For the vast majority of students, attending Harvard is simply an unrealistic, unattainable dream, available only to over-privileged over-achievers. Most successful applicants attend elite schools, and spend years being coached and preparing for admission.
I have never travelled to the United States. I have therefore never had the opportunity to set foot on Harvard’s prestigious campus.
But I am a graduate of Harvard.
For the past seven weeks, I took part in the course Central Challenges of American National Security, Strategy, and the Press, offered by the John F. Kennedy School of Government. The course was taught by the renowned Professor Graham Allison, and the New York Times‘ chief Washington correspondent, David Sanger. As you would expect from any university course, there were weekly lectures, quizzes and assignments.
But there were many things that made this course unique.
It was run by edX; there were no exorbitant fees. It was open to anyone anywhere around the world armed with an internet connection and the interest and will to learn.
I was fortunate enough to be accepted into the limited enrolment version of the course, which gave me the additional opportunities of participating in weekly tutorials and receiving written feedback on my assignments. The course remained free.
Many people lament increasing anti-social behaviour that has resulted from ubiquitous portable devices and social media. Some studies have even argued that the internet is making us stupid. In many cases, this is true. However, I believe the internet also offers unprecedented potential for the future of education. I have always been a strong supporter of scholarship beyond the classroom: our learning never stops, and our instruments of learning should reflect the advances in technology that we have achieved. It is up to us to use this technology to become smarter and better-informed.
Every year, edX and Coursera offer hundreds of Massive Open Online Courses (more commonly known as MOOCs) in subjects as varied as Software Engineering, Music Theory, Astronomy, Economics, and Neuroscience. They have partnered with Ivy League universities including Harvard, MIT and Berkeley, as well as some lesser-known schools such as the Hong Kong Institute of Science and Technology, Eindhoven University of Technology (Netherlands), and Koç University (Turkey). Furthermore, not all courses are offered exclusively in English, so speakers of Chinese, Spanish, Russian, Arabic and other languages also have access to MOOCs.
With these initiatives, it is possible to pursue knowledge and interests while undertaking full-time employment or study. If you have ever wanted to learn about something new, extend your existing knowledge, or simply qualify your opinions, but have not been in the position to relocate, or have not had the time or money, you really no longer have an excuse.
You, too, can get into Harvard.