Ben Nelson: Minerva curriculum to improve education dramatically

When attending the Gaidar Forum in Moscow, housed by the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration, Ben Nelson, Founder, Chairman and CEO of Minerva Project, gave an interview to Invest Foresight, the event’s strategic media partner, regarding Minerva’s current achievements and its prospects in Russia.

As Ben Nelson pointed out, “Minerva Project was created to answer the questions of what are the goals of higher education, how to get to them, what are the types of skills people should have in the 21st century? It was to build education and curriculum to ensure that students are prepared to make right decisions in their future careers. The result was a radically different approach to higher education. We started a university, for other universities around the world to look at as a model and follow. That university has just graduated its first class of over a hundred students – with outstanding results and same kinds of job rates as the very best universities of the world have, but with the kinds of opportunities most universities would be envious of, the opportunities which are often not available to recent graduates – because our students can demonstrate systematic thinking. Now Minerva is enabling other universities to implement the same kinds of methodologies and philosophies to reform how they deliver education.”

No doubt, launching a new educational model required substantial funding. “It has been indeed very expensive to build the systems necessary to deliver Minerva education,” Mr Nelson said. “But the money has been spent already and now universities from all over the world can take advantage of everything we have learnt and discovered – and do so at a very low cost. So they can now implement Minerva curriculum to improve their education dramatically.”

Last summer Minerva launched a pilot project at a university in India. As Ben Nelson put it, “It was pushing out our own boundaries. There, large classes were taught, new curriculum and new technologies were employed – and it has been a huge success. Though in India the money government can spend on education is very low, yet we managed to convert about 40% of curriculum of that partner institution to Minerva curriculum at reasonable cost.”

As for advanced technologies, Minerva is not trying to employ them deliberately unless they can bring real tangible value to the education process, as the cost of modern technologies such as VR can be absurdly high and hence does not make any sense.

“AI is a different issue though,” Minerva Project CEO said. “One of the most problematic areas of education in general is the amount of feedback which is necessary for students. And that creates a lot of burden of reading and assessment which right now is done by humans. Here one can see value of AI coming in and helping provide more of a quick feedback.”

“Our entire approach is – outcomes first,” Mr Nelson stressed. “We employ a lot of technology in our classroom environment, but we do it as it is the most effective way to deliver education. We do not want to hype up anything that we do because we care about actual results. If those technologies mature and actually begin to add real value, we will use them.”

“We are very excited to work with Russian institutions,” Ben Nelson said. “One of the constraints we find all over the world is regulations. In Russia, the visibility that we have with the ministry of education and with university leaders indicates they both want to see Minerva programs come to Russia.”

“You have phenomenal human capital in Russia, you have a strong culture of education, a grasp of education which is conceptual, and so Russia has a lot of advantages in its system of education that will benefit from Minerva approach, but it does require the will of the institutions to be able to do that,” he concluded.

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