Is Access to MOOCs a Human Right?

In a Harvard Law Bulletin profile of Harvard Law School’s CopyrightX course, Professor Terry Fisher makes the following statement:

“Education, and higher education in particular, should be as widely available as possible. It’s essential to human flourishing, and it’s immoral to confine access to something so valuable to a tiny group of people.”

While access to education has long been considered a basic human right, the emergence of MOOCs has perhaps adjusted our traditional conception of what that right implies. There is growing awareness that in many countries, even students nominally enrolled in schools may not have access to committed or qualified teachers. Thus, access to ‘good’ education becomes an important distinction, and an area that MOOCs are especially well positioned to contribute to. By giving teachers and students around the world the ability to draw upon world-class educational content, it empowers each to overcome educational obstacles present in local contexts.

One example of how this might work is Bridge International Academy, a franchised private school recently reported on by the New York Times. Their approach is to provide very detailed lessons scripts to their teachers, who may not have the educational background necessary to customize each class. While MOOCs are currently primarily developed for higher education, it is easy to imagine MOOCs being specially designed for younger audiences.

Although discussion of MOOCs has been quite heated in recent months, it is worth noting that the world’s growing ability to provide quality and affordable educational experiences and content to all should continue to be celebrated.

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