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This article is from the In-Depth Report Learning in the Digital Age
See Inside Scientific American Volume 309, Issue 2

Free Online Courses Bring "Magic" to Rwanda

An inside look at a daring global experiment: using freely available online courses to bring top-tier instruction to the neediest parts of the planet

The Kepler prepilot class was conducted to identify problems and come up with solutions before the full program in the fall. By the fifth week Yarng and Stellman had learned several important lessons. They needed better Internet access, for starters, and so plan to move into new offices connected to Rwanda's fiber-optic network this summer. More important, they realized that many students needed significant English-language training to be able to follow online lectures and analyze complex subject matter. (In recent years Rwanda has switched from French to English as the primary language of instruction in schools.) Kepler now plans to conduct intensive English classes during an orientation period before the fall session begins and to assign a lot of writing in English during the regular term. “And when we're done writing,” Stellman says, “we'll write some more.”

Ideally, Hodari would like to expand Kepler in Rwanda and then export the model to other countries. That depends, however, on how the next two years go. “This is a pilot,” he says. “Our focus is on experimentation. There's been a lot of heavy breathing about changing the world but not a lot of experience in doing it. We want to spend two years testing the model—to see which pedagogical methods get the best student results.” Above all, Hodari wants to be sure the Kepler experiment succeeds, if only because 50 very hopeful Rwandans have no plan B.

This article was originally published with the title "Hype and Hope."

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