Friday, May 11, 2012

Education: On Harvent, Harvard and MIT

College students taking an afternoon break at Baywalk
I am one of those who firmly believe that education ought to be a lifelong endeavor, and reading books is among its effective measures. 

In the past, when conducting job interviews, an important question I pose to applicants has always been, “What was the last book you read?”  This I would ask whether they had already earned their degrees, or still working to complete their undergraduate studies.  A love for reading suggests a willingness to broaden one’s imagination and appreciation for new ideas.

Consequently, a love for reading oftentimes breeds a love for writing as well. Hence, with a passion for both reading and writing embodied, the student begins to develop effective communication skills, which can be used throughout his adulthood.  

* * *

Much to my great surprise about a week ago, I received a package from Margarita Ventinilla-Hamada.   She is the founder and directress of Harvent School in Lingayen and Dagupan City in Pangasinan.

The package contained a manuscript of a soon to be published book, Bible Stories.  It is a compilation of unedited stories written in English by the pupils of Harvent, 5 to 7 years old, who live in the outlying barrios and do not speak English at home.

Herewith its Introduction:

            The King’s language is a rough road for any traveler to negotiate on the way to the Promised Land of knowledge and wisdom.  But pupils in HARVENT SCHOOL’s two campuses (Dagupan City and Lingayen, Pangasinan) are undeterred.  After finishing the Basic Reading Program in English via a seamless time frame, these pupils were treated to story-telling sessions in English twice a week.  These sessions intend to develop their listening skills and higher order thinking abilities, thus revealed in the following pages in which they retell, in their own words, the stories they have heard.

            The number and the length of the stories retold vary from pupil to pupil at the end of a school year.  But what does not vary is this: these five to seven-year olds who do not speak English at home can understand English and can express themselves with it, albeit with errors, after finishing the Basic Reading Program!  This fact shines so clearly through the haze of errors that envelops all beginner learners’ work.  What is interesting to note is that the pupils’ one-liners slowly grow into paragraphs as they become more and more accustomed to writing down their thoughts.

            The undersigned is proud and happy to share the unedited works of these little authors which show their undaunted, zestful struggles to master English, and through these, achieve self-mastery  with which they can conquer the world.

                                                                        Margarita Ventenilla-Hamada

                                                                        12 April 2012

* * *
Meanwhile, back in the States, last December, Massachusetts Institute of Technology announced the launch of an online learning initiative called “MITx.”  It offers about 2100 courses for free through MIT’s OpenCourseWare (OCW), which is a web-based publication of virtually all MIT course content. OCW is open and available to the world and is a permanent MIT activity. It is a free publication of MIT course materials that reflects almost all the undergraduate and graduate subjects taught at MIT.

There is no registration or enrollment process because OCW is not a credit-bearing or degree-granting initiative.  Students of this online program are encouraged to work through the materials at their own pace, and in whatever manner they desire.

The first course offered by MITx, Circuits and Electronics, began in March, enrolling about 120,000 students, some 10,000 of whom made it through the recent midterm exam. Those who complete the course will get a certificate of mastery and a grade, but no official credit.

Recently, Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology announced a new nonprofit partnership, known as "edX," to offer free online courses from both universities.  Similarly, edX courses will offer a certificate but not credit.

EdX, which is expected to offer its first five courses this fall, will be overseen by a nonprofit organization governed equally by the two universities, each of which has committed $30 million to the project. The first president of edX will be Anant Agarwal, director of M.I.T.’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, who has led the development of the MITx platform. At Harvard, Dr. Garber will direct the effort, with Michael D. Smith, dean of the faculty of arts and sciences, working with faculty members to develop and deliver courses. Eventually, they said, other universities will join them in offering courses on the platform.

M.I.T. and Harvard officials said they would use the new online platform not just to build a global community of online learners, but also to research teaching methods and technologies.

But Harvard and M.I.T. have a rival — they are not the only elite universities planning to offer free massively open online courses, or MOOCs, as they are known. This month, Stanford, Princeton, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Michigan announced their partnership with a new commercial company, Coursera, with $16 million in venture capital.

Meanwhile, Sebastian Thrun, the Stanford professor who made headlines last fall when 160,000 students signed up for his Artificial Intelligence course, has attracted more than 200,000 students to the six courses offered at his new company, Udacity.

The technology for online education, with video lesson segments, embedded quizzes, immediate feedback and student-paced learning, is evolving so quickly that those in the new ventures say the offerings are still experimental.

“My guess is that what we end up doing five years from now will look very different from what we do now,” said Provost Alan M. Garber of Harvard, who will be in charge of the university’s involvement.

Read more here.

With these free online courses being offered by these top universities, which is accessible by anyone from any part of the world as long as he or she has a PC and an Internet connection, Tim Berners-Lee’s ultimate vision may be finally coming into fruition. Hopefully, our students -- like these kids from Bonifacio Elementary School in the photo below -- will someday have access to high quality continuing education programs for free.

Pupils of Bonifacio Elementary School in Tondo, Manila


Suggested reads:

Overblown-Claims-of-Failure Watch: How Not to Gauge theSuccess of Online Courses

Margarita Ventenilla-Hamada on Jose Rizal


Please note:
I very much appreciate my articles and photos appearing on fellow bloggers' sites, popular broadsheets, and local broadcast news segments, but I would appreciate even more a request for permission first.
Thank you!


  1. This is really fascinating. Thank you for linking up this week!

  2. the on-line education from prestigious US universities is exciting. will check it out.:p

    Bible Stories is a laudable undertaking.

  3. Came here to visit u back, thanks for dropping by :)

  4. The reader often feels compelled to write his own story :) The first pic is simply wonderful, i love the pastel colors.

  5. I like these photos, lifelong education. Greetings.