Special Report

The Path to Being a Scientist Doesn’t Have to Be So Narrow

A radical new college model could change the rigged obstacle course of the world’s education system, expanding opportunity for millions of students

edX founder Anant Agarwal creates a tablet-based lecture. (Courtesy of EdX)

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As edX, Coursera, Udacity and others build libraries of thousands of free courses in the next few years, stories like Battushig’s will multiply. There is a vast and growing global middle class of aspirant learners who lack access to traditional paths to science education. Rather than restrict the flow of potential scientists to channels that are narrowed and distorted by inequalities of wealth and class, many more of the world’s Battushigs will have a fair chance of demonstrating their potential and achievement.

In other words, students will realize the benefits of science education in a way that is far more scientific than ever before. There are still challenges to overcome, particularly in giving students using non-traditional online learning models full credit for their achievements. Existing colleges and universities enjoy a privileged position in the educational hierarchy and some may not be eager to open their doors so widely. Evolution, after all, is hardly a painless process.

But in the long run, technology will help deliver world-class learning opportunities to many more students than receive them today. The insights and innovations that flow to all of humanity from science will grow accordingly. 

Kevin Carey directs the education policy program for the New America Foundation and writes frequently about higher education.


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