About a month ago, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation released their annual letter. Their big bet this year: the lives of people in poor countries will improve faster in the next 15 years than any other time in history.
They sketch out five breakthroughs that could power this kind of rapid development—and it’s not only advances health and agriculture, but innovations like technology-assisted learning that will create opportunity across the world, and most profoundly in Africa.
A year and a half ago, the Kepler team made a similar bet. We realized that with the emergence of free online courses, competency-based education, and increasingly reliable broadband in Africa, there was an enormous opportunity to provide quality higher education at a much lower cost than traditional universities. If we were successful, this could offer a transformative experience that talented students from any economic background could afford.
Our approach is simple: pair world-class online content from leading universities with intensive in-person seminars led by a team of local teachers. And to ensure that our students receive the professional skills and international credentialing that they’ll need for employment, we partnered with Southern New Hampshire University’s innovative College for America program. So instead of the passive lecture and test model, our students would engage in hands-on, competency-based projects that are designed to help them master the industry identified skills they’ll need in Africa’s emerging knowledge economy.
Now, Kepler, our experimental campus in Kigali, Rwanda has enrolled nearly 150 students, almost all of whom came from difficult backgrounds and never could have afforded traditional higher education. Despite their unmistakable talent, without access to a program like this, their future would likely be limited to either subsistence agriculture or small commerce. And now, the educational experience they’re helping to create at Kepler is in some ways more advanced than what most students experience in traditional Western universities: a pragmatic, skills-based curriculum that’s tailored to what employers want in Rwanda’s competitive job market.
Most surprisingly, after only a year at Kepler, over 20% of our students had already received their AA degrees from Southern New Hampshire University and started working on their BA curriculum. And all the other students are on pace to finish their degrees on time. These statistics stand in stark comparison to the low graduation rates of American community colleges and universities.
Kepler’s approach would not have been possible even three years ago. MOOCs, competency-based education, reliable bandwidth in Rwanda—all of these innovations are only beginning to emerge. But from our experience, Bill and Melinda Gates have it exactly right: the combination of innovative software, dedicated teachers, and a career-focused curriculum is a combination that is poised to radically transform learning around the world, raising millions of talented African students out of poverty and creating a new global economic powerhouse.
For more detail on this, there’s a good piece over at The Verge that discusses how Kepler and other organizations are leveraging MOOCs and other recent innovation to improve education in the developing world.
Chris Hedrick is the CEO of Kepler, based in Kigali Rwanda. Follow him on Twitter here.