Many readers were encouraged by the news of a forthcoming Africa-wide, multi-campus, technology-driven university that I wrote about last week, but they are leery of the university’s online-only, MOOCs-dependent instructional model. Please find below a sample of the responses that the column elicited.
This is a great initiative that is marred by short-sighted thinking, in my opinion. The free online lessons from top American universities that Mr. Swaniker wants to parasitize to build his university was produced by the kind of “expensive faculty” that he wants to dispense with. Imagine for a moment that every university in the world adopts his model. Who will fund the free online courses? Of course, education will collapse. As you rightly cautioned in your article, you can’t build a world-class university system, especially one that hopes to outrival Harvard, on the “model of academic parasitism.” That was a great point you made. It seems to me that Mr. Swaniker and his team want to pursue a crude form of capitalism that seeks to reap profit without paying for labour. It is the value of labour that creates profit, as Karl Marx said. The MOOCs model may succeed for a moment, but it won’t last long. You can’t have a school without teachers. It’s like wanting to have a farm without farm hands to work the fields. Your crops will be destroyed by weed.
Having said that, I think the success that Mr. Swaniker has with his secondary school in South Africa proves that with just a little push and more imaginative planning, he can make a huge difference in university education in Africa. After I read your article, I Googled the man and found him to be really smart, forward-looking, entrepreneurial, and full of great, progressive ideas. Those are the kinds of men Africa needs right now. Thanks for another informative article.
Many of the intakes (the students) will require special lessons on how to access the online classes first. Again, I am afraid to say that online programs have yet to be widely accepted as genuine forms of education by many African government ministries, parastatals and other organisations that could offer jobs. Admittedly speaking, I have tried to join many online study programs, but I always rescind the decision due to fear of uncertainty; it might mean wasting my time and much resources.
Lastly, this proposed university may not be easily accessible to the poor students; or even if not poor, to those who cannot 'followup' their applications for admission. I am a witness to a similar incident. The present governor of Imo state, Rochas Okorocha established schools across Nigeria, under Rochas Foundation. The schools are supposedly meant for bright students from poor families. Many a times, students, no matter how bright, fail to make it to the schools for not having 'someone' to help them secure a place.
Despite the fact that American billionaires like Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey, Warren Buffet and Mark Zuckerberg are famous for immersing themselves in conspicuous consumption, but this does not bar them from channeling their wealth into human capital in order to make our world a better place. So they spend billions of dollars each year to fund and upgrade American education. I am now happy to realise that African businessmen are beginning to take a cue from the Americans in funding the educational sector of our already-fragile universities! Big trees from little acorns grow, it will only be a matter of time before the universities rival them.
Aliyu Bashir Almusawi
Mhm! We pray that it will be completed within the shortest possible time. I am also warning the proprietor not to include Nigerian government in the makings.
Kabiru Umar Gumel
Your article is quite interesting and for a brief moment I wanted to praise the effort of the initiator of this project. But like you pointed out, I also have my misgivings on the instructional model. Just hoping that this guys are not out to exploit Africans.
A great university for Africa, yes. It may even wind up being the best on the continent. A real rival to Harvard/Yale/Stanford? Maybe, with focus and a small miracle.
Thanks. I had once debated this obvious 'exaggeration' of MOOCs with a younger friend. And, as you rightly pointed, it is meant to supplement the traditional varsity classroom model. Hence, any attempt to make it a substitute will always be utopian. If the Ivy leagues have made theirs 100% MOOCs, where will the dreaming Africa's Yale get his hope from?
This is a big dream without a good foundation. The founder should have commissioned a study to find out what makes Yale and Harvard universities great, then build the ideals of the dream on that, instead of basing the foundation of investment of this magnitude on his perception and that of Zineb who might be a special fellow.
Entry points are seldom ending points. The MOOC model will be a more pragmatic approach to begin with. As the school grows, they can evolve to provide students with the best model, which will probably be a mix of traditional/MOOC.
I think Fred Swaniker needs to read this thoughtful piece. I sent him a link via his Facebook page.