SOMEDAY, SOMEONE in an appropriately empowered government position in Pakistan needs to take a bold step forward and break through the bureaucracy and red tape government is despised for. There are so many incredibly high value, low cost initiatives to take up in areas as diverse as agriculture, education, energy and information technology that the shortage is not one of ideas, but simply that of initiative and vision.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, as one of the worlds foremost technology and engineering schools, needs no introduction. It is nothing less than one ofAmericas greatest strategic assets. MIT has produced graduates who have gone on to conduct pioneering research in defence, space technology, IT, material sciences, genetics and numerous other areas, advancing the state of the art for their country and the world at large. By some estimates, MIT graduates have contributed almost one trillion dollars worth of market capitalization to theUSbourses.
But as you may have heard, its not easy to get into MIT. Seats are limited, competition is tough and most of all, its expensive and remote for most of the citizens of the world. But what if the MIT experience could be bottled up and shipped across the internet to anyone who wanted to benefit from it? While it wouldnt be exactly akin to attending classes at MIT physically – certainly the environment and some measure of interactivity would be lacking – it would, nonetheless, be a giant step forward.
MIT took this very step, in fact, some years ago, by launching their OpenCourseWare (OCW) initiative. In a variety of formats, ranging from audio, slides to fully tape video lectures, a select group of courses were put online for anyone in the world to access without charge. You can learn more about OCW by visiting MIT website.
Now, MIT is taking this program to the next level. M.I.T.x as the new online learning initiative will be called, will expand the amount of content available and will also offer completion certificates to candidates who test well at the end of the self-paced “term”. This certificate will not be an MIT degree, nor will it bear the name of MIT, but will be granted by a non-profit set-up specifically for this purpose as an MIT affiliate. Nice as that might be, certificates and degrees are essentially pieces of paper. The real value is in the learning process and the acquired knowledge.
Exposing oneself to a well designed, cutting edge curriculum, the added benefit of virtual presence in MIT classrooms through the magic of internet video, interaction with other learners via online discussion boards and finally, being “tested” without spending a single cent or leaving the comfort of home, is truly a revolutionary development!
Can this program be embraced by the Provincial or Federal governments inPakistan? Can we deliver the MIT curriculum in classrooms at our institutions and use local teachers in a supportive role, making up for any loss of interactivity? Can we launch programs where, like the 100,000 free laptop distribution made by the Gov. of thePunjab, laptops and tablets can be gifted to any student that shows a completion certificate for some number of MIT engineering classes? Could we augment our virtual university curricula with this MIT content?
What about providing free DVDs with all of this content to anyone inPakistanwho is interested and may not yet have the broadband connection to easily access the video component? How about selecting a few of the MIT freshmen courses and broadcasting them on TV – not only to teach, but also to spread awareness about this great resource? How about translating the videos into Urdu and even regional languages? Theres so much that can be done with this content… and with not much investment!
But with that said, even if the Government, as usual, doesnt do anything, you and I can at least spread awareness about this great resource. To the extent we interact with learners, college students, those who are curious about science and engineering, folks that are not happy with the quality of education they might be receiving at a local institution – anyone with an interest – we can tell them about this resource. We can share MIT OCW videos with our friends on social media so they know this resource exists and can tell others. We can, when we have a few moments to spare, invest an hour or two to perhaps translate a video in Urdu. Anything we can do to spread news of this great resource and enhance its value will be of tremendous benefit toPakistan.
This is a great step towards democratizing access to the worlds best education. And its not the only earth shattering, historically unparalleled change were seeing enabled through IT. Its practically a new world out there, with more potential than has been available at any time in human history. Soon, location, geography and to a great extent – money – will no longer matter in very important ways. And with all of this magnificent change unfolding around us, its our job to go out and make something of these fabulous new opportunities. Lets make it happen!