Nov 9, 2010

What Will Revitalize Education in India

None would disagree that education is the key to progress, be it for an individual and for a nation. Obama's speeches and Tom Friedman's columns harp on this all the time. Many youngsters (i know one personally) are quitting lucrative corporate careers to pitch in and revitalise the state of education in India. There are many NGOs active - Azim Premji's foundation, Pratham, Teach for India etc.

The hardened political establishment doesn't inspire much on how the education sector can be reformed. I tend to believe that charity and mere volunteering will not change things. The corrupt will continue to divert funds menat for education, unless there is reform in the system and people start demanding for more. Fortunately there are some trends that could engender a tipping point.

There are 650 million mobile phones in India now, a huge number. The price of handsets is steadily dropping and now there are now mass-smartphones in the $100 price range, powered by Android. This with the upcoming 3G network launches by many telecom companies will usher in the era of rich content on a simple mobile device.

The applications and implications of this could be far reaching; classrooms in remote areas could easily stream in lectures and experiments by the best teachers around the world. This without installing costly computers that are also come with maintenance costs. Imagine the experience with a cheaper iPad like Indian device! The form factor and the content could easily beat the One Laptop Per Child device which was started with an aim to help education in poor countries. The net impact will be people demanding quality education right on their mobile phone.

Keeping technology aside, if the education establishment were reformed even a wee bit, then the potential impact on the nation will be humongous. If the reform moves towards enabling parents decide the quality of education services that their kids get, then the impact will be dramatic. This could be done by giving the parents vouchers that they then choose to 'spend' on schools and teachers of their choice. The revolutionary impact of Public Delivery System reform in Chattisgarh, where the onus of the delivery was entrusted to the local bodies shows the way. If one can get better and assured delivery of rice and wheat from the government, why not better education?

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