Rwandan College Degree Program “Flips” the Traditional Classroom

There are countries in Africa in which less than 1 percent of citizens have earned an undergraduate degree. Kepler, a program developed by staff at the scholarship-awarding nonprofit group Generation Rwanda, hopes to increase that number dramatically.

Established in 2013, Kepler has since enrolled hundreds of Rwandan students, many coming from needy families, in its unique undergraduate curriculum. Kepler students earn their degrees through a combination of online study, in-class interaction with teachers and peers, and a competency-based evaluation administered through College of America.

The advantages of the program are many. Thanks to Kepler, students receive a fully accredited degree that signifies mastery of the subject matter at a level that meets rigorous international standards, followed by job training and coaching, and the chance to gain internships and placement with prestigious partner employers through Kepler’s education-to-employment model. All of this leads to a better future, not only for the individuals who graduate from the program, but also for their families and their communities. Kepler plans to expand its program to other nations in Africa and the developing world.

In 2013, the online magazine Slate published an article by Kepler’s co-founder, Jamie Hodari, that examined how MOOCs (massive open online courses) show the potential to level the higher educational playing field considerably. Offered free of charge to anyone with access to the Internet, the MOOC model has already demonstrated its effectiveness in providing scalable educational experiences for Kepler’s students and others throughout the world enrolled in programs run by organizations like Khan Academy.

The article points out that the type of blended online study and in-person seminars that Kepler makes available is replicable beyond any single program. Kepler’s open-source course materials have been incorporated into Rwanda’s national higher education system and are available free of charge to anyone eager to use them.

Some critics charge that MOOCs harm students in developing nations by preventing the formation of an indigenous educational infrastructure. In the Slate piece, the author acknowledged that students would be shortchanged by learning solely through online courses, but went on to point out that Kepler’s model of “flipping” the classroom by using MOOCs as de facto textbooks and combining them with interaction with Rwandan teachers represents a cutting-edge educational philosophy that is increasingly being adopted by well-known universities. According to the article, the biggest problem facing higher education in the developing world is not online learning but the status quo that prevents deserving but under-resourced young adults from realizing their full potential.