Look Out, Pearson; Murdoch Is Serious About Online Education

At the eG8 forum in Paris, where a range of tech execs shared mostly predictable and prosaic views on Tuesday, the most unlikely spectacle was Rupert Murdoch using a keynote to talk passionately about giving kids a better education.

“Our schools remain the last holdout from the digital revolution,” Murdoch said. “The person who woke up from their 50-year nap would find today’s classroom would like almost exactly the same as it did in the Victorian age – a teacher standing before a room full of kids with a textbook, blackboard and a piece of chalk. It is an abdication of our responsibility to our children and grandchildren.

“Our challenge is to learn from what works best — wherever in the world we find it — and put it all together. My company is determined to try, in a big way.”

It was an unusual topic for the News Corp (NSDQ: NWS) CEO. In November, News Corp hired New York City schools chancellor Joel Klein as an advisor, and bought 90 percent of ed-tech provider Wireless Generation for $360 million. In January, Klein got his own education division in News Corp and a $2 million salary.

Judging from his keynote to the eG8, which was assembled by France’s president Sarkozy to hear tech business’ views to be fed to the French-hosted G8 summit, Murdoch is both passionate and excited about what he sees as both a duty and a business opportunity.

This could encompass both e-books and learning materials and group learning platforms, and could be a gauntlet thrown down to one of the digital learning sector’s big beasts – Pearson.

There is no reason why all children shouldn’t have access to great symphonies or lectures from Stephen Hawking, Murdoch told eG8 delegates – no reason why, if a particular teacher has developed the best lesson plan in a field, that lesson shouldn’t be shared across a school system. Murdoch said technology had revolutionised Korea’s education system to the point where teachers there were now paid like and regarded as celebrities and sports stars.

“Everywhere we turn, digital advances are making workers more productive, creating jobs that did not exist only a few years ago and liberating us from the old tyrannies of time and distance,” Murdoch said. “This is true in every area except one: education.”