I hope the New Year will be good for us all! May our technology-enabled revolution gather pace and give us great satisfaction in 2014!
Something now to inspire our journey...
Learning, vision, and microloans
The Kingdom of Jordan is a tiny country in the Middle East with a population of only 6.5 million. It is also a very poor country with few natural resources but with an amazing 70 percent of its population below the age of 30! Jordan is heavily influenced by surrounding unstable political areas—Iraq, Palestine, and Syria—as well as having a border with Israel with all the complications that brings.
The Kingdom had to find a way to survive after the accession of the young King Abdullah in 1999. Education was very poor, for social and cultural reasons women were not allowed to work, and there were few real jobs as there was no real economy. Something had to be done and fairly quickly as the birth rate soared, and there was a real risk of civil unrest at some point in the future.
The new regime decided to start a learning revolution and was amongst the earliest adopters of the Internet and technology as the engine to kick-start change in learning methodology. Enter Mustafa Nasereddin (Figure 1), a Jordanian national who had spent time in the richer areas of the Arab world and had seen what was beginning to happen in Europe and North America. With over 35 years’ experience in information and communication technology, learning, and microfinance he is a key member of many national and international committees.
Figure 1: Mustafa Nasereddin
In 1997 he brought Jordan into the World Bank-backed “World Links” project, to which another 34 similarly challenged countries around the world are also connected. Mustafa became and remains the chairperson of the project. In addition, he is executive director of Talal Abu-Ghazaleh & Co. International, an Arab organization that provides accounting services.
The World Links movement aims to create conversations between young people from participant countries to engage them in learning and help them develop a vision of a better future for themselves and their families. The project had significant success from the start, dramatically improving education, and providing young Jordanians with the behaviors needed for the emerging digital age. But there were still no jobs, and no real economy.
The government of Jordan decided to stimulate entrepreneur activity by offering microloans to encourage new business creation. Over 1.5 million loans have been granted to date (to nearly 20 percent of the population!), but at a level which seems too low to support any chance of success. (The average loan is just $550.) Astonishingly, it is working and Mustafa talks with real pride about some of the successes including some IT start-ups that have been sold for $50 million and more!
Flipped classrooms make the difference
So what is the secret? Success like this is not just about engaging with technology and finding finance. What actually happened was that the flipped classroom emerged almost by accident in the early stage of the project around 15 years ago. The learners gained skills fast, faster than their teachers, overtaking traditional teaching methods. Teachers had to become advisors and facilitators as young people’s learning became self-directed, and self-sustaining.
Jordan’s tertiary education sector now has 52 percent females and a rapidly increasing 17 percent of women in a growing “real” employment sector. Things have changed dramatically. As Mustafa talked, I realized I was hearing about the impact of skills so easily developed in the flipped classroom over a decade ago. Those skills have now become the engine of a new cohort of digitally skilled, self-enabling young people with the connections and confidence to create enterprises on their own and with very little money. The young people have changed Jordan!
“Pull learning” and the way forward
Of course it is not all success. Old attitudes are changing only slowly. Mustafa: “It will take at least a generation, but my country has taken a giant stride forward in ensuring its own stability and sustainability.” Money for devices and IT infrastructure is still short. Skilling of teachers is a long-term project. Creating an economy does not happen overnight, but with the modest and wise guidance and leadership of patriotic visionaries like Mustafa, there is at least a well-planned way forward.
So the flipped classroom has been in place for over a decade and its longer-term benefits are now evident in the personal lives of many young people and in the strengthening of the national economy. That should surely give us all confidence as we seek to implement “pull learning” and to foster the growth of peer communities as powerful means of sharing and helping one another.