Minerva’s Lessons for Latin America

Access and Inclusion February 18, 2016

Today, the discussion around innovation is a serious matter. At the heart of the debate lies the question of scale: how to spread what really works?

Regarding higher education, the Minerva Schools at KGI is one that deserves some attention. Let’s take a closer look at its innovative approach, and how the big idea can be applied to Latin America.

Minerva is an undergraduate institution of recent creation in San Francisco, USA that aims to develop global empathetic leaders with skills to respond to the major challenges the world faces. Nothing quite original in the mission statement. However, Minerva intends to achieve this mission in a new, innovative way.

First, its curriculum design. Under the leadership of Stephen M. Kosslyn, a renowned neuroscientist, Minerva structured its courses, guidelines and evaluating systems to put forward a curriculum design that fosters the development of critical analysis, creative thinking and effective communication. Kosslyn’s experience at Harvard and Stanford allowed him and Minerva to identify a clear study path that fulfils the need of graduates to develop the skills that companies look for and are relevant to the new workplace landscape.

An innovative approach of this kind is key to Latin American higher education, not only for learners, but also for teachers. The curriculum offered by Minerva could offer a clear pathway on how to redesign students’ preparation for employment. There is a shared claim among business managers and entrepreneurs in Latin America that young graduates, both from private or public universities, lack the basic skills that the workplace demands. A new curriculum under the guidance of Kosslyn’s research and Minerva’s approach could help narrow this gap, helping to improve Latin America’s competitiveness in the long run.

The second element is the design and use of technology for education. Minerva developed a tech platform, The Active Learning Forum, which allows a level of student engagement and participation not feasible with traditional lecture methods. This Forum allows no more than 19 students in one seminar at the same time, offering the opportunity to exchange, work, use live polls and content from the Internet, and analyse everybody’s reactions to arguments and counterarguments. The professor can also use an algorithm to follow each student’s level of engagement at any moment.

Many countries in Latin America did heavy investments in the last decade to distribute laptops, computers and tech devices at different education levels. However, when the Inter-American Development Bank analysed the use of e-books in laptops distributed in Peru (2012) under the “One laptop per student” program, findings showed that learning outcomes did not improve. This is because, as Minerva’s approach proves, innovation is not about technology per se, but about active learning empowered by technology.

The third, and last, element is Minerva’s accent in education quality. In Latin America, as well as a global scale, elite higher education needs to lower its tuition costs, offering disadvantaged students the opportunity to study in the most prestigious universities. By eliminating bricks and non-essentials like lecture halls, libraries, parking lots, green areas, sports facilities, etc. Minerva prioritizes costs related to the quality of education (teachers, the IT platform, and a small group of qualified staff, all available online). Minerva thus replaces campuses by residences in seven cities around the world (San Francisco, Berlin, Buenos Aires, Seoul, Bangalore, Istanbul and London) where students live throughout their four years of study. This allows them to adapt to different cultural and social environments that help them develop their global awareness and empathy.

To conclude then, employability skills, active learning and technology, affordability and global citizenship are among this model’s main lessons. It’s time to reinvent higher education in Latin America, and Minerva offers a new array of ways to do it.