Higher, open education for India

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India is the second biggest market for MOOCs (massive open online courses) in the world, following the US. In time, however, India may surpass the US. After all, India's population is second to China's and India is third in terms of university enrollment worldwide; respectively the US and China are first and second for university enrollment at the moment but this may soon change.

MOOCs represent a huge opportunity for Indians in terms of an open education revolution. It could potentially give millions access and availability to high quality learning if they have Internet connectivity. First, there are more applicants than slots at top Indian universities. Second, millions of Indians live in poverty and are unable to afford or gain access to a higher education.

Dr. Sugata Mitra, however, has shown than even in the slums of India, young Indian children often have tremendous potential for learning with digital technology. He has shown that kids from the slums are often more capable of learning at high levels with digital technology than previously thought or assumed and are essentially diamonds in the rough of an educational forest, so to speak. Third, Internet connectivity is not always available throughout India, which is often a barrier for open education and MOOCs. Even when Internet connectivity is available, bandwidth might be too low or slow for videos to stream.

For these reasons and many others, US-based MOOC providers are entering partnerships with Indian colleges or universities or making alternative arrangements to make MOOCs more accessible and available in India. The Indian Institute of Technology Bombay (IIT Bombay), for example, is the first college in India to join not-for-profit edX and to offer MOOCs. The partnership was created to fill a specific need in India: training engineering teachers. The partnership will extend an open engineering education to a global audience, though the US and India are the largest populations of edX learners worldwide and will be the primary recipients of the partnership of an open engineering education.

Coursera and Udacity (both for-profit ventures) have also been making arrangements to make MOOCs more accessible and available in India. Coursera is working on a mobile application so students from poorer backgrounds can access MOOCs on Akash tablets. It is also offering a course on web intelligence and big data with the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi (IIT Delhi). Perhaps not surprisingly, since Coursera currently produces the largest number of MOOCs worldwide, they have seen a huge increase in Indian student enrollment as well.

Udacity, too, has seen Indian enrollment increase over the past year. In May, Udacity teamed with Georgia Tech and AT&T to offer the first online massive open online master's degree program in computer science for less than $7000 in tuition. The program is specifically targeted to India and the Middle East. The deal is seen as revolutionary within higher education circles and many administrators are eagerly awaiting the results.

All this news may beg the question: Why are MOOCs being hailed in India and why such a big push there? One answer is that India has long been known as a source for information technology. However, the country has only produced a fraction of the potential IT specialists due to the lack of access to higher education in India. With digital technology, MOOCs could possibly help to bridge this gap as well as the gap between industry and academia. Time will tell whether MOOCs will be able to achieve these goals. Nevertheless, MOOCs have been tested to a degree and would be a huge investment in India's higher education as well as contribute to one of the biggest open education revolutions in the world right now.

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Carolyn Fox is an educator, librarian, historian, and an un/homeschooling mother. She lives in Massachusetts with her UK husband and son.


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