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.
The scholarship organization Generation Rwanda created the innovative Kepler university program two years ago. Kepler combines online courses, real-time classroom discussion, personalized academic counseling, and internship and job placement for program graduates. The education-to-employment model, which costs only $1,000 per year for students, is designed to be replicated beyond the current Kigali campus to other locations throughout Africa and the developing world.
Kepler uses a data-driven framework to define and measure its success. Students graduate only after demonstrating a mastery of skills congruent with study offered in prestigious U.S.-based universities. The practical curriculum that Kepler offers initially focuses on general studies that build essential critical thinking skills, then on business administration in particular. The program additionally provides university-to-work assistance with job training, advice on developing 21st century business practices and attitudes, and immersive internships and work-study programs.
Since online coursework is such a significant component of the Kepler program, it is easier to track data that gauges students’ performance. Academic advisors add these data to on-site assessments of qualities with more complex variables, such as growth in perseverance, determination, and the ability to analyze, synthesize, and create new ideas.
In addition, the Kepler program uses insights gleaned from internationally recognized academic systems, including the Knowledge is Power Program, to generate its own analytical tools for benchmarking success. Once the staff assemble the data into visual and statistical representations, they can more readily identify less-effective instructional methods and fine-tune solutions to students’ stumbling blocks.
So far, Kepler has produced significant results. Its students have demonstrated academic mastery at or above the level of their peers enrolled in universities outside of the program. Moreover, 98 percent of students admitted to Kepler are scheduled to graduate on or before their scheduled completion date. Kepler’s focus on taking a leading role within the international academic community translates into a transparent sharing of methodologies and results with the goal of promoting the highest quality of teaching and learning possible.
In 2013, the nonprofit organization Generation Rwanda launched Kepler, a program to provide affordable, U.S.-accredited university degrees to Rwandan students who show promise of becoming future leaders and agents for positive change. Generation Rwanda currently devotes the largest part of its team’s efforts to building the capacity of Kepler. The project is projected to expand to two additional African campuses in the near future and eventually to other locations in the developing world.
The goal is to extend the reach of the original Generation Rwanda scholarship program, which attracted more than 4,000 applicants in 2012. Generation Rwanda, previously known as Orphans of Rwanda, has provided extensive financial aid to talented young people who have demonstrated the potential to heal the social wounds caused by devastating civil wars and the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Now, the Kepler university program aims to translate this effort to a larger arena, giving more Rwandan students the ability to develop academically and professionally, and to make lasting contributions to their country.
Kepler combines the best features of 21st century technology and the traditional face-to-face classroom seminar experience at the Kigali campus. The program consists of three components: Students engage with rich content through MOOCs, or massive open online courses, provided by some of the world’s finest institutions of higher education. On campus, they meet with teaching fellows who facilitate the same kind of robust debate and discussion that traditional universities provide, and who also offer academic advising and coaching services. In the third part of the program, students benefit from job training, placement services, and mandatory internships and work-study programs with partners in the business community.
Kepler students spend their first two years in the program developing fluency in a core curriculum of general studies, and cultivating language and critical thinking skills. Afterward, they concentrate on a single academic subject. Kepler offers a major in business administration, with plans in place to expand to additional fields in the coming years.
Students entering the program in 2015 will pay only $1,000 in annual tuition. The result of their work will be a competency-based degree accredited by the New Hampshire-based College for America, assuring employers that Kepler graduates will be able to offer the same kind of high-level skills that reflect the best of the American higher education system.
As devoted advocates for vulnerable children all over the world, film producer Marc Shmuger and his wife Louise Hamagami support a number of charitable organizations. One of these is A Place Called Home, a youth center servicing the children of Los Angeles. By sitting on this organization’s advisory and directorial boards, Marc Shmuger and Louise Hamagami actively involve themselves in the wellbeing of young people in their home city.
South Central LA has historically experienced high crime rates, high truancy, and low academic performance. As a result, only one-quarter of area residents have a high school diploma, and only around 1 in 30 have a four-year degree. The current economic climate exacerbates the problem, trapping more and more locals in chronic poverty. A Place Called Home (APCH) combats this destructive cycle by boosting educational opportunities for the poorest young people in the city.
APCH provides children and youth with a safe environment where they receive educational support, training, and mentorship programs to help build them into productive citizens and community leaders. In addition to nutrition, arts, and exercise opportunities, the organization offers tutoring and literacy classes to help students with school work. APCH also provides children with school supplies and access to modern computer facilities, as well as free eye-exams and prescription glasses.
As part of its dropout recovery program, APCH includes a highly successful Continuation High School operated in partnership with Los Angeles Unified School District. The center also maintains strong ties with area schools, so that member youths’ academic progress can be monitored.
The philosophy of APCH ultimately comes down to empowerment of youth through education. By tackling the hardest education problems in LA’s poorest quarters, APCH’s force of over 1,000 volunteers strives to open new avenues for the next generation of thinkers, entrepreneurs, and community leaders.
Over the course of his career in entertainment, Marc Shmuger, along with his wife Louise Hamagami, has supported the efforts of several nonprofit organizations in the LA area and beyond. In addition to donating to local organizations such as A Place Called Home, the couple regularly contributes to the GO Campaign, an international community enrichment organization headquartered in Santa Monica, California. Through its many outreach programs, the GO Campaign improves the quality of life for vulnerable children in countries across the world.
The Go Campaign partners with the Samburu Handicap Education & Rehabilitation Program (SHERP) in Kenya, which houses more than 150 children with disabilities. Although the organization provides a loving and nurturing home, the physical structure cannot currently accommodate individuals in wheelchairs. By renovating bathrooms and dormitories to include wheelchair accessibility and other functionalities, the GO Foundation and SHERP hope to have a tremendous impact on the lives of children residing in the group home.
To learn more about the programs sponsored by the GO Campaign, visit http://www.gocampaign.org.
As longtime proponents of community service and charitable giving, Marc Shmuger and his wife, Louise Hamagami, contribute to the GO Campaign, based in Santa Monica, California. Thanks to the support of Los Angeles donors such as Marc Shmuger and Louise Hamagami, the GO Campaign works with organizations around the world to improve the lives of orphans and vulnerable children. The GO Campaign sponsors a range of community service projects, including the Skills for a Sustainable Future program in Svay Khleang, Cambodia.
In rural Cambodia, members of the ethnic Cham population face discrimination in both schools and the workplace, largely because they speak Cham as a primary language instead of Khmer. Through a strategic partnership with Community Connection Cambodia (CCC), the GO Campaign sets out to enhance vocational training for over 1,000 students every year. Participants in the program will receive instruction in topics such as English language and computers, both of which will prepare them for successful careers in their chosen fields. In addition to skills training, the project aims to repair existing structures, equip classrooms with desks and other supplies, establish an Internet connection, and purchase seven computers and printers.