Can Online Classes Aid The Developing World?

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A Rwandan girl with $75 in savings, substandard English skills, and a dream of earning enough to take care of herself and her three younger siblings is now studying business through an online university. Her acceptance into the highly competitive, experimental program is the only way she could fulfill her dream, given the otherwise expensive and subpar educational opportunities in her country.


A 16-year-old boy from Mongolia cobbled together enough online access to take and ace a sophomore-level class at MIT, which was offered for free as a massive open online course (MOOC). He's now enrolled at MIT, soon to be part of what his high school principal hopes will be a generation of professionals with the skills to develop his country's infrastructure even further.


These stories offer just two examples of how online education can help developing countries and the ambitious students who live in them. Increasingly, agencies such as the United Nations see expanded online access as the key to improving opportunities across the globe.


The impact of online education


It's long been known that increasing education levels in developing countries directly increases economic and community development. The challenge has been figuring out how to provide better education in parts of the world where infrastructure is poor or non-existent, governments lack the money to build schools, and students sometimes walk miles or dodge bullets in order to attend class.


Online education can reach across the globe and train everyone from youth to teachers to health-care workers. People like Bill Gates imagine a future where online education is a solution for everyone, not just the exceptionally driven students who seek it out.


Technological challenges


The biggest barrier to online education in developing countries is Internet access. Across the globe, less than half of the world's population has regular Internet access, according to a 2015 report by the United Nations. Internet connectivity remains a hurdle in some parts of the United States, for that matter, where about 15 percent of the population isn't online.


Although the United Nations has set ambitious goals for greater global Internet access (512 KB), lack of infrastructure could make that target hard to reach. Costs are a barrier in much of the Third World, where expensive mobile plans are often the only option, Tech Crunch reports.


The same Tech Crunch article speculates that an ad-supported model could be a solution for broadening access and lowering consumer costs. By example, Tech Crunch cites Mozilla's partnerships in Bangladesh and several African countries as proof that such programs can and do work.


Definite challenges remain before online learning lives up to its full potential in the developing world, but examples exist that clearly demonstrate the power of the technology to develop a better-educated global population and aid in developing countries as a whole.


Written by Ashford University staff.

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