Online Education: A Revolution in the Making

Internet and Communication Technologies are transforming education, taking it out of the traditional classroom and making it open, affordable and dynamic. Universities, publishers, corporates and individual lecturers are creating online courses. A course consists of video lectures, electronic study notes, online tests and assignments. Anyone who wishes to learn may enroll in these courses, take the lessons, complete the tests and assignments, and receive a certificate upon successful completion of the course. These Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are making world class higher education available to all those who wish to learn, regardless of age, location or educational background. Education faces a number of challenges worldwide. Over 366 million youth are unenrolled in colleges. College education is growing more expensive. Many institutions face shortage of qualified faculty members, funding and infrastructure. Education over the internet can address many of these issues. Online classes are scaleable – a class of 50 can be expanded to teach 50,000. Teaching and learning over the internet can be done at a fraction of the cost of traditional classroom teaching. Flexibility, mobility, use of multimedia technologies, constant syllabus revision, collaboration and interactive discussions give online education an advantage. This is still an evolving field. New partnerships, innovations and technological advances are revolutionizing teaching and learning, and clearly, online education is an integral part of the future of education.

1. Introduction
A much quoted and requoted quip about education is that it has not changed much since the middle ages. If a physician from the 12th century were to enter an operation theatre in a hospital today, he would faint. Whereas a teacher from the same period could enter a classroom and feel quite at home. But this joke is becoming more and more obsolete every day. The past two years have seen such a phenomenal transformation in the nature of education that even a teacher from an earlier decade would feel the change.

Technology that has penetrated every aspect of our life has altered teaching and learning. Internet and Communication Technology(ICT) has rewritten the rules. The university is no longer the sole repository of scholarship. The class is not enclosed within the walls of the classroom anymore. Knowledge is not contained in a textbook. Imparting it is not the domain of the teacher. The degree is not the sole proof of learning. Education, as we have known it, is on the cusp of a profound change. Gutenberg’s printing press made books easier to print, and what had been handwritten, rare, precious and so tied to library shelves was freed of the chains. The computer and internet gave us the ‘soft copy’ that freed information from all physical media. ICT is virtually opening up education to the whole world.

2. Value of Education
Education is directly or indirectly connected to every global challenge we face. Statistics from every continent show that the higher the level of education, the lower the rate of unemployment. Even in countries where unemployment levels are high, the unemployment rate of those with a degree is less than unemployment rate of those without a college education. Higher educational attainment also correlates with higher earnings. Perhaps with the exception of Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg and a few others, college education is essential for a rewarding career.

That makes education an insurance against poverty. Illiteracy, unemployment and poverty form the hotbed of extremism, and education that tackles each of these issues is a safeguard against violence at all levels, domestic to international. Better educated people are better equipped to overcome the frictions of globalization and cultural differences. Historically, education and democracy have been inextricably linked. No country with very low levels of education has been democratic over the long term, and almost every country with a high level of education has remained a stable democracy.

Life expectancy is found to be strongly associated with education. Data shows that among 15 OECD countries, a man with tertiary education lives 8 years longer than one without a degree or diploma. According to a 2012 UNESCO report, each extra year of a girl’s schooling reduces her fertility rate by 10%. At the same time, the probability of infant mortality reduces by 5% to 10%.The children of more educated people are better immunized and twice as likely to survive beyond age 5. Education also turns out to be the first vaccine against disease.

Those with higher levels of education are more likely to report stronger civic engagement. They take action to address ecological and social issues. Education plays a key role in our attempt to evolve a new global paradigm to meet today’s challenges.

3. Gaps in Education Today
People arrive packed with food, sleeping bags and torches, ready to spend the night outside. They are not campers holidaying in the woods. Nor are they eager customers impatient to buy the latest model of the iPad or iPhone at an Apple store in New York or Beijing. They are parents of three year olds queuing up in front of the school gates in many Indian cities, to secure an application form for kindergarten. Application forms are limited in number, and obtaining a form is the first of many steps in obtaining school admission for their wards. So, the night before the forms are distributed, parents queue up on the road outside the school, to ensure that they get the form in the morning. If this is strange, college admission can be worse. The acceptance rate in some Indian colleges is less than 2%, and the admission process is a pressure cooker like situation.

The Indian national college enrollment rate is under 20%. If all those of college going age in the country need to be enrolled in tertiary education, then India will need to send 95 million new students to college. That means 132,000 more colleges will need to be built, and 4.1 million lecturers will have to be recruited to teach these new students. If in 65 years of independence, the nation has reached a position where it has 35,000 colleges and .8 million lecturers, what will be the time, cost, resources and effort required to multiply the educative capacity of the country 4 times in the next few years!

The Indian college education scenario is indicative of the same level of functioning in many other countries as well. The world over, more than 366 million youngsters are left out of tertiary education. If all of them are to be admitted to college, how can they be accommodated, or can they ever be accommodated? Such a large gap between demand and supply as it exists in India does not exist everywhere, but every country has its own set of issues.

According to American Dream 2.0, the Gates Foundation report, just over half the students who enroll in an institution of higher learning in the US graduate within 6 years. One of the primary reasons students drop out is finance. In the past three decades, average family income has risen by 16%, while fees at public universities have gone up by 250%. Some of the enrolled students are forced to drop out of college and take up a job because debts are piling up. The student loan debt of over $1.1 trillion in the US is composed of 38 million borrowers. The higher the fees, the greater the borrowing, and higher the default rate, dropout rate and the unemployment rate.

Where finance is not a problem, quality of education can be. Much as it may defy the imagination, there are schools and colleges that teach the technology of magnetic tapes and punched card readers to their students of computer science. Syllabus updation takes place once in a few years, while advancement in technology is announced every few weeks, if not days. There are classrooms without roofs, without walls, without even teachers. More than half the college faculty positions in India are currently vacant. Low college enrollment rates result in fewer eligible teachers and lack of good teachers affects college education in return.

Many other factors trouble education today. It is one of the first victims of conflict and violence. In societies where women are repressed, half the population is consequently left out of education. Those with special needs and challenges often face insurmountable obstacles on their path to school and college. In the US, 57% of youth with visual impairments attend post secondary schools compared to 68% of the general population. In many developing countries, not even 10% of such youngsters receive any kind of education. With low levels of education, poverty follows.

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