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Mhlonishwa Senzelwe Mzila
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MOOC’s can transform us

30 January 2014, 18:10

The ongoing strike by university students in various universities across South Africa, should force us to look at what options we have, that we can use to make higher education, possible for all students. NSFAS does not have an endless pit of money and sooner or later they will run out of money to fund students.

Another issue that we have to think about is the lack of space within our Universities. It would therefore be wise if our Universities would embrace, Massive Open Online Courses. They have the power to transform access to higher education in South Africa and Africa. As Tertiary institutions re-open for the new year, and as thousands of first year students get settled into what could be the most enlightening and most exciting part of their education journey, we have to face the honest reality that there are countless other students who were not able to make the grade, in terms of getting into tertiary institutions.

The introduction of MOOC’s could have the potential to help students that still have a hunger to learn, and gain insight into their chosen fields. Courses that are offered by organisations like EDX, Coursera and Udacity are largely gaining popularity across the world. Millions of people have signed up for these courses and while one might now be able to get University course credits, they do offer certificates, and some of the lecturers are by some of the world’s best, in various fields.

Personally I have been impressed by EDX, which is a partnership between Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, to provide free courses to anyone who has access to the internet and a computer. The thought of being lectured by some of the world’s best, is an appealing one.

Upon completion of the course, you receive a certificate, while this type of learning can never truly replace classroom learning; the innovation that is displayed indicates that technology could hold the key to ensuring that thousands of South Africa’s students, are never deprived of the opportunity to study.

I have often wondered what would happen, if Institutions like University of Cape Town, UNISA, UKZN, and many others, started offering free courses online, for which student would have to submit assignments. This would make the cost of studying very cheap, imagine, the thousands of parents that will never have to worry about transportation, accommodation, and the many other expenses that come with travelling to University.

The cost of broadband is also decreasing in the country, and there have been concerted efforts by government to roll out free wifi in areas such as the Western Cape and Gauteng.  There are also packages from Internet Service Providers, which work out to R400 for a 1mbps line, including adsl line rental.

Our academic institutions have to transform and provide innovative solutions for the communities they seek to serve. It does not make sense to be ranked in with the top 500 Universities in the world, and yet not provide innovative solutions for the poor. I am hoping that our Universities can take a lesson from what has been done by institutions like Harvard and MIT. Viva free education for all.

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