Good Ideas Can Be Dressed Up in Bad Proposals

I don’t have an opinion about this, or any useful information to share with you that might help you form your own opinion about it, but I do think it’s worth pointing out that questioning whether the people proposing this kind of financing know what they’re doing does not necessarily mean you are anti-technology or against computers in schools or don’t believe the future is our children etc. As this article notes, the interest alone on $2 billion in bonds could buy a lot of stuff.

One of the things I’m doing in my actual job is to better understand how communities identify the best ways for technology to drive what they are tryying to accomplish, and figure out how to pay for those tools they need in a responsible and effective way. Taking on a lot of debt to do so may not be the best approach. (Again, not saying it’s a bad idea, just that it may not be.)


A Good Trend

(Updated Below)

This is a great idea:

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation will award $900,000 to public library systems in New York City and Chicago, part of a larger pool of innovation grants worth nearly $3.5 million, to allow disadvantaged families and individuals to borrow portable Wi-Fi hotspots and take them home. (my emphasis)

The New York City Public Library’s pilot project will allow families to borrow mobile Wi-Fi hotspot devices for up to a year, with the goal of reaching 10,000 households. The program, which will receive $500,000 and will be run in the library’s 92 branches, is targeting users whose current access to the Internet is limited to 40 minutes a day.

The Chicago program, which will receive $400,000, has a much smaller window for borrowing—devices will be available for three-week loans, though the goal is to hone the loaning model and expand it over time. The Chicago program will also make laptops and tablets available, the Knight foundation said.

In both cases, the loaning of equipment will be coupled with training meant to increase borrowers’ overall digital literacy and Internet skill.

While the impetus for this initiative was to support families of K-12 students, note that borrowers may also be individuals. Thus adult learners who lack access to the Internet at home could benefit from this program as well — and it would be relatively easy in both cities to partner up with the adult education community to ensure that the digital literacy training offered is accessible to adults with low literacy.

Public libraries, by design, they are there to support learning and access to information for everyone in the communities they serve. Initiatives that look to public libraries as the focal point for community internet access is a good trend for adult education.

UPDATE 6/30/14: Another story about this initiative here.

It’s Not About Technology

Andrew Leonard, writing in Salon about the reaction among the Silicon Valley set to Jill Lepore’s critique of the theory of disruption innovation in the current New Yorker:

But let’s be clear here: Lepore is not engaging in an anti-technology screed. She’s training her artillery on the way Silicon Valley rationalizes its own behavior as some kind of natural law of progress.

It’s possible to be critical of the way Silicon Valley is agitating for regulatory reform that is designed to nurture Silicon Valley business models without being “anti-technology.” It’s possible to explore the question of how the current pace of technological innovation is affecting jobs and inequality without being anti-technology. It is possible to be critical of how, in the current moment, technology appears to be serving the interest of the owners of capital at the expense of workers without being anti-technology. It’s even possible to love one’s smartphone and the Internet while at the same time critiquing run-amok “change the world” hype.

Here We Go Again

I’ve written before about the inherent problem with instituting an adult education requirement in order to qualify for a government benefit (as have others), but in light of this recent Labour proposal in the U.K., it’s worth repeating the basic problem with this kind of proposal: it’s only fair, and only works as policy, if access to adult education is free and universal. There are other problems, potentially, with adding new requirements to benefits already earned (which is the case with unemployment benefits in the U.S.) but such proposals are fundamentally flawed at the start if a lack of available adult education opportunities make the education requirement impossible for beneficiaries to meet. If Labour is also proposing a massive new investment in adult education and training (and I mean truly massive), that’s one thing, but it’s not clear from this piece in The Telegraph  that such an investment would be accompanying the new education requirement in their proposal:

People receiving Jobseeker’s Allowance would be forced to sit a basic skills test within six weeks of signing on or face being stripped of their benefits, Labour will say, in a move designed to challenge the Tory’s popular welfare policies.

Anyone who does not show basic competency in literacy, numeracy and IT will be sent on training programmes.

Labour believes that around 300,000 people could be sent on courses every year. If they refuse, they will be denied welfare.

Maybe I’m completely uninformed, and the U.K. has 300,000 empty seats in their adult education and training programs. But if not, I’m not sure how this plan is supposed to work.

Note also that expanding a system to accommodate 300,000 more learners is not just a question of pumping more money into programs. To achieve anything close to universal access to adult education, you’d have to think through a strategy that puts in place some combination of physical program and/or on-line learning that is distributed in such a way that it is truly accessible by all, and you’d also have to figure out some way to ensure that individuals could carve out the time and distraction-free space to successfully engage in learning (all of which might require additional investments in broadband access, transportation, and childcare—just to name three examples).