My first moments after crossing the Ghana-Togo border shocked me; in 20 short meters, I had lost the ability to communicate with virtually anyone. How much more difficult must it be for my teacher, who spoke little English, to think of approaching the bastions of higher education in a world that seems to demand English at every turn? We’re now beginning to lower this barrier to global participation with the first ever MOOCs of their kind.
On February 18, EPFL will officially launch Analyse Numérique (Numerical Analysis), followed later by four computer science courses. These will bring tears to the eyes not only of math-lovers, but also of the culturally and linguistically-minded: they will be taught in French. Expanding Coursera offerings into different languages brings us closer to our ideal of accessibility as a standard and education as a basic human right.
The most exciting developments are set to happen in Africa, the region that bears the highest number of Francophones in the world. The population of Africa is young and increasingly in need of higher education; according to the McKinsey Global Institute, it’s also estimated that only 8% of the African population will have attained college-level education in the next decade. In addition, local communities have significant needs–health, education, infrastructure–that require a cadre of trained workers. Innovative pilot programs, seeking to leverage the explosion in mobile connectivity, can now have access to high-quality academic material to help achieve literacy and numeracy.
This is, no doubt, the beginning of the discussion about the most effective methods and material for solving global issues via the new level of accessibility. Analyse Numérique, for example, will employ Coursera’s peer-grading capabilities, which allow anyone to interact with and learn insights from each other’s work. And besides bearing useful intellectual and career advancements to current students, this set of courses can serve as a focal point for the discussion about the potential of online education to reach such places.
So even if you haven’t touched French (or math!) since high school, take a moment to see for yourself and share your thoughts–you can now visit the course!
–Ryan George, Course Operations