Saturday, December 19, 2009

Education 2.0: Ideas for An Open College

Idealism does not get you far in life, my teachers advised me. This is an advice I have not heeded, to my peril. I get excited by ideas, and not often care to assess the benefits, of personal and material kind, before pursuing one. And, so I have done many times before.

However, for all my day-dreaming habits and undying optimism, I have possibly not worked for anything even closely exciting as the one idea I am pursuing now: A global open college. A college, in short, that anyone can attend, anywhere in the world, and study a professional course in a wide range of subject areas.

That's the idealism bit. The idea is that you can decide to educate yourself one morning, and without caring for what your background is, or having to wait for admission cycles and filling out lengthy forms, you can immediately get started. The education, in this format, should come to you instead of you going to it. The experience should be global, and you should be able to connect up to thousands of others like you who are pursuing similar paths of education. It should be easy, accessible and the most worthwhile education experience that you had in your life.

That anyone, anywhere bit is the maxim of my idealism. Education without boundaries, it should be. Besides, this should be all about breaking the boundaries of privileges, the class thing that increasingly builds a barrier around higher education and yes, all about changing the world.

Practically though, it will start in English. Not because I believe in the story of Tower of Babel and believe that all men spoke in English before God devised his plans, but because the business models should dictate so to start with. There are limits to dreams, at least for now. The college will start with a limited number of courses, which will be determined by marketability of these courses in target markets. But it will balance the demands with social necessity. So, yes, there will be finance, but also courses on journalism, human rights law and care-giving. You can't dream to change the world with a bunch of Investment Bankers and Corporate Lawyers.

The courses will be initially accredited in Britain, but the idea is to turn this into a World Open College, where any courses can be taught. The idea is to build a platform and the content and establish a template on how this could be done. Eventually, of course, the platform and the linkages will overtake the content, and become a way of learning, rather than a place, real or virtual.

I was asked whether it will be FREE? My answer was, after Jimmy Wells of Wikipedia, that this will be free - free as in free speech, not free as in beer. It will be free to access, but not free of cost, because obviously there is a cost attached to everything that we do. I am not sure whether I can build this Open College initiative as a social enterprise, but surely it is worth a try. My deep-seating faith is that education is a social utility and should be free to individual consumers, because it has more benefits than the enhancement in salary and personal success that it entails. So, it should be funded by taxes rather than fees, because with fees, one subverts the purpose of education and puts a firmly consumerist spin in the classroom. But even if I make it a social enterprise, the courses are not going to be free - but this could actually be constructed on a cross-subsidy, ability-to-pay model.

Is there anything new in this idea? Not really, there are open universities and there are universities that are open. It is just this idealism about an open world and the commitment to lifelong learning that need to come in. It does not matter where it comes in from, or who: This is not about making things proprietary, but instead about making things open. This is where idealism comes handy, whatever the teachers tell you.

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