Ottobre 9, 2015

Everything has a price to pay

Everything has a price to pay

There is nothing new in saying that the internet has democratized worldwide access to information. An interesting perspective regarding this phenomenon can be seen in the education field. The changes that the internet is bringing on education are so powerful that there is no exaggeration if we say that this is a paradigmatic change. Education online has soared. The e-learning industry has increased from 35.6 Billion Dollar in 2011 to 56.2 Billion Dollar in 2015. It is expected that this figure will double during 2015. The Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are common currency worldwide.



To start, online University has been deemed essential to deal with the costs of the increase of university students worldwide (around 152 million that could double by 2030, according to the European Commission). E-learning substantially cuts the costs of pursuing higher education. Either courses are freely accessible or fees are charged in exchange of an official certificate. It has been calculated, moreover, that e-learning will reduce by 50 percent the training costs of enterprises as well as 60 percent of the time devoted to it.



Accessibility to education has also increased. For example, in Spain, the demand for online master’s programs has grown around 300 percent in the last two years. This is explained partially by the reduction of costs that e-learning implies, but also it depends on sociological elements. Most people live in big cities, often working and studying at the same time. Old-style higher education does not fit into tight schedules and busy routine.



Yet, this new form of education has its flaws. Students enrol in MOOCs courses out of curiosity. For instance, Duke University obtained “a general interest in the topic” and “extending current knowledge of the topic” as the main motivations for enrolment in its course on Bioelectricity. What is more, students do not possess a standardized knowledge on the topic of the courses they intend to enrol. Evidence shows that this make people drop out of courses earlier, not considering the poor grasp of the imparted subject.



Not all is good news, therefore. When perspective becomes global, the sky gets darker. MOOCs reiterates the global inequality that stands in the world order today. Around 64 percent of the universities that supply MOOCs are comprised within the Shanghai ranking. As we can expect, most of them are from North America and Europe. This, nevertheless, falls in partial contradiction with the fact that the Asian market is experiencing the fastest e-learning growth rate (around 17.3%), followed closely by Africa, with a 15.4% rate.



Now, what does this change mean? If the trend continues, we will see a proliferation of institutions enriching their course offers with materials from top tier universities. Of course, there will be a significant improvement and universalization of academic curricula as well as a likely reduction in the costs of higher education. At what price? Given the concentration of the MOOCs providers in the US and in Europe, there is a serious risk of an indirect hegemonic force upon national and local institutions. The mainstream perspective would take the place of local knowledge and peripheral wisdom.



For too long time, homogenization has been a refrain in policy transfer. Of course, we have experienced global institutions failing with their alleged-panacea models for economic recovery and social empowerment. Yet, in this case, it is not naïve to think that homogenization may produce positive externalities. A tangible democratization of knowledge. Excellent higher education would not be a monopoly only of wealthier elites that can have access to prestigious institutions in Europe and in the US.



Pluralism or democracy? We are still wondering about an ideal world. For now, Massive open online courses must be seen as an initial step towards the creation of accessible opportunities of personal growth in the developing countries. Virtuous deliberation and lively democratic practices, we must keep in mind, does not fit with uniformity and standardisation, neither conceptually nor practically.

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About Martin Vivanco

Martin Vivanco

Martin Vivanco has been political attaché to the Mexican Embassy in Chile and Chieff of Staff of the President of the Tax and Finance Commitee of the Federal Congress. He has a Msc in Political Theory from the London School of Economics and Political Science of UK, a Masters in Legal Argumentation from the University of Alicante, Spain. Currently he is studying a PHD in Jurisprudence from the University of Chile.

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