisation connecting charities, volunteering, business and mentoring initiatives. Opportunities range from community projects to refugee, drug addicts and child support. If you don’t know what you’d like to do or try to do, you can just register, tell TimeBank about your interests and they promise to inspire you with relevant opportunities.
Yesterday I attended my third Thishappened, a series of events at the intersection of new technologies, arts, design and innovation. Thishappened was establised by 3 friends Chris O’Shea, Joel Gethin Lewis and Andreas Müller and is held pretty much every three months. The event is free, but really hard to catch, as the tickets fly out in seconds (literally, this time it hit a record 40s before they were gone). The projects and their creators hosted at Thishappened are inspiring each and every time, whether through their creative flair or dedication to a good cause. Currently all the talks are also available online, so for those who can’t make it to the events, you can always catch up on their site as well.
One of the most inspiring things I saw last night was Heartworks, a project created by Glassworks, a London-based award winning post-production company. Approached by the Heart Hospital of London and supervised by its top medical experts who direct a course in peri-operative transoesophageal echocardiography, Glassworks spent the last two years creating a 3D digital human heart in motion that allows students to learn about the heart before putting a scalpel on anyone. Apart from being able to see it from different angles, zoom in and out of it, students can also dissect the heart with a virtual sheet that can literally slice the heart open or provide ultrasound images of the chosen section. Students can also experiment with a mannequin that allows them to learn about the tube insertion procedures that allow for ultrasound imaging diagnostics.
Initially Heartworks was meant to be a small project for the London hospital, but the interest it has received from foreign universities has turned it into a larger scale commercial venture. The success breeds potential not only for students around the world to be able to learn more about the human heart in a better way, but also gives potential for developments of such imagining for other organs be it the brain or other difficult to access areas of the body.
[Image courtesy of Heartworks and Thishappened]
The Element is a brilliant talk by Sir Ken Robinson, to me a pioneer in the philosophy of education. I first saw him at TED, in his talk on whether schools kill creativity. The Element talk is connected to his fairly recent book under the same title, which deals with questions about the currect education system, but also with what haunts so many people – whether what they do is what they should be doing and what their most meaningful application in life may be.
I’ve always loved a quotation by Confuciuos that says ‘find a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life’. From our earliest days when the most fun hours at play seem to always pass by too quickly, we all long for finding more play. I still believe that finding the right work will inevitably bring play or transform the work into play (and hopefully into meaning, too). Excelling at what we love is so much easier than just aspiring to excel at something we happen to be doing, as we can do it with the happiness and hard work that passion can extract from us.
[Image courtesy of TED and Ultimate Icons]
The past couple of years have brought just about everything that can be popped-up, from hotels and nightclubs to hair salons and spas. A curious re-mix of the pop-up idea is the inflatable movie screen range developed by the Open Air Cinema Humanitarian Program. NGOs and humanitarian agencies have used the technology to both entertain and educate small and large communities across Africa and beyond. One of the largest organisations using the inflatable screens is the FilmAid International.
FilmAid is a Global Implementing Partner of the UNHCR and currently operates in two refugee camps in Kenya, where it assists refugees from Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia, Uganda, Rwanda, Eritrea and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Its signature “Outdoor Evening Screenings” take place several nights per week and have reached up to 30,000 people in one evening. FilmAid’s “Daytime Screenings” are followed by group discussions enabling a deeper discussion about topics of concern. Topics addressed in these videos include conflict resolution and peace building, health education (e.g., HIV/AIDS, cholera, malaria prevention), landmine awareness, prevention of sexual abuse and gender-based violence among women and girls, repatriation information and more.
The Open Air Cinema program has also been used by the Shine Global and Fine Films organisation to screen the Oscar-nominated documentary War/Dance to thousands of refugees living in northern Uganda’s . They are also currently working with the Rwanda Cinema Center to bring films into remote corners of Rwanda.
The power of visual media is demonstrated both through the use of photography in mass media and the making of documentaries about socio-economic and political issues around the world. Apart from their more tangible impact on audiences, visual media such as film have a crucial role in educating societies that largely aren’t literate.
Image courtesy of the Open Air Cinema.