EdX Partners with Facebook to Provide Open Online Education to Rwanda

EdX, the open online learning platform co-founded by Harvard and MIT, has partnered with Facebook to give Rwandan students free access to collaborative, online courses. The partnership, dubbed SocialEDU, was announced Monday and will serve as a blueprint for future projects, according to a press release from Facebook.

“Improving global access to high-quality education has been a key edX goal from day one,” Anant Agarwal, president of edX, said in the press release. “In partnering with Facebook on this innovative pilot, we hope to learn how we can take this concept to the world.”

Facebook will be collaborating with edX to develop a mobile app that will deliver an educational experience through social media.

“We felt that this was just a great partnership all around,” said Matthew J. Malloy, the vice president of marketing for edX. “We’ll be working with Facebook, very closely with Facebook, to determine what are the social features that matter in learning.”

Both Facebook and edX have strong ties to developing African countries. According to Malloy, Facebook has already launched initiatives in Rwanda, and edX has also forged connections to the area. Agarwal noted that almost half of the 2 million edX students come from developing countries with nearly 10 percent from Africa alone.

As Facebook and edX prepare to launch the program, they face several technical barriers that call for additional partnerships with telecommunication companies and local governments.

Rwandan students often lack access to the smartphones they would need to participate in programs offered by SocialEDU, Malloy said.

“In the end, we know education is inherently social, and in many cases, education will be delivered on mobile devices,” he said.

According to the press release, the telecommunications company Nokia has also volunteered to give SocialEDU enrollees affordable smartphones, which the government of Rwanda also plans to subsidize.

The limited bandwidth available throughout Rwanda poses another obstacle to providing online education to Rwandan students. Courses operated by edX generally require strong internet access to transfer large amounts of data.

As a result, Airtel, a telecommunications company, will be supplying bandwidth to SocialEDU users for those who participate in the program for one year, according to the Facebook press release. The government of Rwanda has also pledged to provide free wi-fi access to school campuses throughout the country, while working with edX to adapt course content for Rwandan users.

“When you look at all the people who came together, they’re some of the top people in the industry,” Malloy said. “Together, our motivation is to figure out what makes learning social and how can we get the benefits of social learning.”

Since the program remains in the early stages of development, SocialEDU will only be offering a single course, according to Malloy.

“We’re reaching out to our consortium partners to help identify what is the right course,” Malloy said, noting that the class would probably teach students about a science, technology, engineering, or math field.

—Staff writer Michael V. Rothberg can be reached at mrothberg@college.harvard.edu. Follow him on Twitter @mvrothberg.

Tags