The Development Equation/Introduction

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Learning and Knowledge in the 21st Century : The Development Equation
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"Every young poor student ought to be able to satisfy his learned curiosity just as a rich person does" as emblazoned on the front of the British Museum in 1836; quoted from Harold Varmus founder of PLoS (in Willinksy, 2006, pg. 8)

The words learning, knowledge and 21st century represent the effort in this document to outline a general approach to understand the changes brought about by contemporary globalization, the digital communications revolution and the global role of the university as they relate to the ongoing development of learning and knowledge activities in human development. Education and research are the university's core functions and relate directly to learning and knowledge. Learning and knowledge, however, encompass a broader human endeavour that transcend the university and its particular form and historical context. They are ubiquitous in human experience, culture and development, and they not only flow from institutions but serve to shape institutions. In Challenging Knowledge: The University in the Knowledge Society, Delanty states that the university cannot be reduced to power or culture, nor to "science and the academic cultures of knowledge" and the university is "an open space where power, knowledge and culture collide." (Delanty, 2001, pg. 12). Thus, education and research functions of universities provide only a platform for formalizing, communicating and organizing learning and knowledge activities in a society, and cannot lay claim to the beginning and end points of these activities. Learning and knowledge develop over time, and development as the alleviation of poverty, as freedom, and as material and social progress flows from learning and knowledge. Though definitions vary, often making it difficult to distinguish learning and knowledge, we propose to associate learning with adaptation and process, and knowledge with epistemology and product. Learning can said to be adaptation by individuals and societies to their environments, motivated by not only survival but imagination and intention. Knowledge is the outcome of learning that has been tested, evaluated and examined, shared, developed, trusted and given authority and transmitted. Knowledge can be challenged, deconstructed and reconstructed, and gathered over generations and locations. Learning itself must be separated from pedagogy, as pedagogy can suffer path dependance or insufficient information. Indeed the learner may have to navigate pedagogy as an obstacle, and certainly teaching should be responsive to new information, to novelty and learn from the learner. Essential, teaching is at its best when the teacher uses her knowledge to teach the learner how to learn. That allows the learner, and the next generation of knowledge workers, to transcend and advance the knowledge of the generation that teaches them.

The role of universities in contemporary globalization and the application of knowledge in national and international development practice and outcomes are key focal points of this study. A brief historical look at the development of knowledge from a global perspective will be included to provide continuity with recent developments in higher education and communications. The analysis will be informed by literature, institutional initiatives, and conceptual leaders in three areas relevant to the topic: Access to Knowledge (A2k), Information and Communications Techonology for Development (ICT4D) and Knowledge for Development (K4D). Situating the university amidst these contemporary ideas, we hope to provide a picture of where we may go from here in terms of possibility and challenges.

We are forced to note that the 21st century begins with stark challenges; inequality, poverty, environmental degradation and climate change, violent conflict, migration, new ethical dilemmas, governance crises, the balances and tensions of international relations, the contested space of security, the imbalances of power. We attempt to bring knowledge to bear upon these problems. However, the context itself limits us. Learning and knowledge are unequally accepted and valued, unequally accessed, unequally applied, unequally funded. The quality of opportunities afforded to people globally to learn, know, contribute and participate is varied. The activities and perspectives considered central to knowledge and its development today tend to be dominated by a handful of countries. The majority of people living in the world remain marginalized by income, privilege, and health status. This dynamic and its ability to adjust may be a core factor in determining whether globalization enhances disparity, or ultimately whether a world of greater inter-relationship reduces it. The mission is underway to educate the students of the West in global citizenship in order to empower them to change the structural inequalities to bring about a more just, healthy and sustainable global society. While a laudable goal, there is the paradox and irony of 'global citizenship' conferred through higher learning upon those already privileged, while remaining beyond the grasp of the majority. Is there a tacit expectation that the poor will remain concerned with solely with the degradations of day to day survival and that the role of global citizens is to be cognizant of their plight? Or can we expect that leadership on the core issues of the day in the world shall come from all corners of the world? With that, we need to be concerned with the higher education institutions of the South, but recall that power, culture and knowledge should be expected to collide if the university does function contextually to its environment. It should not function merely as a conduit for knowledge developed elsewhere to be delivered to its students, to replace their knowledge, values and culture with something more prestigious. Nor should it inwardly reject global knowledge.

The thesis is the university sector is particularly well-placed today to make a considerably greater difference in achieving development outcomes, in achieving success in broad development aims, particularly the Millenium Development Goals, and in correcting the shortcomings of development agendas through critical debate and research. New opportunities are brought about by digital technologies for communication, but the outcomes on development are by no means determined by the presence or absense of these technologies alone. The opportunities must be identified, reflected upon, discussed and acted upon by decision-makers in the university sector, academic leaders, faculty and students as well in the context of national and international development policy. The primary issue for developing countries and remote regions will be that it will become increasingly costly to societies for its universities to go without stable, broadband internet access.

The primary issue for the developed nations, is that unless attention is given to the 'Development Equation' of communication, technology (ICT's) and access to the dissemination of knowledge and learning activities (A2K); a 'knowledge society' in which universities are positioned as central actors - will exacerbate divides and disparities between and within regions; and limit our ability to react and adapt to development problems. If we take human capability as essential to facing these global challenges, and take capability in reference to all the world's peoples, we can see clearly that we cannot afford to marginalize the capability of the majority and not only for their sake but our own. The ideal of a world in communication where we can apply shared knowledge to deep and complex human problems facing us is lost upon us if we do not attempt to understand how the dynamics of the use of communications technology are being shaped and may be shaped in the future. This paper aims to present a realistic conceptual model for shaping these ideas from the perspective of university development today, that can be applied within and across all regions in a networked partnership approach.

The role of the world's higher education institutions in development should not be understimated, nor should that of the communications revolution, nor that of the reduction of barriers to knowledge resources. Taken together and understood, these factors are a soft power that can transcend traditional barriers to human development. How pivotal and constructive they may become in shaping development remains to be seen. Universities are but one nexus among many, and the purpose of this paper is to articulate how the university sector, its individuals and communities are positioned in the 'Development Equation'.