Rethinking Online Education

Being a great educator is not only about mastering the discipline of teaching but also about having the ability to adapt the craft according to the needs of the learner. This week in our series, Great Educators in History, we present Anne Sullivan and Helen Keller, two women who redefined the boundaries of both teaching and learning – two lives that are so inspiring, they make it hard to believe that any obstacle is too large to overcome.

Caption: By Family member of Thaxter P. Spencer, now part of the R. Stanton Avery Special Collections, at the New England Historic Genealogical Society. (New England Historic Genealogical Society) [Public domain], via Wikimedia CommonsAnne Sullivan finds a new student

Born in 1866 in Feeding Hills, Massachusetts, USA, Anne Sullivan experienced near blindness early in life. Although she never fully lost her eyesight until shortly before her death, her educational career was focused on schooling for the blind. After graduating from the Perkins Institution for the Blind in 1886, she soon found herself the governess of a particularly challenging pupil. Helen Keller was just over 6 years old when she fell under the instruction of Anne Sullivan, and she had suffered from extreme isolation due to being both deaf and blind. Anne, presented with the task of tempering a child whose only contact to the world was through touch and who expressed her frustration through frequent tantrums, writes, “The greatest problem I shall have to solve is how to discipline and control her without breaking her spirit” (Gardner: 15). As headstrong as Helen, Anne would struggle with her for hours at a time, even locking themselves into a room together until they reached an agreement. Within the first year, she won the trust and heart of young Helen, the next big step being to establish a means of communication and engagement with the outside world.

It was in the summer of 1887 when Anne unlocked the world to Helen. While outside touching a water pump, Anne spelled out “w-a-t-e-r” into Helen’s hand repeatedly until her face lit up with understanding. A few months later, Helen had learned how to write, read braille and knew over 600 words. From touching objects and associating them with words, to learning to lip-read by touching lips, to reading text that was raised on the page, the world had opened up to her. By the age of 14, Helen entered high school, first attending the Wright-Humason School for the Deaf in New York City and then the Cambridge School for Young Ladies in Massachusetts.

Helen Keller becomes a leader

It became clear from the start of Anne Sullivan’s work with Helen Keller that Helen was extremely intelligent. Helen’s thirst and ability to learn could not be quenched. Helen worked to finish her high school degree with the dream of attending college. Anne would spell out entire books not available in braille into Helen’s hand as well as transcribe full lectures into her palm. Helen’s life story and intelligence would soon earn her fame. In 1903, Helen published The Story of My Life and went on to graduate with honours from Radcliffe a year later. She was touring the world giving lectures by 1913 and published a number of books over the following four decades.

By the late 1930s, Helen had helped establish commissions for the blind across the US. Anne remained a close companion to Helen until she passed away in 1936, even often joining her on tours. Helen Keller lived until 1968. By the time of her death, she had worked to improve the treatment of the deaf and blind, particularly fighting for the end of committing people with disabilities to asylums.

Their impact today

To look at the lives of Anne Sullivan and Helen Keller, it is hard to imagine that being blind or deaf, let alone both, could ever have been considered a disability. They proved that learning is a matter of resources and reimagining how one communicates with the world. Their influence on education today is twofold. For one, they helped establish educational institutions for the deaf and blind and attacked the social taboos attached to impairments of the senses. Secondly, they showed that learning and teaching is only as limited as the method. If you are open to the needs of the students and finding a way to facilitate communication and understanding, educational methods are limitless and learning abilities unfixed.

If you find their story inspiring, we would like to recommend two courses to you. If you are a German speaker check out the course, Meine Schule transformieren – ein Reiseführer (Transforming My School – a Travel Guide). Here you will learn to unlock the potential and transform your school for better learning environment. We also recommend The DO School Start-Up Lab, which teaches you to be a successful social entrepreneur for your own start-up that could make the world a better place.

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  • Anne Sullivan Macy. 2013. Encyclopaedia Britannica website. Available from: [Accessed 10 Feb 2014]
  • Gardner, Howard. 2006. Multiple Intelligences: New Horizons. Basic Books.
  • Helen Keller. 2013. Encyclopaedia Britannica website. Available from: [Accessed 11 Feb 2014]
  • Nielsen, Kim E. 2009. Beyond the Miracle Worker: The Remarkable Life of Anne Sullivan Macy and Her Extraordinary Friendship with Helen Keller. Beacon Press: Boston, MA, USA.
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After launching our series “Great Educators in History” with a blog post about Socrates, we received some great feedback from you and we would like to keep it going. We believe that a lot of great thinkers throughout world history have used their sweat, tears and brainpower in order to improve teaching methods, challenge old notions and inspire students. Therefore, we think it is important to take a moment to look back, acknowledge their contributions and see how they have impacted the world today.

Statue of Sir Isaac Newton (Image:, text added by iversity)

A call for your ideas

So take this as an invitation! Is there a great educator or learning theorist you would like to learn more about? Just let us know and we'll see if we can create an insightful blog post about him or her. Are you a skilled writer and would like to present exemplary teachers you know about? Go ahead and leave us a blog comment, tell us a bit more and we’ll get back to you. We welcome your contributions and ideas.

Now, let's be frank: we are based in Europe and know a lot about European teachers – but we also want contributions about pedagogues who have existed in other parts of the world and from other cultural backgrounds. Tell us about the greatest of thinkers, both female and male, from Africa, Asia, the Arab world and the Maori culture! Moreover, we welcome less known, even unknown stories about teachers or learning theorists who have made a real impact. 

We're looking forward to your suggestions! Just let us know in the comments section below.


Your iversity blog team

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To kick off our series Great Educators in History, we’d like to introduce Socrates, a philosopher who changed the path of thinking as we know it. We’re going way back, nearly 2,500 years in fact. Born around 470 BCE in Athens, Greece, Socrates lived until about 400 BCE, and these 70 years were enough time to lay the foundation of modern (western) notions of education and knowledge. 

“Socrates Drinking The Conium” after being sentenced to death – Image:

“I know that I know nothing”

Though the son of a stonemason and a man of modest means, Socrates went on to become a highly influential and controversial philosopher and teacher of the time, his students including Plato and Xenophon. His philosophy centred around rational inquiry, fostering the idea that education is not about accepting one existing answer or simply storing information, but involves deep investigation of a subject and critical thinking. He believed truth could be achieved through a process and dialogue of logic and reasoning. However, these very theories led to his death. Besides his refuting the Athenian democratic system, the authorities claimed that he believed that it was Man, not gods, who could achieve the highest intellect, and for that, he was branded an atheist and put to death under the charge of “corrupting the youth”. It was on trial when he said his famous self-contradictory quote, “I know that I know nothing”, in response to the charges. But despite what he knew or didn’t know, his theories did not follow him to the grave, but can be traced through the age of reason and the Enlightenment, up until today.

Influence and legacy

The Socratic method of critical thought and rational inquiry is still a central element of modern thought and education. The longstanding methods of dialectic teaching stem from this, as Socrates introduced dialectics as a process of discerning the validity of ideas through logical reasoning, a view that heavily influenced Aristotle's concepts of pathos, ethos and logos. Resulting from his search for political, ethical and moral truths, the field of ethics, for example, grew out of Socrates’ idea that reason should be used to better society, and this reason comes from logic and rational inquiry within the individual, not theological texts. The field of epistemology, a branch of philosophy involving the study and theory of knowledge, also grew out of Socrates' legacy, who had various debates about what knowledge is, including knowledge as perception, knowledge as true judgment and knowledge as a true judgment of what is knowable. This long theoretical discussion resulted in the Priority of Definition principle, claiming that one must first be able to define an object before one can know anything more about it. Contemporary theorists, such as late Michel Foucault, have taken these long disputed dialogues about knowledge further – for example, discussing the power of discourse and the social construction of knowledge itself. It leads one to ask – if education is the pursuit of knowledge, when can we claim that we truly know something, and what, for that matter, is then truth?

Are you a philosophy enthusiast? If you haven’t already, enrol in the course Political Philosophy before it comes to an end.

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  • Braet, Antoine C. 1992. “Ethos, pathos and logos in Aristotle's Rhetoric: A re-examination”. In: Argumentation, 6(3).
  • Firey, Thomas A. 1999. Socrates’ Conception of Knowledge and the Priority of Definition. Diss. Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.
  • Miles, Murray. 2003. Inroads: Paths in Ancient and Modern Western Philosophy. University of Toronto Press.
  • Socrates. 2013. Encyclopaedia Britannica website. Available from: [Accessed 29 Jan 2014]
  • The Philosophy of Socrates – A Collection of Critical Essays. 1971. Ed. Gregory VIastos. Anchor Books Doubleday & Co., Inc: Garden City, New York.
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As an initiative offered by P.A.U. Education and ARMAT Group, and in collaboration with the EU Commission, 22 January 2014 marked the launch of the Open Education Challenge. As a call to education innovators, 10 applicants will be selected to join the European Incubator for Innovation in Education, receive up to 20,000€ in seed funding, as well as 12 weeks of training, mentoring and support in order to realise their own education startup – and iversity co-founder and Managing Director, Hannes Klöpper, is among the jury of experts! 

The Challenge


Enthusiastic entrepreneurs or startups in a very early development stage are invited to apply. The only real criteria for submission is that the project must contribute to transforming education. Topics may range from learning contents, devices, tools and connectivity, learning assessment and analytics, school management and organisation, and learning communities. It is about taking education into the future through innovation and the fostering of ground-breaking ideas – and iversity is an active part of this mission.

The Incubator


The European Incubator for Innovation in Education will put the 10 winners through a 12-week intensive programme – taking them through 5 European cities, meeting with educational, entrepreneurial and technological experts for mentoring, designing, planning and testing their projects. The incubator’s partners include Aalto University, ESCP Europe and iversity!

Online education is at an exciting stage of development which could go in many, even unforseen, directions. New ideas and projects that emerge through close collaboration and exchange open up the opportunity to come up with new learning solutions and teaching practices. Join in and keep an eye on what’s to come.

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by Sagar Aryal

Female education has been neglected in our country since the earliest days. We find some isolated cases of women’s education in the history of our land. Homes were considered to be the field of work for women and work in other fields of activity.

"If you teach a man, you teach an individual but if you teach a woman, you teach the whole family," goes a saying. If women are educated they will share their knowledge with everyone. They teach their children and manage their homes more effectively.

If they are active and set an example for the children and family, the future of her children would be bright. The educated women can even afford a helping hand in their own business and give her family encouragement and high spirits. Nevertheless, the traditional role of a woman gets reformed and she becomes open minded.

Looking at the numbers

According to recent reports, the Nepal Living Standards Survey 2010-2011 (NLSS- III) has found out that Nepal has an adult literacy rate of 56.6% with a huge variation between men and women. While male literacy rate is 71.6%, it is only 44.5% for women. This shows that there is still a belief among Nepalese people that girls are limited to go to schools.

Women receive only about 16% of undergraduate and 11% of doctorate degrees in engineering; less than 22% of doctorate degrees in math and physical sciences; 28% of undergraduate and 15% of doctorate degrees in computer and information sciences. By contrast, women continue to earn the largest proportion of degrees at all levels (associate through doctoral degrees) in the fields they have traditionally dominated, such as health professions which includes nursing, physical therapy and health administration (83%) and education (77%).

Some more general facts

Education system started in Nepal when Tri Chandra College was established by Chandra Shamsher and Jang Bahadur Rana in 1918, which marks the commencement of Higher Education system in Nepal. Thru 1965, there were 5 public colleges with the enrolment of 5,000 and 51 community colleges with a total enrolment of 10,000. 

The education system of Nepal stands as:

  • Primary Level: From Standard 1 to 5
  • Lower Secondary Level: From Standard 6 to 8
  • Secondary Level: Standard 9 and 10 – Class 10 is also known as SLC (School Living Certificate)
  • Higher Secondary: Standard 11 and 12 ( Under Higher Secondary Education Board)
  • University Level: Bachelor’s Degree / Undergraduate, Master’s Degree / Graduate, Post Graduate, M.Phil.,  and Ph.D.

Tribhuvan University (TU) is the 1st University of Nepal which was established in 1959 and started affiliating public colleges since 1971. Almost 87% of the student enrollments are in Education, Management and Humanities. Student enrolment in Science and Technology, Engineering and Medicine are very low. Although there has been a remarkable numerical growth in the literacy rates, as well as the number of education institutions over the years, the quality of education has not necessarily improved. 

Education in 2010-2011

Table 1: Basic Data on Universities and Institution of Higher. Source: University Grant Commission (UGC)

It is clear that access to education, especially for women is still an important issue in Nepal. Hopefully the future will continue to challenge these numbers, push them to grow and open up academic opportunities to girls, women and all of Nepal as a whole.

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