Looks like Rupert Murdoch is determined to be coming to a classroom near you, in what is shaping as a new direction for his international media company, backed by all its existing might and including some very conscious political campaigning. This morning The Australian carries this snippet quoting a speech Murdoch gave in London in which he signals that News Corporation plans to become a leading provider of educational materials within five years, aiming for about 10% of total revenue to come from this source. The speech quoted by The Oz doesn't appear to be online anywhere at the moment, but it would seem to echo this effort, given in Paris last month in which he announces News Corp's plans to get into education in "a big way". Meanwhile, in the last little while he has recruited the former chancellor of the New York City education department, Joe Klein, as CEO of News Corporation's education division, bought up an educational software and technology company, and a couple of weeks ago announced more poachings from New York City and other US education departments, charged with "working with school districts to implement the divisions programs". The potential significance for Australia is that Julia Gillard embraced Klein's ideas when she was education minister, and was involved in inviting him to Australia. The controversial My School website, and the increased emphasis on measuring school performance, are in part inspired by the New York model. Add to this the fact that in the USA News Corporation is partnering with not for profits in efforts to make education a leading issue in the 2012 presidential election and its beginning to look like a mighty push. The pitch, nobody could argue with. Murdoch's speeches outline how digital technology is transforming every area of human activity, but in most classrooms teachers are still delivering via blackboard (actually more often a whiteboard, Rupert), giving the same material to the class regardless of individual interest or ability. Traditional text book publishing, while hardly making big profits, has the merit of secure income streams at a time when everything else in media and publishing is changing and insecure. It's great to have a captive audience, after all. Here is how the News Corporation media releases spin the plan:
"News Corporation's Education Division is focused on individualised, technology-based content and learning opportunities that support world class student and teacher performance, as well as digital assessment tools for K-12 students in the United States that help eliminate the achievement gap."
Who is going to argue with better education, particularly when News Corporation has recruited world experts such as Klein? Again, it looks like a good idea for Murdoch. The impressive but also alarming thing is the way in which he has moved to corner the expertise and colonise the political high ground. Will competing providers ever be able to catch up?