International Forum of Educational Technology & Society

Formal Discussion Initiation

An Initial Experiment For Attaining Education For All

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Time schedule:
Discussion: 8-17 September 2003
Summing-up: 18-19 September 2003

Alfred Bork
University of California, Irvine, USA



The tide today is running to democracy, which of its very nature requires an every more educated citizenry involved in the goals and governance of each nation on region. . . . there is a vital desire and movement among all peoples for realizing the personal dignity of each human being, a surge of rising expectations for human development and human freedom everywhere in the world. Human rights are the order of the day, and among the most important of modern human rights is educational opportunity, without which human development and human freedom are impossible. These are the motives and dreams that are driving us today toward what has often seemed an impossible dream: global educational opportunities for every human being on earth.

Let me say here that the dream is impossible if education is visualized as it has always has existed in recent centuries: a schoolroom with a teacher and students. . . .It should be fairly obvious at this point that we need a completely new plan and vision for worldwide access to education at all levels, if the next century is to see a quantum leap in educational opportunities everywhere.

Theodore Hesburgh, Templeton, John Marks, editor, Looking Forward: The Next Forty Years, 1st ed. Harper Business, NY, 1993.



There is no more important investment that a country can make than in the education of its citizens. For equitable access to positive economic development and social progress, and to full enjoyment of life, learning is essential. Yet worldwide over a hundred million children grow up without entering a schoolhouse door, and many millions more do not complete primary school or go to very weak schools. What is needed is a `good' marriage between available technology and the educational process that enhances learning, while maintaining equity and quality.

We need major improvements in learning, both in the developing world and in countries such as the United States. Although we think of learning problems as developing world problems, they also occur in developed countries. Thus many adults are functionally illiterate in the United States. Every politician announces that she or he will improve learning, but it is not happening. If anything, the evidence might indicate that learning is declining everywhere.

Our present strategies, even with improvements now being implemented and contemplated, will not suffice. This proposal explores a strategy that may lead to an order of magnitude improvement in learning. The model for this new approach is tutorial learning, such as that seen with Socrates. But in the new materials the computer will be the tutor. No new technology, hardware or software, is required.

We need a form of distance learning that:

  1. Focuses on student learning problems
  2. Works for very large numbers of students of widely different backgrounds, globally
  3. Is highly adaptive to the needs of each student, interactive, and tutorial
  4. Works in schools and also where no schools or universities exist
  5. Is affordable and available for everyone on earth
  6. Is sustainable
  7. Works for both the rich and the poor

This proposal suggests a way to achieve these goals.


Education for All

 In the early twenty-first century people will be able to study what they want, when they want, where they want, and in the language they prefer, electronically.

Peter Knight, Education for all Through Electronic Distance Education, International conference on Distance Education, Moscow, July 1994.

 We address an international problem, discussed in a series of meetings. The Dakar meeting set goals to be attained in 2015. For young children two goals are important:

J. F Rischard, High Noon – Twenty Global Problems, Twenty Years to Solve Them, Basic Books, NY, 2002.

Rischard gives four reasons why education is a global problem.

Education is one of twenty global problems Rischard discusses. To solve others, education must often play an important role. We cannot have adequate drinking water, prevent HIV, or develop a non-violent world without educating billions of people, since these depend on decisions that large numbers of individuals make.


Attaining Education For All

Why are we having difficulty realizing these universally desired goals? A major problem is that we have too many people on earth for the current educational systems. Schools and universities developed when we had far fewer people who needed to learn. What has been lost as numbers increased is the ability to individualize education, to personalize it to the needs and problems of each student. It is here that technology, used properly, can offer immense help in learning, allowing us to attain education for all. But this is not the way technology is used in education today.

We first consider the overall feature of the learning units, then the material to be developed in an initial experiment, the reasons why we think such an extensive experiment is necessary, and questions to be answered by the experiment. Finally we discuss the steps after the experiment leading to education for everyone on earth.


Features of this approach to learning


The content and schedule of the experiment

This plan for a new learning system for the earth begins with an experiment, described in this section. A later section describes the next steps.


Year 1 – Begin experiment with reading and writing, mathematics, and science for young children.

Three years of mathematics, beginning at age five, initially in five languages and cultures.

Three years of reading and writing, beginning at age five. Initially only in English

One year of science, about age eight, in five languages and cultures.

Detailed proposals and budgets are available in each of these areas.

Design and implementation of about half of the modules will be done in this first year. The system to be used has been under development for 35 years at the University of California, Irvine, including design, implementation, and evaluation. Examples of older units developed with this system, such as the Scientific Reasoning Series, are available for inspection and can help guide developers. Specialists in each area are involved. Software developments have also been carried out at the University of Geneva and California State University San Marcos. The system is described fully in the book and papers listed at the end of this proposal. The system is designed particularly for highly adaptive tutorial material.


Year 2 – Design and implementation of the other modules

Beta testing of the first year modules

Trial of evaluation and improvement activities

Beginning of marketing the first year modules


Year 3

Evaluation and improvement – step one. Primary emphasis in finding weak learning points and improving these areas.

Evaluation and improvement – step two. Primary emphasis is on the effectiveness of the learning units. Results will be used in marketing and distribution.

Large numbers of students of many backgrounds, including economically deprived students

Both in schools and without schools

Many parts of the world

Much of the information gathered by the computer as students learn

Final report of experiment

Marketing of full product in developed countries      

Choose marketing agents

Establish fund for deployment in developing areas


Why the experiment is necessary

There are at least two reasons for this extensive experiment as a way of beginning to solve the ‘education for all’ problem.

This experiment will provide the necessary information.


Questions to be answered in the Experiment



No new approach to learning will work if the costs are too great. We need to consider several aspects.


Cost of the experiment

The experiment as described will cost about 18 million dollars. A detailed budget is available. The funding need not come from a single source.


Cost for learning in the new system

For sustainability a critical factor is the cost for a student hour of learning, as suggested. This must include all factors, including development, distribution, maintenance, organizations, facilities, teacher training (if any), publicity, and profit. For schools in the United States the cost is about $10.00 for a student hour of learning. Too often only some of these factors are considered. We expect the new system to cost much less than existing modes of learning when it is used widely.

An analysis for the costs of adaptive tutorial learning is contained in Tutorial Distance Learning, listed at the end of this proposal. Costs go down as more people use the system, desirable for global learning. Some cost factors depend on further information, but the new system should be less expensive than existing education, as mentioned. Funds already spent for education in economically deprived parts of the world, either local or from international agencies such as the World Bank, can yield more and better learning with this new method.

We expect these materials to make very large profits in developed areas, as we will be able to show through evaluations that learning is superior to conventional learning. Some of these profits will be used for further development, as outlined below, and for distribution in economically deprived areas. Thus by providing better education for children in wealthy countries we would help provide better education for the poor of the world.

Current computers are more expensive than needed to bring highly adaptive learning to all. A computer sufficient to our purposes, with a much simpler operating system than available now, could be built today for well under $100 US. This is planned for year 6 in the following steps, when there is already enough learning material to justify such equipment. At that time the cost will be less.


Steps After the Experiment

We briefly outline in this section the steps needed to assure education for all. Changes far in the future should be expected, as these will depend on the success of previous steps. We begin with year four, after the experiment.


Year 4 – Decision to proceed further in this direction or not– following steps if this decision is positive.

Extend math and science material to three more languages

Extend reading and writing material to another language

Voice input systems for these new languages

Begin to develop learning materials for health in poor areas.


Year 5 – Begin development of mathematics and reading and writing material for entire primary curriculum – three years new material

Expand existing materials to more languages and cultures – multiyear effort

Begin with preschool material including learning to live without violence.


Year 6 – Begin development of learning appliance and operating system for poor areas. Cost should be well under $100 for each device. The operating system would be much simpler than current systems.

Establishment of organizational structure – first stage. We need to plan several functions, including spreading information about existing units, planning for new units, continual evaluation including longitudinal evaluation, maintenance, financial management, and construction and distribution of equipment.


Year 7 – Begin development of new satellite network for learning

Establish final organizational structure

Begin other curriculum material for the elementary level

Begin research efforts to better understand learning.

Design long-term international storage of student records.


Year 8 – Meeting to plan secondary school curricula

Testing of learning appliance and operating system

Deployment of this appliance


Year 9 – Beginning of development for secondary school curriculum - multiyear project


Year 10 – Experiment in lower division undergraduate courses, based on widely taught beginning courses in several areas


Year 12 – Begin testing of full K-12 program, in all languages currently available.

Extension of K-12 materials to additional languages and cultures

Continual movement each year to new languages

Begin widespread usage of satellite network.


Year 13 – Implementation and evaluation of lower division undergraduate courses for many languages


Year 16 – Implementation of upper division undergraduate courses


Year 19 – Implementation of courses for lifelong learning


Year 20 – Education for most people on earth

Continue moving of learning units to new languages and cultures

Development and deployment of more learning units

Continued research


We emphasize again that events far in the future are subject to change based on experience.



Bork, A., & Gunnarsdottir, S. (2001). Tutorial Distance Learning – Rebuilding our Educational System, New York: Kluwer Academic Publishers.


Related Papers

Bloom, B. S. (1984). The search for methods as effective as one-to-one tutoring. Educational Leadership, 41 (8), 4-17.

Bork, A., Ibrahim, B., Milne, A., & Yoshii, R. (1992). The Irvine-Geneva Course Development System. In R. Aiken (Ed.), Education and Society, Information Processing 92, North-Holland: Elsevier, 253-261.

Bork, A. (1999). The Future of Learning, Interview. EDUCOM Review, July/August, Retrieved August 17, 2003 from

Bork, A. (2000). Four Fictional Views of the Future of Learning. The Internet and Higher Education, 3, 271-284.

Bork, A. (2001). What is Needed for Effective Learning on the Internet. Educational Technology and Society, 4 (3), 139-144.

Bork, A. (2003). A Lifelong Learning System for the World. In Rossman, P. (Ed.), The Future of Higher (Lifelong) Learning for All, A Holistic View, Retrieved August 17, 2003 from

Evans, P., & Wurster, T. S. (2000). Blown to Bits - How the New Economics of Information Transforms Strategy, Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.

Rischard, J. S. (2002). High Noon – Twenty Global Problems, Twenty Years to Solve Them, NY: Basic Books.


Papers are available at


The main motive for development cooperation used to be solidarity. . . but there is yet another strong reason, namely self-interest. If we do not recognize the challenges posed by poverty. . . the world of tomorrow will be a difficult place for all of us to live in.

Anders Wijkman, A 2020 Vision for Food, Agriculture, and the Environment, 1995.


We need to explore all possible means to reach out to the massive numbers of people around the globe who are deprived of the opportunity to learn. . . The demand for learning opportunities is constantly rising, but the cost of delivering education by conventional means makes it impossible for many countries to satisfy the growing demand.

Federico Mayer, Peace through Global E-learning, in Global peace Through the Global Learning System, T. Varis, T. Utsumi and W. R. Klemm, Univ. of Tampere, Finland.


Education is . . .  the key to . . . development that is both sustainable and humane, and to peace founded on mutual respect and social judgment. [I]n a world in which creativity and knowledge play an ever greater role, the right to education is nothing less than the right to participate in the life of the modern world.

Education for All,   UNESCO, Amman, Jordan, 1996


About moderator

Alfred Bork is Professor Emiritus at the University of California, Irvine, USA.

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