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Can technology solve the crises of higher education?

September 26, 2019

The short answer is yes. Can technology address the challenges faced by higher education? Has it increased access and bridged divides? Has technology led to improved outcomes? Heads of Government created COL with the express mandate to use distance learning and technologies to increase access to quality education and training.

I believes that technology mediated teaching and learning can transform lives, making access to education available to anyone, anytime, anywhere. However, the choice of technology must depend on whether it is appropriate, available and affordable. Technology by itself cannot be a panacea for all that ails higher education today but must be placed in an appropriate social, cultural and political context. 

In 2012, there were 165 million tertiary education students globally, and it is estimated that the number will grow to 522 million by 2035. The gross enrolment ratio in higher education in 2015 is 30.6, while it is 8.5 in sub-Saharan Africa and 20.8 in South Asia. Projections based on data from International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) shows that most populous countries like China and India will have 14.16% and 17.02% of population with a degree by 2050. As more countries achieve universal secondary education, the demand for higher education will continue to escalate.

Brick and mortar institutions will not be able to absorb the surging demand. Alternative options will be required and technology will play a significant role in enabling institutions to expand. In the United States, 29.7% of all students enrolled in 2015 were taking at least one distance course. A recent study on Open Universities in the Commonwealth revealed that there were over 4.4 million students in 27 open universities alone. In 2017, over 78 million learners were reached by over 9,400 massive open online courses (MOOCs) offered by over 800 universities. In terms of outcomes, research shows that there is ‘no significant difference’ in the learning outcomes of campus, distance or online learners.

Conclusion: The COL experience shows that to use technology effectively in teaching and learning, it is important to focus on: (i) policy, (ii) capacity, and (iii) appropriate technology. Integrating these three dimensions help universities to leverage the power of technology to increase access, improve quality and sustainability. We have been supporting policy development for technology-enabled learning, capacity building for blended learning delivery as well as online delivery of programmes

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