Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Capacity focus, 83: Breaking through to digitally driven mass customization-based education transformation in the Caribbean as a key to genuinely sustainable development

Rather than being in ordinary recession (A)  so that
demand injections can pull us up towards the "natural
capacity" of our economies (B), we seem to be near
point B, where further injection lends to rise in price
level with growth now resistant to injections even with
significant unemployment of resources
. We seem to
be caught between supply shocks (e.g. oil prices)
and the destructive side of creative destruction.
Our capacity to supply has to be renewed
and extended (C), starting with education for
the globalised, web-connected digital world

One of the pivotal conclusions from our recent exploration of the Caribbean's macroeconomic picture is that our economies seem to be caught up in stagflation: stagnation with relatively high unemployment of resources (especially labour) and significant inflation. 

Indeed, just a few days ago I heard on Antiguan radio, how the Prime Minister there countered the assertions of the opposition that unemployment was something like twenty percent, by saying that statistics just in hand point to only ten percent. And in other cases where the reported statistical numbers may be lower, one is led to ask how many not being counted are discouraged workers, or are sufficiently under-employed as to be effectively unemployed. 

Where also, it is fairly clear that many of our older economic mainstays are in serious trouble [or have outright died . . . e.g. Sugar in much of the region], and major new sectors have not sufficiently emerged as buoyant, growth driving bases for onward development. So, once tourism hit a wall come the oil price surge and financial crises from 2008 on, or construction or something like that also hit a wall, splat.


The key first step to a real remedy for our dilemma, then, is that we must first understand that there are two key types of economic stagnation, as at A and B in the figure

Type A is the familiar recession or depression; type B, is stagflation.

Where, in stagflation, we have stagnation (growth stubbornly slows down) with a tendency to inflation, and may well also be on the wrong side of the gales of creative destruction that are always blowing through an economy. Where also the gale's effects are drastically enhanced in what seems to be an ongoing long . . . Kondratiev . . . wave trough as new technologies break into the economy and force drastic structural change. (Cf. the KF pamphlet here if you need some familiarisation.)

As an illustration, let us look around us.

We will immediately notice that all across our region, we have become consumers of digital technologies, but -- with all due respects to our region's engineers, computer programmers and web or multimedia developers --  not so much, producers of digital technologies.

And yet, digital technologies are not only increasingly pervasive but are the most dynamic sectors of the world's economy, and it is clear that linked mass customisation of goods and services is threatening to break up accustomed patterns of production and consumption

Mass customisation?

Mass customization is a marketing and manufacturing technique that combines the flexibility and personalization of "custom-made" with the low unit costs associated with mass production. Many applications of mass customization include software-based product configurations that allow end-users to add and/or change certain functionalities of a core product. Sometimes called "made to order" or "built to order."  . . . .  Joseph Pine II's 1992 book "Mass Customization: The New Frontier In Business Competition" describes four types of mass customization:
1. Collaborative Customization - where companies work in partnership with individual customers to develop precise product offerings to best suit each customer's needs.

2. Adaptive Customization - where companies produce standardized products that are customizable by the end-user.

3. Transparent Customization - where companies provide unique products to individual customers without overtly stating the products are customized.

4. Cosmetic Customization - where companies produce standardized products but market the products in different ways to various customers.
It is not hard to see how ICTs allow the customisation to fit customer wishes, and adaptation of manufacturing to flexibly produce items while using lean inventory management systems.

By and large, across our region, we are simply not ready for a world increasingly dominated by this sort of information and smart process-driven highly efficient production and delivery. Whether of goods or services.

Where also, we must realise this directly speaks to a certain key strategic service that is also in a lot of trouble across our region: 


1 --> Our education systems are largely based on a mass-production, one size fits all factory age model, as they are largely based on standardised curricula, with standardised scope and sequence, delivered by a sage on the stage, at a standardised pace, such that the "bright" are often held back, and the "slow" -- a revealing word -- are gradually increasingly marginalised, failed and more or less written off and shunted aside.

2 --> Even when digital technologies have been introduced, too often this has been . . . if your case is exceptional, give fervent thanks . . . just to more effectively carry out this industrial era strategy: technologies and equipment being dumped on staff, schools and students alike without a carefully developed transformational vision or strategy expressed in carefully worked out curriculum transformation. 

3 --> Where, we now need to pause and think again, in light of the Bloom Two Sigma challenge (usually, posed as a "problem"):

4 --> What this diagram illustrates, is that individualised tutoring has the empirically demonstrated capacity to push the mean of a population of students up by two standard deviations (hence "two sigma") relative to standard, sage on stage lockstep techniques. And also, there is a large cluster of more interactive, more active and somewhat customised/ individualised approaches that are able to capture a good slice of that two-sigma jump.

5 --> The "problem" being that it has not been cost-effective hitherto to implement such a change in approach.

6 --> So, to a significant extent what our grading schemes measure is the mismatch between student needs, student motivations, student potential and the mass-production models of education that have been dominant over the past several generations. Ouch.

7 --> The ethical challenge posed by the waste of potential and the frustration and pain inflicted on ever so many should motivate us towards change in a world where a strongly emerging trend is . . . mass customisation, digital technology driven adaptation of goods, services and associated production processes to efficiently address customer needs.

8 --> Where also, we need to appreciate the principle of the ultimate resource, namely that:
The most precious, most vital, most valuable, most flexible, least limited, most renewable natural resource in the world lies in the two to three pounds of grey matter we each carry between our ears.
9 --> Yes, in our brains. And right behind our brains come the five-pronged appendages on the ends of our arms -- our hands. Thereafter, our centres of motivation, determination, decision and effort -- our "hearts." The 3H factors.

10 --> Thus, the Hayek Triangle of investments for productive transformation have to start with the 3H factors, and thus need to address education transformation and linked population, welfare, health and socio-cultural issues and challenges:

11 --> But also, in a mass customisation era, they rapidly need to target how best to apply digital technologies to transform curricula in ways that enable capturing much of the two-sigma advantage. (Which, BTW, then allows us to focus better on the remaining few percent who do face major challenges.)

12 --> Does this mean tossing overboard the focus on core primary and secondary level knowledge and skills in the "three R's" . . .  "reading, writing, 'rithmetic," then basic science, languages, history, Geography, civics, etc?

13 --> Nope. 

14 --> First, it means finding individualised and significantly automated interactive ways of mastering core materials, core because they are common and/or foundational to other learning.

15 -->  Then, it allows for extensions in balanced ways that target identified talents or inclinations -- with sufficient breadth to balance depth. 

16 --> This points to Tee-shaped curricula, here shown as especially relevant to secondary studies:

17 --> As a first step, I have strongly suggested modularisation and coherent alignment of curricula based on half term long modules of perhaps five to six weeks duration. This will allow for a better organisation of the scope and sequence of requisite knowledge and skills, leading on to actual digitally driven individualisation and customisation:

18 --> Within this general framework, and in light of sound sequencing of knowledge, concepts, skills, techniques etc, and careful diagnostic testing, modules can be adapted to the needs and aspirations of students. In some breadth exposure cases, the modularisation also allows choosing brief exposure to useful topics without having to devote a full year of study in a "subject slot." 

19 --> We are already seeing customisation. Multiply by the power of digital technologies, and we create resources that can then be used in quite flexible ways in learning, assessment, organisation, administration, etc.

20 --> Where, in particular, the Tablet PC revolution brings to bear a lightweight, affordable, flexible and powerful platform. Especially where such tablets can be used with keyboards. For instance:

21 --> Then, add in the mass of thousands of educators across the region, and at once we see that a huge, rich resource can be jointly developed.

22 --> And, that immediately points to the creation of a large digitally pooled base of educational materials.

23 --> Where also, computer programming and linked onward knowledge, skills and applications will be pivotal in creating a future workforce able to contribute to drastically increased and up to date productive capacity in our region. This, in a context where the 2012 Furber Royal Society Report pointed out that to secure the UK's future competitiveness, computer programming -- not "IT" . . . too often, aka how to use MS Office applications -- needs to become a core subject starting at PRIMARY level, with deeper exposure in secondary level.  Let us listen to Dr Furber:

24 --> This needed transformation points, onward to transformation of the knowledge and skill base of our workforce, and to encouraging, incubating and helping to finance promising new enterprises and industrial clusters.

25 --> Thus, across time, moving our region to the creative side of the technology change driven creative destruction process. In large part, through the mass customisation of our region's education systems.


Thus: if not now, then, when? If not here, then, where? If not us, then, who? END