A university that’s free, virtual and open to everyone across the planet. This is the crazy project of the California entrepreneur and philanthropist Shai Reshef who is challenging himself to provide a quality higher education to those who do not have the physical or material means to attend a traditional university. His concept of a people’s university was born from an astute observation that the costs of access to technology were falling, and those of education were rising in the world.
Provide education to everyone, everywhere in the world
The eligibility requirements are relatively simple : a high school diploma, a good command of the English language, and a computer connected to the Internet. With the democratization of digital technologies, the People’s University is accessible to nearly all via its website : “No buildings or places to rest between classes ! All programs are virtual”, says Shai Reshef, founder and president. The courses, which began in September 2009, bring together in real time 380 students from 81 countries as diverse as Indonesia, the United States, Afghanistan and Sudan. This multi-ethnic aspect is an additional strength of the system : beyond their courses and independent work, students participate in virtual classes and exchange among each other.
One step closer to world peace
Cities around the world would thus have to play a critical role in developing this type of university structure by offering access to a minimum of equipment, providing dedicated sites and making efforts to promote the concept among its citizens. “We hope to increase our efforts over the long term by helping municipalities build the necessary infrastructure and promote access to our university,” envisions Reshef. The use and sharing of course materials and virtual content may also appeal to universities in their mission to democratize access to education. If one doubts that such a concept can replace real exchanges between teachers and students, Reshef believes the Virtual University will help boost human development, and not only in emerging countries. “By giving students from different backgrounds the opportunity to learn and share knowledge, the virtual university has the potential to lead us towards a more peaceful world”, he summarizes.
No competition with traditional universities
To ensure the credibility of this institution, emphasis must be placed on the quality of teaching, even if the organization is not yet officially recognized. The faculty is composed of teachers, retired or still active, and students, as well as professionals who participate in the evaluations and development of the programs.
The California entrepreneur adds that pedagogical models have evolved throughout history, according to new techniques and resources. The People’s University is one step further in the history of education and veritably defines the contours of this new educational model in which technology enhances knowledge. “Internet and free software are undoubtedly changing patterns of traditional education” he said. But his objective is not to eradicate conventional forms of education. “After centuries of elitism, our university provides education to people who otherwise would not have the opportunity to even walk through the gates of a campus. We do not have pretentions to replace universities such as Harvard or Oxford,” concludes Shai Reshef.
Translated by Genny Cortinovis
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