As published in Jakarta Post, September 28th 2013 edition
Some months ago, there was shocking news surrounding the world of tertiary education. The Georgia Institute of Technology, an Atlanta-based institution better known as Georgia Tech, announced the too-good-to-be-true news that its three-year Masters program in computer science was now offered at a tuition fee of US$7,000, or 80 percent off the regular fee.
One can imagine how many people can learn now because of the reduced tuition fee.
The graduate program in computer science at Georgia Tech is among the top of the A list. Graduates from this program are always in high demand. Industries are always longing for their graduates. So, by slashing the tuition fee of around Rp 12 million per semester, this policy seems would open thousands of doors for students all around the world to experience excellent education.
Opportunities are multiplied enormously. Welcome to the beginning of an era of quality education for all.
However, for those who commercialize and make profit from higher education, the news is bad. Now, they have to compete with the best education institutions on this planet.
There have been concerns over the number of profit-oriented universities selling their diplomas, thus, affordable quality education will definitely make those greedy education businessmen’s lives uneasy.
This doesn’t mean that higher education business is obsolete. Higher education is still needed. In particular, quality education institutions will become more sought after. However, those mediocre, poor performing and overpriced education institutions are definitely threatened by this wave of affordable education.
If life is fair, overpriced education businesses will crumble naturally. So, the above news is only bad news for low-performing universities. In Indonesia, it is no different.
A more intriguing question is if Georgia Tech set the tuition fee of its computer science masters program for about Rp 12 million per semester, at what level should other Indonesian universities logically set their tuition fee?
Does half make sense? This leads to an important question on the real cost of higher education in Indonesia. How much money does one university actually need to educate a person?
So, how could top universities like Georgia Tech offer world class education services with affordable prices? Why didn’t this happen 50 years ago?
The answer is technology. Even 20 years ago, the technology was not ready. Of course, the vision of providing quality education for the crowd is far from new. But the idea was not achievable decades ago, because the technology was not ready. Now, the technology is available and cheap. The utilization of information technology and the Internet in instruction practices has really had a huge impact on the way universities are run.
The application of technology in online learning gives all people everywhere the ability to learn freely. This modern technology rejuvenates education and attracts people to learn or relearn. Not only students utilize the Internet for learning, but more importantly adults also learn, relearn, and unlearn through the Internet.
The number of users of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) grows amazingly. For example, in only four months after its launching, the online course provider Coursera drew a million users. Moreover, the number of free courses online was more than 50 at the end of last year. Wouldn’t this learning revolution affect how traditional universities are managed?
One can see that this trend of MOOC creates various changes on the way the higher education is run. Now a professor can teach tens of thousands of students in one course. This new movement does change the whole business of higher education. Quality education used to be intended for only the top 1 percent of the people, but now there is a good chance that 99 percent of the people, at the bottom of the pyramid, can experience it.
In this recent wave of education revolution, Indonesian educators should embrace it and surf on it. This is perhaps our best opportunity to make a quantum leap in our education system since our independence in 1945.
This is the greatest chance to transform our education. Considering the geographic condition of many Indonesian villages, that is hard to reach; this learning technology is the best and cheapest solution. When our number one problem in Indonesian education at this moment is on the distribution of quality education, like the distribution of quality teachers in remote areas, this Internet-based learning is the most feasible solution.
It should also be stressed here that the new digital technology does not only make education cheaper, but while decreasing the price, the quality is not compromised. Like the master’s program in computer science in Georgia Tech, people get the same quality education service but with a cost of only 20 percent of the previous one. However, some fields like chemistry that requires expensive chemical substances in the lab works would still be costly. Digital technology may not significantly reduce the fee on some fields.
Technology will not threaten teachers’ jobs. Indeed, quality teachers will be more needed in this new digital age. YouTube will not be able to replace a quality teacher, but it definitely threatens mediocre teachers who are unwilling to learn.
Moreover, when our present traditional schooling fails to nurture the passion to learn, this new technology may solve this problem. When our present schooling system does not allow our kids to learn at their own pace and makes learning too mechanistic, this new learning technology may overcome it. Thus, it is kind of ironic that the only chance to make education more humane now is by applying technology. Ironic but very good news! ***