Vijee Venkatraman
MIT Meeting Asks: Can Digital Learning Include the Developing World?
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As educational technology improves, digital learning is expected to expand its reach in the developing world. Last week, over two hundred practitioners in the field who belong to the Learning International Networks Consortium convened at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to explore how to speed up such inclusion.
When Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) first appeared on the scene, the naïve assumption on the part of some academics was that the best universities would put their content, free of charge, on the Worldwide Web, and the problem of the developing world’s access to higher education would be instantly solved. But Internet access is not a given, even in industrialized countries, and both professors’ and students’ mindsets often need to be changed before digital-learning best practices see wider adoption.

The MOOC enthusiasm has subsided, and experts at the conference said persistent obstacles to online instruction still persist. Dennis Freeman, the dean of undergraduate education at MIT, said that even at the institute, some professors believe that no teaching has occurred unless they have covered the blackboard with equations and covered themselves with chalk. He added that the number of teaching hours is irrelevant—what matters is whether or not learning occurs.

In the Arab world, sheer numbers call for leap-frogging into digital learning, said Maysa Jalbout, CEO of the Abdulla Al Ghurair Foundation for Education, who gave a keynote address. Over half the 385 million people who live the region are under 25 years of age, she said. A good many are refugees whose educational prospects have been shattered by political conflicts. Youth unemployment in the region is also the highest in the world, partly because of the poor quality of education, except in some centers of excellence.

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