Everyone knows that education plays a critical role in unlocking a successful future, but that education does not need to be earned in a schoolhouse. Especially if the closest schoolhouse is several miles away and lacking pencils and paper. Online classes are not particularly new; online degrees became available in the United States in the mid-’90s however as technology began to flourish so did the popularity of distant learning programs.
Online courses have become appealing to international students, and especially those in developing countries because they are available anywhere in the world that where there is internet access and they are affordable. The Khan Academy — one of the most successful online schools — claims that 30 percent of their students are non-American.
The argument has been made that online courses are not as revolutionary to developing countries as they have been predicted to be. Opponents contend that because the necessary technology, a tablet or smartphone, and the bandwidth or Internet access, is not currently available in economically struggling countries, it makes more sense to direct aid towards building schools or encourage the governments of developing countries to focus their agendas on improving their countries educational institutions.
But what if instead of focusing on the traditional avenues to increasing education, philanthropists and governments got on board with investing in smartphones for education?
While online classes have the potential to bridge the education gap between wealthy and poor countries, the missing piece is access to the necessary online learning tools, namely a tablet or phone and bandwidth. edX is a non-profit organization that offers free courses for students.
The courses range from high school to university level and beyond. While the courses are free, they provide options to receive certifications for a small fee, which all goes towards creating a financially sustainable organization. Professors from across the U.S. including several who from Harvard, Berkeley and MIT teach the classes.
Anant Agarwal is the leader of this massively open online courses (MOOC) organization. He predicts that once governments realize that high-quality online learning content is available through organizations such as edX, that they will begin investing in the infrastructure necessary for their citizens to access this wealth of information.
It is more economical for governments or NGOs to provide students with the technology for online classes than to build the roads or buildings to make attending a physical school accessible. Even in the developing world, the majority of people already own a cell phone and some even a smartphone. 62 percent of Nigerians surveyed by Global Attitudes said they owned a cellphone and 27 percent of them reported owning a smartphone. While this is nowhere near the 64 percent of Americans who own smartphones, it is a start.
Governments and NGOs should consider investing in providing the necessary technology for students to participate in online classes as a means of gaining their education. Students will be able to access a higher level and standard of education and lift themselves out of poverty by fulfilling the requirements for a successful career and future through online courses.
– Brittney Dimond