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Re-imagining Education throughout the World



Think globally, act locally

Matthew Baldwin is a senior (Class of 2021) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, originally from the UK. He is studying Physics and Mathematics, and his current MIT project is focused on thinking about a global education problem. This IAE Blog is based on his TEDx Talk, Re-imagining Education for Refugee Children Using Emerging Technologies (Baldwin, 1/8/2021, link). His work is an excellent example of thinking and acting both globally and locally.

The specific example that motivated Baldwin’s work is the problem of refuge children flowing into Uganda from South Sudan. Uganda has accepted more than 600 thousand refugee children, and is providing them with care as well as education in the country’s public schools.

A major problem is that most of these refuge children know little or no English, while the Ugandan schools are taught in English. Because the refuge students are placed at a grade level appropriate to their ability to handle instruction in English, most of them are placed at very low grade levels. Adding to this problem is the fact that the schools are unable to provide nearly enough ESL (English as a second language) instruction.

Baldwin is quite aware of previous attempts to provide children with laptop computers and software to help meet their needs. For example, Nicholas Negroponte is well known for a project he started to provide laptop computers to students in developing countries, and for his work with the MIT Media Lab faculty on related projects.

In November 2005, at the World Summit on the Information Society held in Tunis, Negroponte unveiled the concept of a $100 laptop computer, The Children's Machine, designed for students in the developing world. The price has increased to US$180, however. The project is part of a broader program by One Laptop Per Child, a nonprofit organization started by Negroponte and other Media Lab faculty to extend Internet access in developing countries (Wikipedia, 2021, link).

By and large, such projects have not been as successful as one might hope, primarily due to a lack of infrastructure, instructional support, and computer repair structure. But today’s Smartphones can now meet many of the specific instructional needs of these South Sudanese refugee students in Uganda. Baldwin’s project is designed to provide hundreds of thousands of refuge children with Smartphones, connectivity, and modern Computer-assisted Learning software to teach English. He notes in his TEDx Talk that the Smartphones also can provide access to other educational software and connectivity to the Web.

Our world is capable of producing enough Smartphones to meet the needs of all of the world’s population. Even though production was down 11% in 2020 due to the Coronavirus pandemic, 1.25 billion were produced. This means worldwide production in 2019 was more than 1.4 billion, or about one Smartphone for every 5½ people on earth. Such instruments have the compute power of the multi-million dollar super computers of the mid-1980s (Nunez, 8/7/2020, link). They also have capabilities that were unimaginable by the computer developers in those times.

Final Remarks

I believe that the use of Smartphones to help meet the educational challenge discussed above is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of where the world’s educational system is headed. There is widespread agreement in the world that schooling is an inalienable right of all children. I think of this still more broadly. Good access to educational content and aids to learning this content are lifelong inalienable rights of all people, not just children. The world now has both the technology and the wherewithal to provide computer-based access to such resources.

In my current vision of the future, all of the world’s children will receive a free and appropriate combination of human teacher and computer-based instruction up through at least the precollege level. Note that a number of countries already provide some of their people with free education beyond high school.

Smartphones are quite useful, but inadequate to satisfying all of these educational needs. Students need access to much larger screens, text and graphic printers, and keyboards. In addition, the computer resources needed vary in different subject areas. For example science students need access to microcomputer-based laboratory equipment, while students in music need access to computerized musical instruments. It is important for their schooling to fully embrace the capabilities of computers to solve and/or help to solve the full range of problems that we want them to be learning about in their precollege schooling and further education.

References and Resources

Baldwin, M. (1/8/202). Re-imagining education for refugee children using emerging technologies. Educational Videos. Retrieved 1/13/2021 from

Moursund, D. (4/30/2020). Introduction to ICTing and mathing across the history curriculum. Part 8. IAE Newsletter. Retrieved 1/14/2021 from

Moursund, D. (1/30/2020). Quotations collected by David Moursund. IAE-pedia. Retrieved 1/13/2021 from

Moursund, D. (10/31/2018). Inalienable rights of children. IAE Newsletter. Retrieved 1/13/2021 from

Nunez, S. (8/7/2020). Your phone is now more powerful than your PC. Insights. Retrieved 1/13/20201 from

Olivier (12/12/2011). Mankind owes to the child the best that it has to give. Humanium. Retrieved 1/13/2021 from

United Nations (n.d.). The foundation of international human rights law. Retrieved 1/13/2021 from

Wikipedia (2021). Nicholas Negroponte. Retrieved 1/13/2021 from

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Wednesday, 19 January 2022

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