The Importance of Access in Education

Last fall, for the first time in 15 years, I started getting a newspaper delivered to my home. A guy drives past in his beat-up old Honda every morning, tosses the rolled up paper into my front yard (and every once in a blue moon it even makes it all the way up onto my front porch, bringing me endless joy and delight), and I, disheveled and bleary-eyed, walk out, pick it up, and carry it back in to read over breakfast.

When I told friends and family about this rather pedestrian development in my life, the responses I received ranged from, “Oh…neat.” to “Why would you do that? Might as well just dump it right into the recycling bin!” Most wanted to know why I would choose to pay for a paper version of the…paper…when I could just read it online for free (or mostly free)?

It’s a fair question and the answer is quite simple: I chose to get a home delivered newspaper in order to give my kids access to it. Not just access, but easy access. If the newspaper is available, spread out in front of them, it makes it pretty easy for them to just grab it and start reading. It’s right there and the only thing they can do with it is read it. And it comes everyday, so it’s always around. And if it’s always around, then, they’re bound to start reading it at some point, right? Let’s check in and see how that’s working out:


Success! OK, yes — my daughter only reads the comics and my son only reads the sports section, but it’s a start. And lately, they have both begun to browse the front page, looking at the headlines, asking questions. Because I have given them easy, convenient access to a news source, they are taking advantage of that access and learning a little bit more about the world they live in.

Side note: I ordered the newspaper subscription shortly after reading this fascinating article from the The Chronicle of Higher Education on the correlation between “a child’s academic achievement and the number of books his or her parents own.” They did not look at how many of these books the children read, mind you, but strictly at the amount owned. Again, it’s about giving access.

Early in my career as a CME professional, I took the access I had to resources for my own continuing professional development for granted. It was a given that I would be able to go to events such as the Annual Alliance conference and AMA Task Force meeting every year. Then I moved to a job where funds for these activities were limited and needed to be divvied up amongst a pool of others. I had lost my access to my main source of professional education. It became much harder for me to keep up with current changes in the CME community and took much more effort and time to find alternative resources to supplement my CPD. This is one of the reasons I started CMEpalooza and the reason why I chose not to have a registration form or charge a fee. I wanted to level the playing field and give easy access to these educational resources to everyone, not just those who were able to pay. My goal is to keep it that way for as long as I am able.

Similarly, it is this issue of access that drives my continued support of industry-funded CME. If my job as a CME professional is to educate healthcare providers, then it is vital that I provide my target audience with easily accessible and convenient educational opportunities. If they are free, well, that certainly makes access to them much easier, not just for financial reasons, but logistical, too. For example: If you click on a link to read an article from the New York Times, are you more or less likely to read it if you first encounter a paywall? Less likely, of course. You could pay for it, sure — it’s not that expensive. But you need your credit card and it’s in your wallet and you left your wallet over on the counter and the cat is sleeping on your lap and you don’t want to stand up and disturb her so you just do something else. See what I mean? It’s not much different when folks are hunting for CME activities.

The following is a quote from the brilliant Neil Gaiman, delivered during his lecture on why our future depends on libraries, reading, and daydreaming:

The simplest way to make sure that we raise literate children is to teach them to read, and to show them that reading is a pleasurable activity. And that means, at its simplest, finding books that they enjoy, giving them access to those books, and letting them read them.

I believe this translates well to my role as an educator of adults: Give them good content; give them easy access to that content; and then, get out of their way.



One response to “The Importance of Access in Education

  1. At 13, my first job was as an assistant to the children’s librarian at my local library. This was perfect since as a child I spent 60% of my free time there anyway and I read anything and everything including the three newspapers and 10+ magazines to which my Mom subscribed, the instructions that came with my toys, medicine labels, and that tag on my mattress that wasn’t supposed to be removed under penalty of law.

    I also witnessed firsthand how free access to books, periodicals, and magazines could open up a world of possibility for a child who wasn’t aware that there were options available to him/her and that they weren’t limited by their immediate circumstances. Cut to several years later volunteering at an adult literacy program and the same held true. And now more than ever thanks to new health laws and policies, expanded access can help to level the playing field in healthcare as we move toward greater parity and quality in care and outcomes.

    P.S. Thanks for this blog and for the link to the higher education article. I can always use something new to read.

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