« Back to Articles

Education, Like the Air We Breathe

Anant Agarwal Hong Kong

Professor Anant Agarwal wants to educate the world. He knows education can help change the course of a person’s life. The challenge, as he sees it, is that some people don’t have access to high quality education in their home countries, and others are going into severe debt just for the chance at living a better life. “Education is a right. Everybody should have access to it like the air we breathe”, said Professor Agarwal.

As the Yidan Prize for Education Development Laureate for 2018, Professor Agarwal may be just the person who can make this happen. Professor Agarwal is the Founder and CEO of edX, a non-profit organization trying to make education available to everyone. How? According to Professor Agarwal, “Digital technology is transforming every field known to mankind. edX is applying digital technology to education to completely transform education around the world.”

An Education Innovator

In addition to being the CEO of edX, Professor Agarwal is a professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He has been recognized with numerous awards and distinctions over his distinguished career, including the Padma Shri award, one of the highest civilian awards in the Republic of India, and was named to the Top 15 Education Innovators list by Forbes magazine in 2012.

Online Learning Platform for the Masses

edX offers a learning destination and online learning platform that connects top universities with learners from around the world. Today, more than 19 million learners from every country in the world have taken part in one of edX’s 2,400 online courses, offered by one of 140 global education partners.

Courses are available for free for those simply seeking knowledge. Learners pay a fee when they want to document what they’ve learned with a certificate or when there are proctored graded assignments. In addition to the core edX platform and partner offerings, over 1,800 websites around the world use a free and open version of the edX software, known as Open edX, to run their own learning platforms. For example, 14 million learners in China use a Chinese-specific version, known as XuetengX, leveraging the Open edX platform.

The Impact of Technology on Society

Digital technology may be enabling the broad distribution of education; but at the same time, technology is predicted to have a significant impact on the future of the workforce. According to the Yidan Prize Foundation, research shows that automation will threaten 47% of the jobs in the United States, 69% of the jobs in India, and 77% of the jobs in China. In 20 years, 35% of the jobs in the UK are at high risk of being replaced by robots. (Source: Oslo Summit on Education for Development 2015).

edX believes they can help. As automation in the workforce continues to grow, many jobs will go away as they move to robots performing routine functions. According to Professor Agarwal, “We have to think of learning happening not just when you hit 18 but lifelong where you keep learning throughout life.” To do that, edX offers something they call a micro Master’s degree which is equivalent of about 25% of a master’s degree and costs as little as $1,000. This approach enables learners to “up-skill” for the jobs of the future. EdX also offers fully online Master’s degrees, and Professor Agarwal plans to use the funds from the Yidan Prize, approximately $3.9 million, to begin offering fully online bachelor’s degrees.

For more information on the Yidan Prize, please visit https://yidanprize.org/