Nearly half of the world's population is under the age of 25; that means more than 3 billion people. Over 500 million youth live on less than $2 per day.
The World Bank reports that significant progress has been made toward universal primary education, "Access to schooling in developing countries has improved since 1990 -- some 47 out of 163 countries have achieved universal primary education (Millennium Development Goal 2) and an additional 20 countries are estimated to be "on track" to achieve this goal by 2015." By that time, about 90 percent of the world's children will have access to universal primary.
However, about 4 in 10 youth did not or will not have access to secondary education -- that's 1.4 billion youth largely cut off from participation in the global economy.
The global secondary education gap is the most pressing problem in the world. If we solve that problem, we can improve global health, sustainability, security, and prosperity.
Tom Friedman said yesterday, "The Arab world has 100 million young people today between the ages of 15 and 29, many of them males who do not have the education to get a good job, buy an apartment and get married. That is trouble." And now that many undereducated youth have access to social media, "you have a very powerful change engine."
A 2009 McKinsey report called the U.S. achievement gap "the economic equivalent of a permanent national recession -- one substantially larger than the deep recession the country is currently experiencing." The global secondary gap -- 100 times more devastating than the U.S. gap -- is the equivalent of a massive global recession.
With recent developments, this is a very solvable problem. Low cost private schools like Bridge International in Africa are delivering strong academic results for less than $4 per month.
To enterprising low cost schools, it is becoming more affordable to add low cost tablets, open content, broadband, and online learning. By blending online and on-site learning in new productive and efficient school formats, it's easy to imagine quality affordable high schools with tuition of less than $10 per month.
With the introduction of broadband, wired Indian community centers (like the one I visited with US CTO Aneesh Chopra in October) can become a blended regional blended high school that students visit a few times each week.
My Learn Capital colleague Marshall Roslyn ran our Beijing office. Marshall notes that, "The Chinese government clearly recognizes the importance of technology in improving its education system and is pushing to implement e-learning and blended learning approaches." China's 2010 National Long-term Education Reform and Development Program states (translated) "Information technology has revolutionized education development and should be given special attention in future reform efforts." Particular emphasis is placed on the impact e-learning can have on closing the urban-rural education gap. Chinese government support combined with a solid technology infrastructure (400M+ broadband users, 800M+ mobile phones and the world's fastest growing e-reader market) should result in a significant increase in the implementation of blended learning over the next 5 years.
Online learning, cheap access devices, open content, and broadband will soon provide low cost universal access to quality high school learning and building a bridge to post secondary and job opportunities for the next billion youth.
Facebook and Twitter may topple autocratic regimes, but it will be blended learning that empowers hundreds of millions of youth to lead healthy and more productive lives.