Investing in infrastructure: does it work?

Chicago from the air

Yesterday the government announced a combination of public and private funding, a £30 billion investment in the UK’s infrastructure (transport, hospitals, schools, etc.) The private funding would probably come from pension funds and Chinese investment, and it’s anticipated that the public funding will come from cuts to the tax credits system. They’re hoping (and it is a hope) that this will stimulate the economy and provide economic growth.

Earlier this year James Paul Gee, a big advocate of games-based learning, wrote a post entitled 10 Truths About Books and What They Have to Do With Video Games. It included these nuggets:

 3. For good learning, books require talk and social interaction with others around interpretation and implications. 5.   Books can make you smart by supplying vicarious experience, new ideas, and something to debate and think about.

6. Books are often best used as tools for problem solving, not just in and for themselves.

8. Just giving people books does not make them smarter; it all depends on what they do with them and who they do it with. For young people, it depends, too, on how much and how well they get mentored. Mentoring is, in fact, crucial.

10. Books tend to make the “rich” richer and the poor “poorer” (those who read more in the right way get to be better and better readers and get more and more out of reading; those who don’t, get to be poorer and poorer readers and get less and less out of reading. The former get more successful, the latter, less). This is called “the Matthew Principle.”

What happens if instead of ‘books’ we talk about ‘infrastructure’ in the above examples? I’d argue that the following is true:

  • Infrastructure can give people new experiences.
  • Infrastructure can be used to help solve social problems (especially social justice issues)
  • Infrastructure does not to lead to improved quality and efficiency in and of itself. It depends what people do with it.
  • Infrastructure tends to make the “rich” richer and the poor “poorer”. Those who have the social and cultural capital to make the most of the infrastructure improve and entrench their position.

The word ‘infrastructure’ can also be applied to the ‘hard’ stuff in educational institutions and especially the kind of educational technology that occupies much of my thinking time.

Time and time again over my (albeit relative short) career I’ve seen investment in educational infrastructure without the associated, necessary investment in people. Not only do we need to provide the kit, we need to invest in skills. In fact, it’s more than that, we need to go beyond training and give people the space to be creative and innovative – job security and hope for the future being a good place to start with the latter. That’s why so many public sector workers are striking tomorrow.

I agree that investing in infrastructure is important. But investing in people, for all kinds of reasons, is crucial.

Image CC SA dsearls

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