Agarwal named Yidan Prize laureate

Professor Anant Agarwal has been granted the Yidan Prize for making education more accessible to people around the world via edX. Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff Photographer

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Anant Agarwal, founder and CEO of edX, the massive open online course (MOOC) provider supported by Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), has been granted the Yidan Prize for Education Development for increasing global access to education with the open-source online platform.

Founded in 2016 by Tencent co-founder Charles Chen Yidan, the Yidan Prize has a mission of creating a better world through education. Through a series of initiatives, the prize aims to establish a platform for the global community to engage in conversation around education and to play a role in education philanthropy. It consists of two awards, the Yidan Prize for Education Research and the Yidan Prize for Education Development. Yidan Prize Laureates each receive a gold medal and a total sum of $30 million HKD (approximately $3.87 million USD), divided equally between a cash prize and a project fund.

This year’s laureates were chosen during a six-month judging process from nearly 1,000 nominations spanning 92 countries by an independent committee. Agarwal shares the honor with Larry V. Hedges, chairman of the Department of Statistics at Northwestern University. Hedges was awarded the Yidan Prize for Education Research for his groundbreaking statistical methods for meta-analysis.

“I congratulate the laureates and nominees alike for their outstanding contribution and achievements,” said Charles Chen Yidan, Founder of the Yidan Prize. “Education should be an area of interest that goes beyond race, religion, economic status, or country of origin. I hope every country and region can share the results of education research and development, facilitating more international cooperation in order to create a better world through education.”

Agarwal founded edX in 2012 with the aim to provide access to high-quality education at scale to learners around the world regardless of geographic location, financial resources, prior academic qualifications, gender, race, or other demographics. He taught the first edX course on circuits and electronics from MIT, which drew 155,000 students from 162 countries. EdX currently offers over 2,000 online courses from more than 130 leading institutions to more than 17 million people around the world and aims to continue increasing its reach. EdX was also able to link education and employment by allowing learners to obtain micro certificates. Today, high-achieving certificate holders gain access to job interviews at multinational IT companies, and numerous companies use edX to upgrade their employees’ skills.

Dorothy K. Gordon, chair of UNESCO IFAP and head of the Yidan Prize for Education Development judging panel, praised Agarwal for his pioneering work behind the MOOC movement. “EdX gives people the tools to decide where to learn, how to learn, and what to learn,” she said. “It brings education into the sharing economy, enabling access for people who were previously excluded from the traditional system of education because of financial, geographic, or social constraints. It is the ultimate disruptor with the ability to reach every corner of the world that is internet enabled, decentralizing and democratizing education.’’

Koichiro Matsuura, former Director-General of UNESCO and leader of the judging committees, added: “Our panel is delighted to see that the laureates’ projects are helping both developed and developing countries transform education systems today for a better tomorrow in an innovative and sustainable manner.” 

The Yidan Prizes will be awarded at a ceremony in Hong Kong on Dec. 9, 2018, followed by the Yidan Prize Summit on Dec. 10. The laureates will be joined by approximately 350 practitioners, researchers, policymakers, business leaders, philanthropists, and other global leaders in education. During the summit, the Yidan Prize Foundation will launch the 2018 edition of the Worldwide Educating for the Future Index (WEFFI), the first comprehensive index to evaluate inputs into education systems rather than outputs, such as test scores. This year’s WEFFI has expanded its list of economies from 35 to 50, representing nearly 93 percent of global GDP and 89 percent of the world’s population.