Open-Source Ed goes GLOBAL

Meet The Danish NGO That’s Taking Open-Source Education Global

Shelves of the Main Library of Tampere, Finland.

Photo credit: Wikipedia

Imagine getting an Ivy League level education in UX, product design or human-computer interaction from the comfort of your home – anywhere in the world. What sounds like the offer from a spam email is actually the open-source education reality that Denmark’s Interaction Design Foundation has devoted the last decade to promoting.

“Education is the single most powerful way to lift people out of poverty and change lives. Our vision is to create a sustainable model for equal opportunities to education and to improve the design of technology. It is our vision to give everybody absolutely free access to educational materials in the highest quality possible – whether they live in New York or New Delhi, “ says co-founder Rikke Dam.

Built over the foundation’s 10-year history, IDF’s library of design-focused courseware and textbooks includes contributions from faculty at the likes of Stanford, Harvard and MIT and researchers from IBM, Google and Apple and boasts over 16M readers to date. Based in Denmark, IDF’s mandate draws heavily on the Danish perspective on access to education, according to Dam.

“We are strongly inspired by the Danish educational system where everybody are offered free, high-quality education from the earliest years in school until we graduate from university. Universities in Denmark are tuition-free and students are even offered a monthly paycheck from the government to go there. It makes perfect business sense from a socioeconomic perspective.”

Recently, IDF inked a deal with SAP to underwrite a 35 000 mile global “Share the Knowledge” bike tour to increase awareness about open source education, particularly in North America, where the idea of free post-secondary education is far from mainstream.  Biker Max Peer is currently pedaling to college campus throughout the US and Canada to spread IDF’s message.

“The reaction has been great from day one. The fact that IDF is not just saying that education should be free, but actually doing something about it, offers a win-win situation for students, professors, and industry and that has been applauded by everybody I have met so far. And then people usually always get quite shocked when they start to think about the physical effort behind biking 35 000 miles across mountains and continents,” he says.

Nick Hækkerup, Denmark’s Minister for Trade and European Affairs knows that the Danish – or more broadly, the Scandinavian – model of education isn’t necessarily an easy sell in countries where colleges and universities are encouraged to function like business units, access to the post-secondary system is predicated in large part on financial means and where getting a degree is an investment, not a social right.

“It will be no easy task to export the Danish model of free education globally, but I wish more children and more young people had the opportunity to experience the great value of free education,” he says, making a link between Denmark’s high level of social mobility and its robust welfare state.

His wish is one that IDF is working to grant, starting with the field of design.

“Open-source education has the potential to diminish the social skew – nationally and globally – as open-source education helps enhance equal rights to education. There is of course still a very, very long way to go. Millions of children and young people do not have time to go to school because they have to work. And teachers have only just started to include open-source resources in schools and universities. We are only seeing the dawn of open-source education,” says Dam.


source: Forbes/Leardership

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