Global Online Education and Equality

Subsequent to the emergence of digital and encrypted money comes an increase of globally offered goods and services. This novel competition is changing not only prices in relation to their price ecosystem – e.g. a domestic market –, but also what they represent, namely the impact of existing industries on the lives of people exposed to it.

While the possibility for a global market enables successful market participants to reap the benefits of already being competitive compared with those from emerging economies, the same access possibility allows for comparably cheaper high-quality education. As web services are becoming more and more advanced, and functioning information technology is already available to the middle classes of emerging countries such as India or Colombia, global competition to offer web-based education increases, and concomitantly decreases costs associated with it. This new form of knowledge transfer may lead to enhanced equality.

The current education landscape is largely geared to a domestic audience or at least an audience stemming from similar socioeconomic backgrounds, who can afford such a large investment as well as being willing to put it into practise in highly competitive regions. This educational status quo is well-understood and known for hindering the return of highly trained workforce to their country of origin, as the domestic economy many times does not offer similar employment possibilities.

A study, conducted by the U.S. Department of Education evaluating evidence-based practices in online learning, found “[…] that, on average, students in online learning conditions performed modestly better than those receiving face-to-face instruction. The difference between student outcomes for online and face-to-face classes […] was larger in those studies contrasting conditions that blended elements of online and face-to-face instruction with conditions taught entirely face-to-face”. It was mentioned, however, that these students had more time available as compared to those entirely on-campus.

Given that such high-quality education will be tailored to the needs of identified groups – i.e. in the right language or dialect, at the right time of the day, overall designed with the living reality of a target group in mind – will yield rich developmental implications. Courses aimed at solving pressing issues and filling critical knowledge gaps may improve living conditions directly. Dr Ernesto Sirolli stresses that it is imperative to bolster local knowledge since this is the only accountable and ‘bottom-up’ approach available. Communicating such knowledge as well as higher education online, and thus also reaching remote communities, may contribute to greater equality.

Naturally, the dominant aspect – remoteness – also carries risks. Dependency on fragile technology may mean that its malfunctioning results in interrupted teaching, potentially over a longer period due to a lack of infrastructure and monetary means to solve the issues. A study on creating virtual classrooms for rural and remote communities also mentioned that “[t]echnical challenges place additional pressure on [students] as they try to learn course content”.

Neither can the social aspect be neglected. Exchange of ideas via face-to-face communication is crucial for most cultures. However, since the alternative is no formal higher education and a lack of the aforementioned transfer of key skills, both technical as well as local, the respective community has to be in the position to decide whether it wishes to accept these risks or not, Sirolli says.

This level of self-determination is the foundation of equality in development, Sirolli argues.

Edited by: Patrick Lehner

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