Bill Gates recently spoke on the future of online learning in a widely viewed video. As head of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the co-founder of Microsoft has played a major role in funding educational projects on a national and international level. Gates believes that online learning offers the potential to deliver high-quality university courses to people all over the world regardless of their income or social status, provided they have access to a cell phone or other mobile device. This type of open, easily accessed education has the potential to even the economic playing field for people in the developing world. Kepler serves this same demographic through its innovative combination of online undergraduate courses and in-person seminars.
Kepler is a project of the nonprofit organization Generation Rwanda, which was originally established to fund higher education for orphans of the war-torn Central African nation. Now, through Kepler, under-resourced Rwandan young adults who show academic promise can earn an accredited college degree at the cost of only about $1,000 annually. Kepler’s program offers students access to massive open online courses, known as MOOCs, and then brings teachers and students together on its Kigali campus for more in-depth discussion and exploration of the concepts they have learned. This type of “flipped” classroom, in which the lecture component takes place away from class and the project-based, hands-on component takes place on campus, is gaining currency in some of the world’s most prestigious educational institutions, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
In Gates’ video, he noted the ways in which online courses have transformed over the last decade and a half, from simple video recordings of professors’ lectures into interactive sessions designed to help students practice new skills.
Gates also discussed the ways in which online learning could actually increase inequality rather than eradicate it. For example, there is currently a gender gap in access to smartphones and other mobile telecommunications devices in the developing world. In Africa, women are about 24 percent less likely to own such devices than men are, and in Asia the gap is wider still. Women’s educational levels have a direct effect on the social and economic health and development of their societies, so Gates’ words offer encouragement to leaders of developing nations to promote the importance of higher education for girls and women. Through programs such as Kepler, the gender gap in access to technology and education has begun to narrow.