Revolutionising education through technology

Am seeing many articles across journals touting the current era being the most revolutionary era in heralding a new way of education. The Economist carries an article which refers to the excitement generated in the potential to change education over the last 100 years, arising from the invention of various media. This started off with the invention of movies / film in early 20th century to television to computers to CD ROMs and even to the Internet in the past 20 years. Every time, there was a lot of hope (and some hype) that the “uni-directional knowledge / info flow of one person addressing 20-100 people” system will be improved now. However, the system remains well-entrenched even today.

The most recent technological wave in education is not emanating from a single medium or device which has got invented. However, it is an enabling eco-system which has got spawned by the concurrent coming together of :

  • high-bandwidth broadband into schools (and homes)
  • hand-held tablets
  • smart-phones
  • content accumulated on You-Tube et al
  • social net-working platforms like Facebook, Twitter.

Progressive universities have seen this impending revolution and put their courses online – some charged and some gratis. However, the bigger revolution is coming in the K-12 schools with “adaptive” programs of learning being delivered into the class-rooms through the eco-system mentioned above. USA has taken a lead in this, thanks to the aggressive investments outlined by Bush and now Obama.

I see a huge potential and application of this trend in Indian schools. If used well, this has the potential to solve three main problems in Indian schooling :

  1. The primary problem of not enough (and not enough good) teachers being there in schools in smaller towns & in most of the villages can be solved if we have a robust and “self-service” technological source of education, that can be administered by even semi-skilled people.
  2. The second problem of low ratio of teachers to students, and hence poor personal attention to students, can be solved by some adaptive programs of teaching / testing – the level of toughness of questions will increase for children who answer the first part easily and vice-versa. This has never been practised in Indian schools, where the system has been one of one-size-fits-all. This shepherds everyone towards the median slab of mediocrity. Good students aren’t encouraged to think more and poor students slink around, wallowing in a self-perceived cloak of invisibility.
  3. The third problem is that of our teaching method pre-dominantly being that “of rote”, which inhibits original thinking, leave along lateral or out-of-box thinking. Cutting-edge software and games can be deployed which forces students (and hopefully, teachers) to think originally, develop their own views, correlate events across subjects and make education more practical for real life.

However, I am not sure about the business models in India. One slew of companies have been in the fray for the past 5-10 years, and all of them are struggling with their P&Ls. I think a combination of pay-as-you-go, mobile broadband and non-physical last mile might be a directional solution.

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