Archive for May, 2012

Harvard and MIT Announce edX

On May 2, 2012, MIT and Harvard announced a joint collaboration on a groundbreaking partnership in online education:

Advances in online education, from sources such as the Khan Academy, represent the true future of global education, in which a person can access the internet and, through some hard work, learn any subject in the realm of human knowledge. This great leap forward represents the possibility of a new renaissance in human intelligence, allowing links to be formed across all scientific, social and humanities disciplines.

However, the fundamental challenge to all of this is the very thing that makes it such a revolutionary step: giving everyone access to a computer. In today’s world, 65% of the global population still lacks the ability to connect to the internet. Even in the United States, only around 80% of the population connects to the internet. Therefore, it is necessary for us to develop new means of giving as many people as possible the opportunity to utilize the resources that the worldwide web has to offer. MIT’s One Laptop Per Child program may give a computer to every child on Earth, but it will not give them internet access, without which one can say that the computer is nearly obsolete.

This disparity between those that utilize the internet and those that do not is referred to as the digital divide. When a certain segment of the population gains the advantages of the internet while another does not, the opportunity for the favoured side increases exponentially over the unfortunate group. The release of educational resources such as edX, while done with good intentions, has the potential to further this gap, if we do not work just as hard to ensure equal internet access for all.

The main problem with internet access has to do with distribution. It is very hard to lay the infrastructure for web usage in rural areas, where population density is scarce – furthermore, in countries with limited electricity and/or frequent blackouts (third and second world countries), the ability to develop internet infrastructure at all is tough. Efforts need to be made to investigate solutions to these two key problems – rural areas and electrical consistency – if we are to achieve the maximum potential of efforts like edX.

A key focus for universities and individuals seeking to expand the educational opportunities for those around the world should be to allow all people to have the ability to connect to them in the first place. Similar to Andrew Carnegie’s investments in public libraries, wealthy financial figures should make similar investments in internet hubs around the world – bringing education, globalization and opportunity to the front door of every human being. Without such investment, online education will only have a limited impact and, in many respects, will simply be available to those who already had the opportunities to learn in the first place.