fbpx
Open

Category Archives: Blog

Equity and Inclusion in Tertiary Education

Recently, I stumbled upon a dataset on tertiary (post-secondary) education globally published by World Bank on the website ‘Our world in data’ and some of the insights were shocking. The gap in tertiary education is enormous from developed to developing to underdeveloped nations. Quality tertiary education for everyone is the key driver of a nation’s prosperity and social wellbeing. It can provide a knowledgeable, skilled, employable, and productive workforce while encouraging R&D/ innovation which is important for sustainable growth and creating a more equitable society.  

Tertiary education is the career deciding step for most students. It’s the third level of education; the first two are primary and secondary. Typically, tertiary education starts after twelve years of school education and refers to all formal post-secondary education, including public and private universities, colleges, technical training institutes, and vocational schools encompassing certificates, diplomas, or academic degrees. Post that some students aspire for further education, like a master’s degree, a Ph.D., etc. but the majority aim to obtain a job and get gainfully employed at the end of tertiary education. Therefore, not only for the individuals, the quality and adoption of tertiary education determine the growth of a nation. 

There are multiple ways to look into the World Bank dataset. First, let me share the gross total enrollment in tertiary education as a percentage of the total population in the figure below. At first glance, we notice a pronounced gap between developed nations, i.e. US, UK, EU, and the developing and underdeveloped nations, like India, SE Asia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and most of Africa. For most of us, this is not surprising but a confirmation of what we already know. 

 

Now, let us see how pronounced this gap in tertiary education is between developed, developing, and underdeveloped nations. Using the same data set, I prepared the following chart for three representative countries, i.e. the US representing developed nations, India representing developing nations, and Uganda representing underdeveloped. And these gaps get widened when you factor in the population of these nations. 

There are gaps in the primary and secondary education systems as well. However, those are less pronounced compared to tertiary education. In the figure below, I plotted the gross enrollment ratio of the same three countries for secondary education, and the gap there is closing fast. Thanks to nations, UN organizations, philanthropists, EdTechs, and non-profit organizations actively working on providing primary and secondary education to every child. We need a similar proactive and focused approach for tertiary education.

For the development of the world, society, and every nation, it is imperative to close these gaps in tertiary education. And for that, the very first step is to understand the key factors that created these gaps in the first place. Equity and Inclusion (E&I) is grossly lagging in tertiary education and is the primary factor that created and continues to widen the gap in tertiary education. 

E&I is missing in tertiary education because of barriers like cost, societal expectations, and ease of access; Cost is the major factor. College education or vocational education is not cheap. Besides the tuition fee, other associated costs include travel, rent for living in a different location, etc. Most people enter tertiary education at around 18-20 years of age. At this stage, many youngsters in developing and underdeveloped nations are expected to earn money and be the bread earner rather than burning the family savings. Education can be funded, but we know that inclusion fails miserably when accessing credit.  Moreover, students and their families are worried about taking credit unless they have a clear path to repay the money. 

One way to bring inclusivity to the tertiary education system is to make it accessible, flexible, and more practical. This is an uphill task but certainly achievable. Think how much learning platforms like Udemy and Coursera have brought to the youth. Students can do courses at their pace while earning for their family, without shifting to a different city, and pay just a hundredth of the college cost. Unfortunately, these online-based education systems have yet to get the recognition they deserve. For example, most recruiters are yet to accept a Coursera certificate as proof of eligibility and even for that matter, proof of ability. 

An effective solution that can be a game-changer is a PPP (Public-Private Partnership) model where governments, academic institutions, and social, and private organizations can work together to create a hybrid model wherein students can work while they study.  After an initial formal period of education/ training, students can switch to a study plus work arrangement wherein they attend college 3 days a week and work in an organization for another 3 days. There are two advantages to this. First, students can earn while studying, thus better managing their financial requirements. Second, it will give students a better way to learn by applying the learnings in their work. If implemented in the right way, this model can provide a major boost to a nation’s workforce building to scale up production. 

At UNP, our focus area is tertiary education. We sincerely believe that with digital technologies and AI, we will be able to bring down the barriers in tertiary education and thereby drive equity and inclusion and help everyone get gainfully employed.  With a focus on better policies and execution, we can take concrete steps towards achieving the United Nations’ sustainable development goal (SDG) # 8 of ‘Decent work and economic growth.

 

References

  1. Our world in data https://ourworldindata.org/
  2. Our world in data, tertiary education https://ourworldindata.org/tertiary-education
  3. World bank education statistics https://datatopics.worldbank.org/education/ 

The Power of Peer-to-Peer Learning

Peer-to-peer learning is one of the most effective and efficient ways of learning. Put simply, peer-to-peer learning is when students or professionals teach, share knowledge with fellow colleagues, assist with queries, assignments, and projects thus treating each other as equals, and supporting each other in the learning process. However, this learning method hasn’t received the recognition and achieved the universal scale that it deserves. One of the reasons is that we continue to rely on the traditional school/college method of education and not explore the option of peer-to-peer learning. It is challenging to convince parents that their college-goers can learn from their friends and be gainfully employed.

Peer-to-peer sharing knowledge works! Ask any IT programmer or developer where they go when facing a programming challenge. They do not go to the institute or their college guru. Instead, they go to stack overflow, the largest peer-to-peer community for technical issues. Also, think about where you start your journey in learning a new concept. Most of the time, it’s Wikipedia, another massive peer-to-peer knowledge base. I have learned and conceptualized so many topics from my friends, colleagues, blogs, youtube videos, etc. that I can’t overemphasize the contribution of peer-to-peer learning in my life. I’m sure, if you reflect, you will realize the same.

New technologies are emerging at an unprecedented rate and we now live in an era of lifelong learning. This trend will make peer-to-peer learning more valuable and acceptable. For example, consider “smart contracts”, an emerging technology where contracts in the form of codes reside in a blockchain. You will not find any university course teaching “smart contracts”. However, some of your peers might know more and help you jump-start and navigate. 

The flexibility and openness in peer-to-peer learning make learning much more convenient. While doing my Master’s degree at IIT-Bombay, I and my batchmates, Saptarshi, Sumit, Acushla, Sunil, and others started a peer-to-peer learning initiative to share knowledge with other batchmates. We used to meet in the evenings, teach/ discuss a particular subject/ topic, and help each other learn and clear doubts.  I remember several times I shied away from asking questions in the class to my professors, assuming that I might be asking a trivial one and breaking the lecture flow.  But with peer-to-peer learning, I could ask and share knowledge with my peers without hesitation.

The biggest advantage of peer-to-peer learning is the low cost. And peer-to-peer learning might be the only way to liberate the last 3 billion people in this world deprived of quality education by providing them with the right learning opportunity and making them gainfully employed. Sal Khan’s schoolhouse.world is one such initiative with a mission of connecting the world with free, peer-to-peer tutoring.

So why is peer-to-peer learning not mainstream yet? First, we do not receive a degree or certificate from our peers. Second, it might not be possible to verify whether the peer has the right understanding of the subject matter. Both the challenges can be addressed today. For example, the second challenge can be addressed by peer learners ranking peer tutors and their contents, like upvotes in stack overflow. The best content and peer tutors can emerge automatically. 

I admit that there is no such platform yet to foster peer-to-peer learning at a universal scale. However, that does not mean that the method does not work or is not scalable; we need to keep exploring and experimenting. UNP was started on the lines of peer-to-peer learning and we are constantly striving toward leveraging peer-to-peer learning to decentralize education and make quality education accessible and affordable for everyone. 

 

About UNP: UNP (United Network of Professionals) is an Edutech platform on the lines of peer-to-peer learning. It was started in 2016 by professionals from the field of Analytics, IT, and Finance who are passionate about teaching and sharing their knowledge with others. Through our in-person, online synchronous, and asynchronous (MOOCs) courses, UNP has trained around 25,000 students globally in Business Analytics, Data Science, and AI. UNP supports the United Nations’ sustainable development goal (SDG # 4) of Quality Education for all by 2030.

reachout@unp.education
www.unp.education

Teamwork in Education: A critical factor for success

[3 mins Read]

It’s no secret, Teamwork is considered a critical factor for success in any profession – corporates, startups, NGOs – you name it. However, when it comes to the current education system, it does not emphasise teamwork. Instead, by design, our schooling and university education system develop individuals with certain skills. No doubt, individual capability development is genuinely required, but it should not be at the cost of learning how to make a collective impact.

Humans are the most advanced species primarily because we can cooperate and work together at a scale that no other species has demonstrated. We carry teamwork in our DNAs; our forefathers did teamwork as hunter-gatherers for thousands of years. So, it’s a pity that we designed our education system to suppress this gifted ability.

In the past 200 years, we have seen unprecedented development in technology, inventions, and overall our understanding of the world. Communication and digital technologies worked like gasoline on a fire. The exponentially increasing knowledge made it impossible to do any development without teamwork. Unfortunately, when it comes to our education system, apart from some areas in research studies, our education system from schools to colleges has primarily focused on developing an individual’s abilities and capabilities. 

For example, let’s take a look into the superstar technology of our time, Artificial Intelligence (AI), and what it takes to create an AI application.  AI draws it’s foundational strength from Mathematics, Statistics, and Computer Science. This foundation helps to develop efficient tasks and algorithms. However, when you see from an AI product perspective, the contribution of the foundational part is hardly a quarter of the whole. 

Apart from the core algorithm, an AI product needs connectivity to the data sources, a platform to host the program and run, a user interface, a disciplined way to develop the product, aka DevOps. And apart from all these technical needs, an AI product needs to be clear of any data privacy issues and any inherent biases that might creep from the AI product’s decisions. Considering all that listed so far, it should be apparent that it’s practically impossible to develop an AI product by a single person. 

As the African proverb goes – It takes a village to raise a child. It’s no different for an AI product – here it takes a team of diverse experts. The chances that you will learn all the skills required to create a complete AI product are very thin. Success for anyone in the community can only come from developing expertise in one or a few of these topics and our capability to collaborate, do teamwork, and harness the complementary skills of other experts. 

I ranted that over the last 200 years, we haven’t designed our education system to teach teamwork. At UNP, we immensely value the spirit of teamwork. Therefore, we emphasize on opportunities to learn and practice cooperation and teamwork in all UNP courses, even for those courses we design with our partner institutes.

Employers are taking less cognizance of College Degree

[4 mins read]

When asked whether he considered which college a job applicant attended while evaluating a prospective Tesla employee, Elon Musk said, “There’s no need even to have a college degree at all or even high school. If somebody graduated from a great university, that may be an indication that they will be capable of great things, but it’s not necessarily the case. If you look at, say, people like Bill Gates or Larry Ellison, Steve Jobs, these guys didn’t graduate from college, but if you had a chance to hire them, of course, that would be a good idea.” 

Elon Musk is not alone. Serial entrepreneur Kunal Shah who founded two successful companies – Freecharge and CRED, said in an interview with Your Story, “I’m a Philosophy major, I can’t care about other people’s degrees. One of our senior leaders hasn’t even done graduation. The best degree that person has is 10th pass,” 

The hiring process of big corporations is changing as well. In 2017, IBM’s vice president of talent, Joanna Daley, told CNBC that about 15 percent of IBM’s U.S. hires don’t have a four-year degree. She said that instead of looking exclusively at candidates who went to college, IBM now looks at candidates who have hands-on experience via a coding boot camp or an industry-related vocational class. 

Employers are looking for evidence of ability rather than just a degree. This trend is about to catch fire especially in the services sector like Information Technology, Analytics, Finance, etc. where job opportunities may not always require a formal college degree. Also, in terms of job opportunities in these industries, demand outpaces supply so employers are looking at candidates who demonstrate some background, knowledge, skills, and experiences right after high school. 

Computer Science is already an integral part of today’s middle/ high school curriculum and we are now seeing Analytics / AI being introduced as well.  Children are exposed to basic financial and quantitative literacy at home and school which lays a strong foundation for a career in finance.  Infinite resources available for online/self-learning, the scope for practical/ applied experiences, etc. are proving very effective in preparing students ready for jobs right after school.

Nevertheless, college degrees will remain relevant for those seeking careers in deep science, research, etc.

At UNP, we foresee changes in the education system. It’s getting apparent that a college degree comes with a high cost, but it’s getting sidelined by employers. As a result, the education and skill development systems are evolving towards decentralized, tailor-made, and demand-driven arrangements. Also, to keep up with the fast-changing skill demand – learning, upskilling, and reskilling will be a continuous process. As a result, we all will eventually move from a college degree followed by a lifelong career to a career of continuous learning and working simultaneously. 

If you are in the space of coding, Data Science, AI, etc., your GitHub profile, interactions in StackOverflow, etc., will be valued more than any degree or certificate. Behance sets the precedent in the design world, where hiring is done based on the Behance profile of the candidate instead of a degree or certificate.  You might be wondering how to manage several proofs of ability and place those in front of a prospective employer? Worry not. Technology like blockchain will help tie all the discrete pieces of evidence in a secure and tamper-proof way. 

At UNP, we actively work on understanding the upcoming skill demand and anticipating the changes required in the education system. Together with our partners, we are working on curating the right upskilling programs to prepare you for the job market as well as be ready for the future.