Gaps in Access to Technology & Innovation (Information & Communications Technologies)

The technology gap across the world’s classrooms, institutions and communities is also a major factor in holding back some students from acquiring post-secondary education, with computers and web access a scarce commodity in many countries. This gap persists at the same time as the use of Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs) are increasingly been seen as a great leveler of educational opportunity through both the formal and informal learning systems (the ’alternative classroom’).

Universities such as MIT, Harvard and UC Berkeley are making MOOCS available to a wide global audience offering free online courses through the non-profit EDX and allowing many to study and train in areas that may otherwise be out of reach. 1,800 free courses are offered through MIT’s OpenCourseWare. 530 free online courses from top universities including UC Berkeley, Stanford, Yale, Emory, Harvard, Carnegie Mellon and more are available from Open Culture. Coursera Inc., a start-up founded by two Stanford professors, offers free online classes from prestigious schools.

Higher learning through YouTube now offers over 3400 videos. Salman Khan (Khan Academy) is quoted as saying, “The Internet can make education far, far more accessible, so knowledge and opportunity can be more broadly and equitably shared. Quality education need not be dependent on showplace campuses.”

But many of the world’s students do not have access to these technologies and wired classrooms. While 6 billion people around the world have a cell phone, 5 billion have never used the Internet and 1 billion have been using it for less than five years.

In the USA, on the other hand:

  • 77 percent of US college presidents report that their institutions now offer online courses and 89 percent of four-year public colleges and universities offer online classes
  • roughly one-in-four college graduates in the US (23 percent) report having taken a class online
  • 15 percent of US college presidents say most of their current undergraduate students have taken a class online, and 50 percent predict that 10 years from now most of their students will take classes online, and
  • nearly two-thirds of college presidents (62 percent) anticipate that 10 years from now, more than half of the textbooks used by their undergraduate students will be entirely digital.

While the future impact of ICT is still unfolding, the potential to enrich traditional learning, teaching and assessment methods and to contribute to the affordability of post-secondary education may constitute opportunities to widen access and success for underrepresented students.

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