Is the Cost of Tertiary Education Too High?

There are few things that are well received on the internet. Videos of cats, articles regarding travel and university memes. The popularity of these memes come from how relatable they are as most of these memes revolve around how university students are in debt from paying tuition.

All over the world, higher education is known for its increasingly hefty price tag which is above the range of many. But it is believed having a degree improves your chances of securing a promising position, which in turn, generates a higher income. This is why there continues to be a high demand for higher education and qualifications.

Due to the inability to afford what universities are asking for, the majority of students pursuing a degree or some form of higher education apply for loans. Unfortunately, these loans also have a high interest rate. According to The Times, “interest is charged from the day students take out the loan, so three years of interest has accrued by the time they graduate”. Depending on how long it takes for the student to pay off their loans, the interest itself could prove to be insurmountable. It goes to show that the logical thing to do, is to pay off the loans as they go.  

Many students turn to part time work in attempt to ease their financial burden. This has spawned such a demand that there are many vacancies aimed at uni-students: placements, internships, or freelancing such as doing essays for money.

Writing essays for other students can be a lucrative venture. According to The Guardian, one student working under Oxbridge Essays has earned roughly $3000 for 10 assignments between the word count of 1,500 to 16,000 words. The company was established back in 2005, and it is still fully functioning today.

Aside from being employed, there are other methods in trying to achieve a debt-free degree. There is a program called Registered Education Savings Plan (RESPs) in Canada which gives you an additional 20% of your deposits and many developed countries should also have similar programs. There are also grants and scholarships from established foundations and various organizations.

Despite the countermeasures taken for student loan and excessive debts. Forbes reported that $1.3 trillion student debts are owed in America, this year alone.

Now based on the amount mentioned and the affordability of pursuing a degree, it is reasonable to assume that tertiary education should be considered overpriced. The answer to why it is as expensive as it is, can be found in an article by Forbes in which they called it a marketing strategy; “culture and the government have foolishly increased demand for higher education way beyond what is reasonable, to give gifts to petit-bourgeois families and because of a foolish ‘knowledge economy’ ideology”.

In 2016, three years after publishing the aforementioned article, Forbes wrote another piece regarding the inflation of university tuition fees and how to reduce it. They offered the idea of a student-faculty union that pushes for institutes to “move away from a model where the administration and the board of directors are the sole decision-makers”.

Regardless of whether it is possible to have institutions offering their degrees at a lower price, there are a few feasible solutions to this problem.

A university in Spain, Mondragon University, permits students to help decide how much they should pay and in effect, determine the salaries of lecturers. This movement has inspired The Co-Operative College to move in that direction. There are also free universities one might consider. However, that might prove to be worthless in a society that upholds degree-holders as free universities do not provide certification, only knowledge.

But how important are degrees, really? Findings from a popular employment agency, LinkedIn, suggests that degrees are becoming less valuable. Back in the day, it was considered a privilege and a mark of personal success to achieve one. Nowadays, it has become increasingly common. There are individuals reporting that their degrees are “close to worthless” due to the fact that they are unable to find jobs in their relevant fields as they do not have sufficient experience.

Mises Institute, an Austrian scholar run website shared their opinions regarding the decline in degrees, claiming that graduates do not possess coherent critical thinking skills and lack the skills necessary for their relevant fields of study. On top of that, they questioned the safety of campuses, citing the disruption of The Evergreen State College.  

Perhaps it is time to relook into our education system and the value in which we place in a mere piece of paper that costs tens of thousands to procure. A vocational or trade school would be far more beneficial to employers who wants to find talents who knows the practical aspects of their trade rather than having to spend the time in training them.

Another aspect we should not neglect are online courses which are affordable, convenient and highly customizable according to each individual’s needs. However, we should also bear in mind that certain degrees and certifications are irreplaceable through online courses or vocational school. These fields include but are not limited to medicine, lawyers and engineers.  

How Tesla is Disrupting the Automotive Industry

Tesla’s recently unveiled Model 3, a $35,000 electric car that’s designed to be “smaller, simpler, more affordable”, saw more than 325,000 preorders in just one week. Despite being the United States’ youngest automaker, Tesla Motors has managed to make a tremendous impact on the auto transport industry. Here are the 3 major ways Tesla differentiates its products and services from the rest of the industry:

A Bold Vision for the Future of Driving

With a mission “to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy,” Tesla’s philosophy abounds in ambition and innovation. The company’s technology, vision and everything it stands for has earned it a cult-like following — enough to make people line up days before the Model 3 release and plenty more to get Tesla’s stocks soaring even higher than General Motors and Ford.

Other automakers like Nissan, Volvo, Toyota and BMW may be unveiling new electric or hybrid cars too, but they have yet to generate the same amount of media attention and excitement as Tesla’s vehicles.

Leadership in Technology

First, Tesla figured out how to manufacture 60 – 100 kWh battery packs at an affordable price point for the mass market. Some even say that automakers would not even be scrambling to produce electric vehicles if it weren’t for Tesla. Needless to say, Tesla’s commitment to sustainable technology has even inspired more established brands like Volvo to completely switch to hybrids and battery powered cars.

In the world of electric vehicles, the Tesla Supercharger has become the benchmark for home charger design and technology. Most fast chargers out there are level 2 and 3 chargers. The Tesla Supercharger, however, is on a league of its own since it is much faster than any other chargers out there. At the moment, only Tesla models can use Tesla Superchargers.

Additionally, Tesla’s autopilot technology that was released in October 2015 — called Autosteer — makes Tesla’s Model S and X the first mass market cars to have a semi-autonomous driving system. This feature “keeps the car in its current lane… and manages speed and distance from the car ahead of it”. Since then, other automakers have announced plans for similar systems.

An Unparalleled Customer Experience

While most automakers sell their cars through dealerships after the warehousing process, Tesla calls them “stores”. This approach gives Tesla a more direct relationship with customers, which allows them to create an unparalleled customer experience. New customers get a My Tesla account, which allows them to track the progress of the car ordered over the time it takes to manufacture it. Tesla car owners can also preheat or cool the car and close its sunroof remotely through the app.

The Financial Post reports that Tesla also takes “suggestions from the company’s official community forum to incorporate into ideas for updating the car.” The automaker continues improving the user experience based on this, even launching “a software update that allowed for several seat and steering wheel configurations to be saved on the car based on feedback from its customers.” When additional maintenance is needed, it can be done wirelessly with an update downloaded directly to the car, or a team of Tesla Rangers will be deployed to do the repairs.

Is urbanisation reducing or increasing poverty?

Slum shanty housing by the sea, with the rich district of Bandra across the water in Mumbai, India.

Urbanisation is the increase in the proportion of people living in towns and cities. It refers to the shift in population moving from rural areas to urban areas. Urbanisation is a key factor in economic development and usually occurs whilst the country is still developing, as people leave their country towns and move to the city in search of employment. Urbanisation dates back to the industrial revolution and began due to the decline in agricultural jobs, when workers moved towards manufacturing hubs in the cities to find work in factories.

The United Nations estimates that by 2050 64.1% of the developing world and 85.9% of the developed world will be urbanized. Prior to 1950, urbanisation largely occurred in MEDCs (more economically developed countries). However, since 1950 urbanisation has been rapidly occurring in LEDCs (Less Economically Developed Countries), like Asia, Africa and South America.

There are three main causes behind the increase of urbanisation in LEDCs. Firstly, the lack of resources in rural areas has been pushing residents to leave their country homes and migrate towards the cities in search of better living conditions and opportunity. Secondly, it’s commonly accepted that city residents enjoy a higher standard of living, with better access to health care and better paying jobs, causing people to leave rural areas in search of this more plentiful lifestyle. Lastly, there is a natural increase in urbanisation due to the decrease in death rates and the increase in birth rates, as the general population continues to grow, naturally so does urbanisation.

Whilst it is unquestioned that urbanisation is increasing, and will continue to rise, it is largely debated whether it contributes to or decreases poverty rates. There is argument both for and against it. Urbanisation positively affects rural poverty, as it generates new employment for rural workers and gives them the opportunities to move out of agricultural trade and into non-farm activities in the city. In turn, this also results in an influx of money into the rural areas, as money is sent home by loved ones or family members that left their rural towns for employment in the city. As agricultural workers leave their farming jobs for urban work, there is a decrease in rural labour supply, thereby increasing the demand for and consequently wages of agricultural workers; fostering economic growth and alleviating poverty in these areas.

However, whilst rural areas profit from the effects of urbanisation, the experience felt at the urban level are drastically different. As cities and urban areas develop, their poverty levels tend to increase. This is because the poorer city-dwellers are often displaced by the influx of new residents and struggle to adapt to the increase in prices caused by the increase of demand. Often the increase in rent and cost of living means that the low-income city-dwellers can no longer afford to live in the area and are displaced from urban communities.

If urbanisation is not properly monitored and/or not supported by government infrastructures, it can lead to the growth of slums, pollution and crime. So whilst urbanisation can help to reduce poverty, it can also create a whole new cycle of resource deficiency. Whilst there is argument that urbanisation can cause and foster poverty in urban areas, it is widely accepted that the overall decrease in poverty is larger. On top of increasing access to resources like food and clean water, the growth in urban culture has helped to solve a lot of the problems experienced in developing countries, Opposing the increase of inequalities in urban areas, urbanisation has the potential to create a new generation of health and well-being, as well as economic growth and resource efficiency.

Urbanisation has been the main cause of economic development and has helped to create hundreds of thousands of new job opportunities on both ends of the urban spectrum; the jobs that people move to the city to obtain and the jobs that are created to sustain the newly adopted urban lifestyle. For example, if urbanisation was to see a decline, small business owners that make a livelihood supporting the inner-city living would struggle. Take a business like Royal Covers, a company that provides patios to the homes and businesses of urban Arizona, if urbanisation was to decline, so would the amount of households and companies requiring infrastructure. So whilst there is argument that urbanisation is contributing to an increase in poverty, if it was to cease the negative economic effect and decline in standard of living that would follow would be devastating.

Urbanisation is vital to the development of countries and a crucial aspect to helping cities and economies grow. However, with urbanisation comes risk and without proper economic and societal infrastructure, poverty in urban areas can increase and the discrepancy in societal status and wealth can cause undesirable living conditions. Urbanisation should be encouraged, especially in developing countries, but with close monitoring and government programs to endorse wealth sharing.

Big Data in Action: 4 Examples of Positive Change Brought About by Big Data

How does one make a decision that could affect millions of lives? How can the government assess the effectiveness of a nationwide program? The process of decision making is complex, often taking gut feeling into account. But one thing is certain: big data is required in making big decisions. As data analytics becomes a major trend in the technology space, business and organization leaders rely less on intuition and more on the widely available data and analytics to support them in their decision-making.

“Companies are constantly looking at ways to connect, collect, store and analyze the data that is being captured. This is the reason why data analytics tools are becoming increasingly important,” says Ivan Teh, CEO of Fusionex International, a multi-national IT software group that specializes in big data analytics, the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence, and deep learning.

While a decade ago the tech world focused largely on the creation, storage and sharing of data, it has now shifted to deriving actionable intelligence from vast amounts of data. As data continues to grow in enterprise systems, social media and other digital platforms, so does the pools of structured and unstructured data that could reveal patterns, trends, and associations and provide information on human behavior and interactions.

Here are four cases where big data has brought about positive change to many:

NHS hospitals improve treatment based on national chemotherapy data

This year, Cancer Research UK reported that examining routine patient data has changed how England’s National Health Service (NHS) hospitals manage and review chemotherapy treatment, including palliative care. Based on data collected by Public Health England, NHS hospitals were able to see how their breast and lung cancer patients were doing compared to others. The first 30 days are especially critical as it shows the effectiveness of the treatment administered. This has resulted in steady improvements in patient care.

“Public Health England is now exploring other ways of using data to help improve patient outcomes. These answers will only come if trusts put high quality data into the system. Public Health England is working closely with trusts to make sure all their data are present and correct, for every patient, which is no mean feat,” writes Emma Saxon, a cancer intelligence officer and co-lead author on the Systemic Anti-Cancer Treatment (SACT) study.

Cargill taps big data to help farmers make their cows more productive

One of the world’s biggest agricultural companies, Cargill Inc., recently revealed that it plans to offer the application of its Dairy Enteligen system — which analyzes information such as the cows’ living conditions to diet and milk productivity on smart tablets and computers — to U.S. farmers. It sets up a win-win situation for the farmers and the animals; the system allows farmers to optimize animal welfare, affecting the amount of milk the cows can produce.

Having tested the system in Italy and Spain, Cargill reported an 11.7% increase in milk production in Italian farms, coupled with lower production costs. The 152-year-old company plans to use big data in aquaculture and other segments while also researching the use of sensors and artificial intelligence to improve data collection and analysis.

Boston’s Citywide Analytics Team uses data to improve government services

In 2014, Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh spoke to the city about his vision to use of real-time data to “measure everything from shootings to building permits, using management techniques often found in business settings to infuse city government with new urgency.” The Citywide Analytics Team was formed. Based in the Department of Innovation and Technology, the team serves departments collaboratively, helping them solve problems using the power of data.

The benefits are evident. Harvard’s Data-Smart City Solutions reported in May 2017, “In Boston, when an ambulance arrives at an address in under six minutes, when a resident’s call to 311 is answered in less than 30 seconds, or when a restaurant inspector finds a health code violation before anyone gets sick, there is one common thread — Boston’s Citywide Analytics Team.”

Today, daily data on city performance, from the number of potholes filled to homicides, is shown to Mayor Walsh and other department and cabinet heads through a dashboard. This helps them focus on the most pressing issues in the city. The Citywide Analytics Team also launched CityScore in 2016, a standardized score based on key metrics from across city departments that is updated daily, enabling quick interventions.

UNICEF uses big data to optimize its response to public health emergencies and natural disasters

The lack of actionable data once hindered international development and poverty reduction efforts. Trend analysis and progress monitoring are critical in helping aid workers reach the world’s poor and disadvantaged, who urgently need access to immunizations, healthcare, and clean water. Having understood the importance of data, in the 1990s UNICEF developed the Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (Mics) program to fill huge gaps in the availability of data on women and children in middle and low-income countries.

In the past few years, UNICEF has partnered with a number of organizations to harness the potential of technology and big data. In 2017 alone, UNICEF announced partnerships with global travel technology provider Amadeus and multinational broadband and telecommunications provider Telefónica. Other partners include Google and IBM.

These partnerships are part of UNICEF Innovation’s Magic Box initiative, an open-source platform that “uses real-time information to inform life-saving humanitarian responses to emergency situations.” Magic Box was launched in 2014. It was used to respond to the Ebola crisis, and more recently, the threat of Zika.

Extraterrestrial, Synthetic and Omni-Channels: a global outlook on the jewellery industry

It is no secret that state of the global economy and its effect on people’s purchasing power is arguably the biggest factor impacting the performance of the jewelry industry.

However, for those in the jewelry industry, the show must simply go on regardless of the fate of the economy. It is important, therefore, to keep abreast of the latest trends and developments of the jewelry industry.

The most important development to keep tabs on is the ever-evolving jewelry trend. The year 2016 was the year that saw the return of the 1980s stalwart of yellow gold, while 2017 is seeing the rise of silver. As with everything else that involves human taste, predicting the trend of jewelry for the upcoming year is a matter of personal insight and opinion.

According to internationally acclaimed jewelry maker Le Vian, as reported by jewelry magazine JCK, 2018 will be the year of blueberry sapphire and the colors red, white and blue, as well as extraterrestrial designs. While engagement rings and diamonds will always be as popular as ever, Le Vian predicts that boyfriend rings will see a rise in demand in 2018.

One interesting trend to look out for, according to Manufacturing Jewelers & Suppliers of America (MJSA) is the rise of laboratory-grown or synthetic diamonds.

There has been a notable buzz surrounding lab-grown diamonds in recent years, getting coverage from the likes of The Washington Post. The diamonds are 20 to 30 percent cheaper at retail than mined diamonds. The appeal of lab-grown diamond, however, goes beyond mere price, the MJSA explains.

“Consumers are drawn to them because they don’t contribute to the destruction of the environment and no one is harmed in their creation—two big considerations that tie into the “responsible sourcing” movement that’s gaining traction among consumers, particularly Millennials,” it said.

There has been a concern by those in the industry that the popularity of lab-grown diamonds could mark the end of natural diamonds. But experts are confident that natural diamonds will still have their place with consumers and that lab-grown diamonds are just “another avenue” that the industry can take advantage of.

One feature of the jewelry industry that will continue to persist in the coming years is the growth of branded jewelry.

In its 2014 jewelry industry outlook titled “A Multifaceted Future: The Jewelry Industry in 2020, consultant firm MicKinsey said that the overall jewelry market is set to follow the trend of the watch market, in which branded items account for up to 60 percent of sales.

While the share of branded items sale for the overall jewelry industry is not anywhere near that level, it is set to reach 40 percent by 2020 from the share of only 20 percent in 2014, McKinsey says based on interviews with company executives.

The growth of branded jewelry, McKinsey elaborates, will be driven by three types of consumers. The first being the “new money” consumers who wear branded jewelry to show off their newly acquired wealth. The second group of consumers are the emerging-market consumers for whom established brands inspire trust and the sense of an upgraded lifestyle. Lastly, branded jewelry will also be all the rage for young consumers who turn to brands as a means of self-expression and self-realization.

McKinsey also notes that the main players in the branded jewelry category will be traditionally non-jewelry brands in adjacent high-end fashion industries like Dior, Hermes and Louis Vuitton. These companies will delve deeper into their jewelry collections and expanding their assortment to challenge the past domination of established jewelry brands such as Cartier and Tiffany & Co., as well as newcomers like Pandora and David Yurman.

Having jewelries products that are in demand would mean very little without the right marketing and selling strategy to reach out to today’s digital oriented consumers. And according to Manufacturing Jewelers & Suppliers of America (MJSA), this right way of selling, for this year and beyond, is omni-channel selling.

Omni-channel selling can be understood as the idea of providing a seamless shopping experience, whether customers are shopping in a store, from a computer, over the telephone, or on their smartphones. Since customers now have multiple channels to shop through, retailers must be readily available to serve through every channel possible.

The MJSA argues that transforming into an omni-channel customer service is something the jewelry industry players seems to be failing at. It says that companies still treat their offline and online customers differently when it should “focus on integrating their point-of-sale and inventory control systems with their websites so consumers have up-to-the-minute information regarding inventory levels whether they’re shopping online or in the store”.

Furthermore, it says that jewelers need to stay on top of the preferences of online consumers on matters like delivery options.

While McKinsey agrees that the online channels are something jewelry companies need to explore, it says that putting too much emphasis on them would be a mistake.

From the interviews it conducted, McKinsey came to the conclusion that most consumers prefer to buy expensive items from brick-and-mortar stores, which are perceived as more reliable and which provide the opportunity to touch and feel the merchandise. Fashion jewelry will enjoy more online share of sales, but even that would only make up 10 to 15 percent of all sales by 2020.

The digital media, McKinsey says, can be used by jewelry manufacturers as a platform for conveying information, shaping brand identity, and building customer relationships.

Market trends point to pharmaceuticals being readily available online

Everything nowadays is on the internet. Your resume stored on a website, easily accessible to potential employers; your bank, allowing you to transfer funds or view your statements from the safety and comfort of your home; your life, with social media and many other services allowing what is deemed virtual to become tangible: At the click of a button, you’re able to send an order from China right to your doorstep, or anywhere else in the world for that matter. Now who is to say the same cannot be done for outpatients to purchase their medicine through an app or through an e-pharmacy? Especially if it is a long term commitment in which case will incur unavoidable expenses such as gas and parking, which could accumulate a significant amount.

The reason online shopping has been such a success is due largely to the fact that it is easy, convenient and it saves money; eliminating the need for consumers to make any effort or taking time out from their schedules specifically for a chore.

Furthermore, digitalization of the 21st century has enabled individuals to realize their desires – instant gratification. This has caused consumers to utilize their time in what makes them feel productive. Naturally gravitating towards products and services which allows them to multitask or crossover.

Many retailers have recognized this and in order to exploit it, coined together omnichannel marketing. This allows their patrons to shop however, whenever and wherever – either online or offline. However, established brands have the upper hand when it comes to e-commerce, due to the fact that they are trustworthy. When you push the bigger brands aside, you need to overcome the masses of questionable businesses out to part you from your funds.

It gets increasingly difficult the more niche your market is. Much less to say an independent online business selling pharmaceuticals. The first and most glaring predicament of it would be the authenticity of the drug or the website attempting to market it, since it does not have to go through certain regulations or protocols in order to be eligible for trade.

Therefore, it should not come as a surprise that there have been cases where incidents of purchasing pharmaceuticals resulted in death due to an ill-informed purchase. According to the article by Clacton Gazette – a local news publication in the UK – a girl had passed away after she purchased a medication she mistook for Xanax which somehow led to her death. There are concerns as well, of the drugs being counterfeit or contaminated.

Back in 2016, BBC reported of deaths upward of 120,000 per year, caused by counterfeit anti-malarial drugs in Africa. The company behind the faked brand implemented a simple system to combat against fraud and to verify the authenticity of their medication. On their medicine packets, there would be a scratch-panel sticker which contains a code which can be then texted to the company for verification. However, despite their efforts, the numbers refuse to diminish and they are still struggling today to curb this malicious practice.

Perhaps worse still are drugs in everyday life, seemingly harmless yet fatal. Little blue pills that look identical to Oxycodone – a prescription opidoid – were recently seized in Buffalo. A parcel was sent to an address, implicating an online purchase. They were laced with Fentanyl, which are “so potent even just touching it can lead to an overdose”.

How then, do you avoid such unfortunate misfortunes? Particularly on the internet, whereby there are no solid guarantees about quality or legitimacy, forcing customers to be wary and thereby souring the experience. Unless it is a product of a giant corporation which might charge a premium price.

In order for an independent retailer to stand out from the rest, this is where their “marketers need to launch very strong awareness and trial-building campaigns, supported by a positive product experience. Generating positive word-of-mouth endorsements are important”. Another option is for them to employ a third party guarantee, such as the assurances of an established foundation or organization.

Healthy Heart Club, where you are able to order Tramadol online, are one of those capable of providing peace of mind by being FDA-approved. It is also one of the few that does not require the hassle of signing up, providing a prescription or being a part of a franchise, thereby being much more affordable and convenient.

However, over at the UK, certain e-pharmacies have begun implementing the use of Skype to verify their patients identification, reserve the right to contact their GP and are given a copy of their customer’s medical records. These precautions are taken in order to ensure safe care.

Now then, while there might still be those with reservations, market trends point strongly to medication being readily available through the internet currently and will face exponential growth as the reach of digitalization reach new heights.

The changing face of tertiary education: how online courses are replacing traditional degrees

Classrooms today are much different than those before the internet age. Walk into any university classroom and one will see students typing lecture notes on their tablets and teachers pointing to powerpoint presentations instead of the blackboard. Handing in homework assignments is as easy as ever too, as many university instructors have started using online platforms to enable sharing of documents relate to their courses.

Technology has brought major changes to the learning process. Taking things to the next level, some classes are even conducted completely online, especially for popular classes and foundation courses that thousands of students are required to take each quarter or semester. Many predict that online courses will eventually replace traditional tertiary education. With the number of online courses growing each day, the trend is clear. However, it isn’t without resistance.

There are many benefits that online courses can bring, both for the educational institute and the students taking the online class. From anywhere in the world, anyone with an internet access can sign up for professional courses taught by the best teachers in prestigious educational institutes. Students can also learn at their own pace as timing is flexible and lecture videos can be watched multiple times. Because tertiary education is expensive, online degrees have become an attractive, more affordable option.

Moreover, employers are becoming more and more accepting to interviewees with online certifications and degrees as they come to see first-hand the advantages of professional online courses as a way of boosting industry-specific knowledge and skills. Starbucks and Adidas have partnered with Arizona State University to expand access to higher education for their employees, providing scholarships to ASU’s online degree program. Online courses also demonstrate a dynamic learning style that’s valuable to employers.

By the same token, schools see an opportunity to advance their goals to educate young minds and improve bottom line. For instructors who embrace technology, the new online format presents an easier means of managing students and their assignments. With the help of teachers’ assistants, online courses can be made just as fulfilling as traditional physical classes.

In an interview with PBS, Anant Agarwal — professor of computer science and engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and founder of edX, a MOOC (massive open online courses) provider — said that he was able to reach way more students in one MOOC that he ever could in a year.

“Of 155,000 students that took the course, about 5 percent passed the course and earned a certificate. So that was about 7,200. That is a big number. If I were to teach on campus twice a year, both in the spring and fall semesters, I would have to teach for about 40 years before I could teach 7,200 students,” he said of the first free online course he offered in 2011, a circuits and electronics course.

Considering how lucrative online education can be, top-tier universities have spent millions of dollars on advertisements, thereby elevating the image of virtual education. Stanford, Harvard and MIT, having offered MOOCs on Coursera and edX starting 2012, were also critical in changing the way people view the legitimacy of online learning.

There’s still a real demand for post-graduate degrees and flexible mid-career training. The University of North Carolina, Georgetown University, and Berkeley are among those who have put graduate programs online through the edutech company 2U. 2U’s success is attributed to its focus on the market for online master’s degrees.

A study from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government found that “students who enrolled in Georgia Tech’s $7,000 online master’s degree in computer science would not have gone anywhere else if the program didn’t exist.” The Washington Post also reported that undergraduates still consider the campus experience critical; “Graduate students, however, tend to be place bound, often need a master’s degree to get ahead in their career, and are willing to pay a higher price tag for a degree from a name-brand school, especially if they didn’t get a bachelor’s degree from one.”

Some educators are not so keen on jumping on the online education bandwagon, though. Many instructors still believe that online education can never replace traditional learning as it can never encourage students to engage in intellectual discussions and develop critical thinking skills the way in-person teaching does. Agarwal does agree that online courses cannot completely replace classroom instruction, but they can supplement traditional classes, blending the best of online and in-person learning.

Statistics show that online courses see a high drop-out rate, especially for courses that are offered for free. For many students, the goal may not to be to complete the free course, but just to learn something they would previously not have access to. A 2013 survey by the Babson Survey Research Group corroborates these findings, stating that completion rates for online classes are typically lower than 10%, with a huge number of students not making it past the first week.

Because online courses lack in-person contact and “the time structure of a traditional teaching environment,” students often find it hard to motivate themselves. To keep students engaged, instructors have devised new teaching materials such as interactive presentations, live webinars and other activities that are combined with classroom discussions through online live chat or forum. Over time, as new technologies for online learning emerge, it is predicted that completion rates will improve.

Urbanization on Poverty: A Boon or a Curse?

Indonesia is a sprawling archipelago and as a country that is so scattered, it is no doubt that social inequality remains an issue. If for example, people in the United States are mainly divided as “coastal elites” and “real Americans”, i.e. the urban vs. the rural, then such polarization is prevalent in Indonesia too. Indonesia’s 261 million people are scattered across the country but more than 70% of the total population resides on the island of Java, where the capital Jakarta is located.

There are many ways to indicate the push and pull factors of migration to Jakarta. One such is the motivation to find work and better living conditions; another is to escape the many problems that people have encountered in their hometown. Migration is either considered a boon or a curse. On one hand, having more people in one area might bolster the economy in so many ways – namely more jobs and more consumption – but on the other hand, the extensive rural-to-urban migration might create a severe housing shortage.

And this has already happened in Indonesia, or in particular, Jakarta. The Jakarta city government, for example, has invented many ways to accommodate the surging number of people on a house hunt. Many Jakartans reside in low-cost apartments, which rent is partially subsidized by the government. Most of the residents come from the low to the middle-class background and work in a variety of odd jobs, but mostly as casual laborers. However, this is apparently not a one-stop solution.

Thousands of rusunawa (low-cost apartment) residents in Tambora, West Jakarta, have recently been entangled in a legal quandary. Around 261 apartment units are now sealed because the majority of the tenants have not paid their rent. Jakarta Governor Djarot Saiful Hidayat said that “life is about choices” and that the residents must pay the required fees if they were to stay in the apartments. Around 6,000 low-cost apartment tenants who have yet to pay rent are former residents of the Ciliwung riverbank, where houses were demolished to make way for a river-dredging project. Many of them complained to the government that they found it hard to find a well-paying job in a different area.

The case of rusunawa Tambora represents a multitude of devastating housing conditions in Jakarta. Many low-income citizens opt to live in the so-called “illegal settlements” on the banks of Ciliwung, a notoriously polluted river full of waste and often causes flooding. The former Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, or commonly known as Ahok, dreamed to transform Jakarta into an orderly city, where shanty towns like those near Ciliwung were to be out of the picture. This, in turn, has created a state of perplexity for the so-called slum dwellers. They often face evictions, as the city government plans to mitigate flooding and fulfill their transformation goals.

Direct effects of urbanization

 According to the United Nations, over half of the population of developing countries will live in cities by 2020. With urbanization slowly but steadily winning over rural settlements, theories about possible economic development have surfaced. In the backdrop, urban slums like those seen in Jakarta cloud the promising landscape. And as the United Nations fights to eradicate poverty by 2030, the question of whether urbanization is a means to do that looms large. The discourse on whether urbanization directly affects poverty and the connection between the two economic patterns are continuously debatable.

The poverty-ridden society of Jakarta is essentially given two options: to remain in the slum areas colloquially known as kampung and constantly battle the city authorities, or to move out and comply with the government’s urbanization plans. Urbanization in itself means “increased spatial scale and/or density of settlement and/or business and other activities in the area during a specific period of time”, as defined by the Joint Urban Studies Center. The forced unit sealing of the Tambora low-cost apartment in West Jakarta can be seen as a loophole in the city’s urbanization plans. The Jakarta Public Housing and Public Buildings Agency said that the sealing would not apply to residents who had been subject to evictions from land cleared by the city administration. Despite so, it paints a bleak picture of the struggle of the urban poor in paying their rent.

And there’s more to that. Gentrification is one of the most insidious effects of urbanization on poverty. Many low-income, native city-dwellers are pushed out when the rent prices in their communities rise. And with the widespread construction of apartments in Indonesia, it’s no wonder that property prices are expected to surge. The affable, urban city-dwellers also find it hard to rent, buy, or sell apartment units simply because the demand is too large.

It’s a two-edged sword. On one hand, urbanization generates new opportunities for rural workers, who shift out of agriculture and into more well-paying jobs in the city. They often boast that they can afford to build a house in their respective hometowns but ironically struggle to pay their rent in the city. On the other hand, as cities develop and property prices increase, poverty alleviation remains a difficult issue to tackle.

America’s Road Safety Statistics Show a Worrying Trend

With the number of cars increasing on American roads, safe driving has become an indispensable life-skill nowadays. Even though the government doles out millions of dollars to reinforce careful driving habits, traffic deaths in the US have been on an alarming rise over the last few years.

In data released by the US Department of Transportation’s (DoT) National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), as many as 35,092 people lost their lives due to crashes on American road during 2015, about 2348 more than in the previous year. This 7.2 percent increase is the biggest rise in nearly 50 years. The rising traffic death estimates have prompted the White House and the DoT to issue a call to action to data scientists and safety experts to pool ideas and come up with a solution to eradicate causes of these preventable deaths.

These experts will also analyse why there are so many deaths on roadways even though modern cars come equipped with a wide range of safety features, such as auto emergency braking, curtain airbags, rear-view cameras etc.

Safety advocates and government officials fault driving under the influence of alcohol and cell phone use as the main culprits. The National Safety Council (NSC), a non-profit organisation that advocates for health and safety in the country, blames cell phone use while driving as the most common reason of crashes. The NSC webpage on safety knowledge states “many drivers assume hands-free cell phone use is safe. It’s not. There is no safe way to use a cell phone and drive”. The organisation also lists avoiding prescribed use of seat belts, distracted driving and speeding as frequent causes of traffic deaths.

Experts are also worried about increase in incidents of drunken driving. NHTSA data says alcohol-impaired-driving fatality, that is, a death in a crash involving a driver or motorcycle rider with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08 g/dL or greater, accounted for as much as 29 percent of 2015 overall fatalities.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), also a non-profit, suggest implementation of ignition interlock devices that require all repeated drunk drivers to blow on the device and prove they are sober as a precondition to start the car.

According to personal injury lawyer Steve Dimopoulos, driving under the influence of alcohol is not only a problem for the drunk driver. Sober drivers, teetotallers and clear-headed pedestrians also risk losing their lives or suffer serious injuries due to alcohol-impaired driving.

“When you are in Las Vegas, you walk around a lot. Specifically, you walk between casinos, shopping centres, restaurants and clubs. Public drinking is also generally legal in Vegas, meaning you might be intoxicated as you walk around. Whether you have been drinking or not, drivers may also be under the influence of alcohol or drugs, no matter if they are driving their own passenger vehicle, a taxi or working for a ride-sharing service. Alcohol consumption for both drivers and pedestrians can result in fatal pedestrian accidents,” the Dimopoulos injury law stated in their blog recently.

Dimopoulos cautions pedestrians against alcohol-influenced driving behaviour that can be spotted by a vigilant eye. Some signs of intoxicated drivers are – driving in a zig-zag manner across the road, tailgating, sudden speeding, driving too close to a curb or another vehicle, unreliable braking, night driving with headlights off and driving into opposing traffic.

Safety groups also seek stricter laws on use of seat belts. NHTSA data points out that nearly 48% of passenger vehicle occupants killed in 2015 were not wearing seat belts. Seat belts cut the risk of fatal injury to front-seat passenger car occupants by 45% and light-truck occupants by 60%.

Drivers often find loopholes in traffic laws and use it as an excuse to drive unrestrained. Only 18 states have made seatbelts legally compulsory for both front and rear passengers. Failing to follow this law is recognized as a primary offence, meaning that traffic officials can pull over drivers and issue tickets for not wearing seat belts even though there has been no other violation. However, in 15 states, failure to wear a seatbelt in front seats is only a secondary offense, meaning that drivers cannot be issued tickets unless they are pulled over for other violations.

In some states like Texas, speed limits have been increased over the last few years. Speeding is another major reason for road casualties. This problem is further compounded in some states by budget cuts that have forced authorities to withdraw the number of troopers patrolling the roads and nabbing high-speed drivers.

The US auto industry is a major player in the country’s economy, with automakers and their suppliers currently responsible for 3% of America’s GDP. More than 17.4 million cars and trucks were sold in the US in 2016. By even conservative estimates, it means that there will be more automobiles on roads by every passing year. If safe driving is not implemented and practiced more seriously, more people are going to die on American roads by every passing year.

A Good Dentist Is Hard To Find In Rural America

Stunning results can be found in the “Report on the Economic Well-Being report of U.S. Households in 2014” released by the Federal Reserve a couple of years ago. Among them, the fact that same year, around a quarter of Americans went without dental care because they were unable to afford it.

Despite the improvements made in recent years in oral health for the population as a whole, adequate access to oral health is still a rural health issue.

In 2004 a study made by The National Advisory Committee on Rural Health and Human Services revealed the most prominent factors that contribute to the difficulties of accessing dental care in rural America:

Geographic isolation: Fewer dental health professionals in rural areas result in people having to travel farther to obtain oral healthcare.

Lack of transportation: Public transportation systems are often non-existent; this results in low-income residents’ impossibility to visit a proper professional.

Large elderly population: Rural America has a higher percentage of elderly population, Medicare does not provide dental benefits and only approximately 20 percent of rural elderly receive income from continued workforce activity.

Provider shortages: A large majority of the nation’s Dental Health Professional Shortage Areas are in rural America.

In fact as of December 2016 most states fall far short in having enough dental health professionals to meet residents’ needs, as can be seen in the Department of Health and Human Services interactive map for Dental Care Health Professional Shortage Areas.

Social factors can also contribute to the disparity in oral health disease rates, such as tobacco use, frequency of alcohol consumption and poor dietary choices.

And while all of these factors are undeniably important, the most critical is still economics. Rural populations often do not have the ability to afford dental healthcare or dental health insurance, and low reimbursement rates cause many dentists to not accept Medicaid or Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) patients.

With prices for dental treatments going through the roof as this EG Dental comparative chart shows, local and federal government have to start looking for affordable solutions for the population without access to these alternatives.

In recent years an increasing number of states begun authorizing a midlevel dental provider, usually referred as a dental therapist, to tackle the issue. Dental therapists work under the supervision of dentists to deliver routine preventive and restorative care, including preparing and filling cavities and performing extractions.

One state leading this particular type of provider has been Alaska. The state has been using DHATs (Dental Health Aide Therapists) to meet the needs of Alaska Natives in remote villages.

These Dental Therapists are trained in Alaska in a two-year, competency-based primary care curriculum which includes preventive and clinical strategies.

According to the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, since 2004 the program has expanded and treated more than 40,000 Alaska Native communities living in 81 rural Alaska communities.

Similar projects have been approved and developed in Oregon and Minnesota, with Main and Vermont passing legislation authorizing DHATs to practice in their states in 2014 and 2016 respectively.

Other options presented by Healthy People 2020, a CDC framework dedicated to improve the health of the country, include community water fluoridation and school-based dental sealant programs.

Regardless of the alternative of fluoridated community water systems being cost prohibitive, the CDC reports that this objective is moving towards its target of 79.6 of community water having fluoride.

While the benefits of drinking fluoridated have been proven to reduce tooth decay and keeping teeth strong, the reality is that the access to this option is still a far reach for a lot of rural communities around the country.

Despite a growing national attention to this issue the fact is that the disparity in oral health problems persists. Providers’ shortages in faraway communities are a clear evidence that private and public practices should look at dental therapists as a viable option to provide a better care of their population.

As stated by the NCBI (National Center for Biotechnology): “Employment of DHATs holds promise for creating a more culturally diverse oral health workforce and creating sustainable jobs for people of color who may not have considered a career in the oral health field. State and federal policymakers should consider how dental therapists can be used to improve public health in a market that is increasingly being held to cost, quality, and accessibility standards.”