Can MOOCs Educate the Developing World?

Here's the larger question: can online classes be used to help not just a few exceptional students, but the developing world at large?

As the guest editor of The Big Future video series by The Verge, Bill Gates discussed this larger question. Gates believes that online courses can bring the world's best teachers to anyone with a smartphone or tablet, for free.

Over at edSurge, a short article discusses Gate's thoughts, "around a third of Coursera’s user base is from the developing world, but nearly 80% of those students already have a college degree--as opposed to 10% of the general population," and adds, "but Gates contends that if MOOCs are geared towards a developing nation’s elite, the courses will only exacerbate the digital divide between haves and have-nots."[1]

In their Foundation's 2015 letter, Bill and Melinda Gates share their bet for next 15 years, "The lives of people in poor countries will improve faster in the next 15 years than at any other time in history. And their lives will improve more than anyone else's" and adds further, "Before a child even starts primary school she will be able to use her mom's smartphone to learn her numbers and letters, giving her a big head start. Software will be able to see when she's having trouble with the material and adjust for her pace. She will collaborate with teachers and other students in a much richer way. If she is learning a language, she'll be able to speak out loud and the software will give her feedback on her pronunciation."

Education is the key to everything and MOOC is the way to go to achieve it. However, there's a big hurdle to cross - accessible technology. In order to improve the education through MOOCs, specially in developing world, we need much improvement in accessible technology. If I narrow it down to a developing country that I'm most familiar with - Sri Lanka - is now the best performer in basic education in the South Asian region, with a remarkable record in terms of high literacy rates and the achievement of universal primary education [2]Even though the government of Sri Lanka has heavily invested in information and communications technologies (ICT) for distance learning, the lack of resources, low digital literacy, poor guidance, remains at large a problem to reach the mass population of students. From slow and limited internet access to lack of technological infrastructure remains a problem. These are not only to Sri Lanka, but applicable to many developing countries.

Accessible technology is the key to MOOCs future.


[1] Can online classrooms help the developing world catch up? by Adi Robertson
[2] Developing government policies for distance education: lessons learnt from two Sri Lankan case studies. Liyanagunawardena, T. R., Adams, A. A., Rassool, N. and Williams, S. A. (2014). International Review of Education. doi: 10.1007/s11159-014-9442-0