I am very excited by having wonderful high level courses available free to me. I look forward to communicating with academics and fellow students from across the globe.
It made me wonder though about just who is able to access these “gems”. I have been through an extensive and mercifully free higher education (I am old enough to remember when it came free from a grant to those, like myself, who qualified for it). In the course of my studies I was able to pick up the machinery to access higher education, namely reasonable literacy, some mathematical skills and most importantly the ability to know where and how to access the knowledge.
In the long march from the days when books were chained up and knowledge was the possession of the very few privileged members of society, I had been born in a place and at a time where I could gain access to the “keys to the kingdom” of knowledge as this has been made more open and available to succeeding generations. I was in the first generation of my family that went to University.
In the same period that I have been alive on this planet there were many born in the same month as myself who hadn’t the fortune to be born into that situation. They had little or no access to schooling and absolutely no chance to get into higher education. They may have died by now from malnutrition or war but if they survived most of them will be as illiterate as they were when they were born nearly sixty years ago!
So it is great to hear Daphne talk about the crying need for education in places such as South Africa, but I wonder how many will have the ability to access this wonderful new development. Have they had the chance to have a basic primary and secondary education where they have learnt the literacy and numeracy skills that they will need to access the materials from the online courses from lofty institutions around the world? Do they have access to the internet?
I feel that we need to applaud the aims of organisations such as Coursera but also appreciate that the real need is lower down the educational hierarchy.We need as many people as possible to have the tools to get the keys to the kingdom and that means basic literacy and numeracy. I still wonder at how many potential Einsteins lived and died through inability to gain access to the basic tools of educational discourse no mind the higher areas of human knowledge that they may well have enriched to the betterment of us all.