micro-volunteers

Education and Online Courses Volunteerism

(gambar: www.volunteerweekly.org)

Bersamaan dengan dibukanya Global Translator Community di Coursera, seorang kolega saya, Surya, mengirimi saya sebuah artikel dari Jacobin Magazine: The Rise of the Voluntariat. Artikel ini menanggapi banyaknya tenaga relawan sebagai tenaga kerja yang layak dipertimbangkan di era kapital digital ini.

Coursera’s GTC offers the clearest instance yet of an emerging labor force in digital capitalism, which I suggest we call the voluntariat.

Nah, masalahnya, sistem relawan yang memberikan tenaga mereka tanpa digaji ini (mirip kayak anak yang kerja praktik tapi gak dibayar, hahaha) akan membuat inflasi tenaga kerja. Orang-orang — para guru, dalam konteks ini — dengan kemampuan pas-pasan yang mengharapkan upah dari tenaga mereka akan hanyut tenggelam dalam lautan Massive Online Open Course. Contohnya, karena ada DuoLingo yang menyediakan pendidikan bahasa Prancis gratis, guru-guru les bahasa Inggris akan banyak kehilangan peserta didik potensial.

Kapitalis? Ya.

Dan itulah pedang bermata dua yang sedang dihadapi para relawan ini. Mereka ingin membantu untuk memenuhi panggilan dan ego mereka, namun dengan bantuan yang mereka berikan, harga tenaga kerja makin turun dan orang-orang yang tidak menguasai sumber-sumber produksi (otak, dalam hal ini; karena otak adalah sumber daya alam yang tidak terbatas, menurut tulisan di kaosnya Nuel) akan kesulitan bersaing dengan layanan yang diberikan oleh para voluntariat.

Jadi, ini balasan pemikiran saya ke dia.


On Wednesday morning, I and my friend Yuda had a talk about higher education and inventors’ life purpose. He’s a recently graduated chemical engineer from ITB, and going to take his master study — also in chemical engineering — at Chalmers University, Sweden, this September. He was in doubt of whether what he’s going to make in his field is going to do good for humanity.

We exchanged ideas, discussed well-known examples from Alfred Nobel to Sten Gustaf (inventor of lightweight plastic bag) regarding inventions and how they backfired, from cavemens to Industrial Revolution to touchscreen smartphones regarding human needs and technology development. I kinda managed to convince him to continue his study and take the risk of “destroying civilization” through new inventions. It’s better to experiment with the world and fail so the next generation can learn from our mistakes, than sit doing nothing and watch the world degradates itself anyway.

There are two points that I can relate from my talk with him to this article. Let me summarize those.

1. Softwares rob people of their jobs

Yes, I admit that my field deprives number of jobs available rather than creates jobs. I have this one friend who works in Koperasi Pemerintah Bandung. Tens of employees there are basically just doing manual labors — writing down daily transactions, retyping numbers from papers to Excel spreadsheets, making sure warehouse goods are sold FIFO, and such. My friend knows very well that he can propose and build an information system to quicken and automate the business process, but he decided not to do so. I, too, given the choice to propose and build a steam machine (or its software equivalent) to automate labor and replace human workers, 8/10 times will choose not to do so. It’s still a moral dilemma to me.

2. Distance learning is still ages away

Distance learning will not replace brick and mortar education soon, at least in Indonesia. (A funny phenomenon here in Indonesia is that people write their degree on their wedding invitation cards.) As more and more community colleges offering “easy” degrees mushroom, the value of a S.T. or S.Si. diminishes even more.

I think we agree it’s not the degree, but the hard- and softskills molded from motivation, innovation, idea generation, willingness to take risk, and resilience. What best nurtures those quality? Peer pressure. In a physical university, students mingle together, look at each other’s progress and achievement — silently judging everyone’s success and failure, making their friends as both role models and horrible warnings, hahaha. (Working together in a physical space also increases productivity — the reason why Marissa Mayer prohibits Yahoo!’s employees to work from home, I think.)

ITB main campus occupies a 286.000 m2 area; a very small campus relative to the number of students. We meet at campus canteens at lunch times. We join extracurriculars and gather at break times. We have a lot of spare time to talk and exchange ideas. Multidisciplinary and combinatorial-creativity startup and project ideas do sprout from these informal meetings. One thing distance learning cannot provide is this kind of diverse community, along with the peer pressure.

Regarding Duolingo and Coursera GTC, I think this crowdsource business model is bound to slowly replace the current one. I’m surprised, though, that the article didn’t mention Wikipedia’s absolute triumph over Microsoft’s Encarta.

(This writing is supposed to be published on early June. Dam, I’ve been slacking off.)

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