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Stanford in Pakistan

It’s a small world after all

Stanford University is one of the partners of Coursera.org, one of the largest MOOCs (Massive Online Open Courses) in the world.

MOOC’s provide students around the world the opportunity to learn from educational institutions around the world for free and to earn certificates from the world’s best universities for relatively nominal fees. The concept of distance learning has been around for a while, and, recognising its importance for the future of education, the Federal Government has taken initiatives such as launching the Virtual University of Pakistan. Distance education and online coursework have been among the fastest growing segments within the education sector in the developed world for the last decade. Many prestigious institutions offer complete accredited degrees (completely online) while some offer major parts of the degrees online in conjunction with in-class work.

But MOOCs have a problem: the completion rates for free courses are very low. Even for certificate programs, the graduation rates remain stubbornly low around the world. This leads to many people signing up to take free courses but very few actually completing the work. Thus for MOOCs to really make a difference in the world the engagement levels have to be increased through increased interactivity online and more in-class resources.

MOOCs have been grappling with the engagement problem since their inception but over the last few years several successful blended teaching models have been implemented by MOOCs and their partners – and therein lies the solution. Blended learning is the key to increasing learner engagement and completion rates. With blended learning students take their courses in both online and in classroom formats. Students can watch their lectures and study on the online portal and app at anytime, anywhere, while having structured weekly classroom time for additional reinforcement as well. In the blended model, students are provided with smart class-rooms and teachers who will go through the main points of the coursework and the preparation for the testing requirements and offer general guidance, while online tutors are available for guidance through chats, active forums and email throughout these courses in the blended model. The blended model – where it has been implemented – has increased the engagement levels and completion rates of students in their courses immensely.

Coursera and Edx are amongst the largest MOOC providers in the World. They are the exclusive partners of renowned international education institutions such as Harvard University, Stanford, University of Pennsylvania (Upenn, Wharton) and many others.

Both offer a combination of free courses and paid certificate programs in many fields although technology and engineering are of particular focus. The coursework is cutting edge and students benefit from learning skills which are in demand worldwide.

Both have some students from Pakistan. But the completion rates remain low in Pakistan, and in neighboring India. The reasons for this range from simple logistical issues like not having a suitable credit card for payment to more nuanced issues like not understanding foreign-accented English in the lectures videos. The blended learning model can overcome most of these issues.

The Federal Government has successfully launched the PM Youth Program which has various parts: skills development, education and loan programs for the youth etc, and is by and large a success – so far.

The PM Youth Program’s Skills Development Program aims to provide the youth of Pakistan training, education and skill development so that they can get gainful employment.
At present the PM Youth Skills Development Program is being handled by the National Vocational & Technical Training Commission of Pakistan (NAVTTC). Youth who apply, and are accepted into the skills development program, are placed in NAVTTC institutes around Pakistan. PM Youth Program pays 30,000 – 35,000 PKR per every 6 month course to NAVTTC for every student enrolled through the Skills Development Program. This is great and many of the students learn and benefit greatly from taking coursework from local technical institutes. Wouldn’t it be great if the Skills Development Program also provide the same tuition reimbursement for students to take certificates from Institutions like Stanford and Wharton? The costs would remain the same as for local courses but students across Pakistan can benefit from learning technology and engineering skills as well as earning a prestigious certificate from some of the best educational institutes around the world.

Technology outsourcing is already a large industry in Pakistan. Although local coursework is adequate for many of the tasks being outsourced we can better equip our youth to actually get much more lucrative work if they have the right skills and credentials recognised worldwide. For example, our youth can go from simple data entry or entry level web development jobs to much higher paying iOS and Android app development jobs with the right skills and internationally recognised credentials. PM Youth Program can partner with Coursera and other MOOCs to provide these skills either completely online or through a blended learning model through its network of NAVTTC Institutes and other private sector Institutes. This can lead to our youth gaining the most in demand technology skills from the most prestigious institutes from around the world and really make a difference in their personal and professional skill set.

 

Mian Fareed
The writer Mian Fareed Iftikhar is a Harvard Graduate, Entrepreneur, Technologist and a Venture Capitalist. He is also the founder of Pakistan’s First MOOC.


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