Education and India’s Poor

[via Vivek Padmanabhan] NYTimes has an article entitled “India’s Poor Bet Precious Sums on Private Schools.”

In this democracy of more than one billion people, an educational revolution is under way, its telltale signs the small children everywhere in uniforms and ties. From slums to villages, the march to private education, once reserved for the elite, is on.

The schools, founded by former teachers, landowners, entrepreneurs and others, and often of uneven quality, have capitalized on parental dismay over the even poorer quality of government schools. Parents say private education, particularly when English is the language of instruction, is their children’s only hope for upward mobility.

Such hopes reflect a larger social change in India: a new certainty among many poor parents that if they provide the right education, neither caste nor class will be a barrier to their children’s rise.

Even those with little cash to spare seek out these schools. Ram Babu Rai, who farms less than an acre and earns about 1,000 rupees a month ($22), working part time, sends one of his three sons to a private school here. Just sending one boy is a struggle, costing him 2,200 rupees a year ($49), including the 10-year-old’s orange and navy blue uniform.

“With my little means, I have to manage my family,” Mr. Rai said. “But still, I thought to spare some extra money for the boy, so he will do well in life.” A member of the cowherders’ caste, Mr. Rai dreams that his son will become a “big officer.”

India’s government has long devoted more attention and proportionally more resources to higher education, which has helped it soar in so-called knowledge industries.

But it has neglected elementary education. India spends only about 1.7 percent of gross domestic product on primary education, and 3.4 percent for education overall (compared with about 5 percent for Brazil). Up to 40 million children are out of school, something the government hopes will be remedied by a law passed in 2002 that made free and compulsory education a fundamental right for children up to 14.

But the law did not address the quality of government schools, and that, parents say, is the problem.

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Return of Netscape Navigator?

Barron’s asks:

Our colleague Eric Savitz received an e-mail from AOL’s Netscape unit asking him to take a survey about a potential product it’s testing: desktop software that offers a browser-less way of accessing the Internet.

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With this application, users would get instant access to the information they use most frequently on the Web, such as news headlines, weather, movie showtimes and map directions. A search box is always ready for a query, with no need to load a search Website, according to the e-mail from Netscape which also included a screenshot, shown on the right.

The survey queried respondents about Web-surfing habits and asked focus group-like questions about branding. Some possible names include the Navigator moniker and the acronym AIM (America Online Instant Messaging). We spoke with folks at Netscape, who indicated that there were no certain plans for the product, which isn’t even in a beta-test phase yet.

The prospect of the new desktop feature is timely, given that Google just launched its “deskbar” tool, a similar product aimed at making searching favorite sites easier and faster. What’s more, both products do an end run around using Microsoft’s ubiquitous Internet Explorer.

Consumers driving US Tech

Barron’s writes:

Personal-computer sales have perked up remarkably, thanks in part to new consumer enthusiasm for laptops and the emergence of wireless networking and better affordability. Global unit sales of PCs should be up roughly 10% in 2003, with equal or better growth in 2004; laptops could grow twice as fast.

Cellphone sales, which had been flat in recent years, have shown vigor, too, as consumers snap up new phones with color screens, built-in cameras and falling prices. The strong demand for PCs and cellphones has boosted chip sales.

The one soft spot remains corporate information technology spending, which so far has improved only marginally.

“Fundamentals have had a split personality,” says Steve Milunovich, technology strategist and hardware analyst at Merrill Lynch. Consumers, he says, “used tax rebates to buy electronics for back-to-school, and we’ll probably have a decent holiday season,” as consumers continue to buy laptops, cellphones, DVD players, MP3 players, digital cameras, flat-screen TVs, personal video recorders and other gadgets. Mortgage refinancing freed up more consumer cash, adding to the spree. And, Milunovich notes, small businesses are spending on tech, too.

Silver Lake’s McNamee calls the period we’re in “the new normal,” marked by a return to traditional business metrics, like earnings and cash flow, rather than bubble-brained concepts like eyeballs and Internet time. In the new normal, consumer electronics are ubiquitous.

“Moore’s Law and the Internet have converged,” McNamee says, referring to exponential growth in chip speed. “Every month there are new consumer-electronics devices with compelling functionality at $199 or less. These are no longer expensive capital goods. You can buy a new DVD player for $99, a Roomba robotic vacuum cleaner for $199, iPods for a couple of hundred bucks.”

Some investors aren’t willing to put much faith in a consumer-led tech recovery, because historically consumers have accounted for only a quarter to a third of tech spending. But the real revolution could be that the balance is shifting. “The best and most innovative technologies right now are consumer directed, not enterprise directed,” McNamee says.

Another story talks about the innovation in technology:

“Innovation has to solve problems that aren’t being solved now,” posits Gordon Eubanks, former chief executive of Symantec and current CEO of Oblix, a Web-services start-up. The New Economy bubble, awash in greed and silliness, discredited the accomplishments of the Internet. “But if you think about what is happening today, the Internet is being embedded in everything, absolutely everything,” Eubanks points out.

For 40 years, engineers concentrated on building an architecture of exclusion. “The whole energy was all about building deep motes and castle walls,” he says. “Now we have a completely different imperative. We are trying to let the good guys in to our networks.”

If anything is dead, it is the notion of monolithic computer architectures built on closed, proprietary operating systems and databases. “In 1975, the thought of a Pentium chip was unfathomable,” he adds. “Years from now, we are going to do things at a scale that is inconceivable today.”

In computing, wireless mobility and portability will make tremendous strides. The reality of the connected home and office with seamless links between personal computers, appliances, stereos, televisions, telephones, cameras and the Internet will dwarf the monumental technological advances of the 1990s.

But what will the next new thing be?

“I can’t predict what the next equivalent of Internet will be. I wish I could, but I know it will happen,” says Shane Robison, executive vice president and chief technology and strategy officer at Hewlett-Packard. “Innovation is coming from all over the place,” Robison adds.

Audio and visual imaging is rapidly changing before our eyes. Tools and services that allow us to capture, manage, edit and view the images are constantly being rolled out. What’s more, a whole generation of teens and twenty-somethings has been using the Internet for nearly 10 years. Many of its members don’t even use e-mail and opt for instant messaging instead. This new generation will demand new and improved information technology, making the thought of an innovation draught ridiculous. “It’s just nuts for people to get into this space of looking backward rather than forward,” Robison says. “There is a ton of stuff going on.”

The Wiring of America

NYTimes writes about the broadband infrastructure being built in the US: “Like the building of the railroads in the 19th century and the development of the highway system in the 20th century, the wiring of America represents huge opportunities – and risks – for companies large and small…Technology industry analysts say high-speed computer links are being adopted more quickly than virtually any technology in American history. Still, other countries are ahead. The United State ranks 10th in the world in terms of the percentage of inhabitants with high-speed access behind Canada, South Korea and Japan.”

In India, we don’t have even affordable narrowband in parts of the country. What we need to do is focus on using the newest technologies – WiFi, the emerging WiMax, 3G, and others – to put in place a high-speed ubiquitous wireless broadband infrastructure, and then see how things change.

VCs and Blogs

On Malik makes some interesting points about the increasing interest by venture capitalists in blogs:

I have a couple of micro-scoops for you. My sources tell me that David Sifrys Technorati is about to receive a substantial bit of funding, most likely from August Capital soon. No confirmation, and this could be a rumor of course! (And talking about rumors, Tribe.Net is also close to getting a big round of funding from one of the Valley big guns, though it has nothing to do blogging!) Elsewhere I have heard Scott Rafer, co-founder of Wi-Finder and newly appointed chief executive officer of FeedSter is beating down the bushes for funds and will get them shortly. His model of combining ad words with RSS feeds is an attractive business proposition. Chris Alden, the co-founder of the vintage Red Herring magazine is working on a start-up that will be a combination of blog-directory and a publication. (Details pending!)

Many start-ups have cropped up and are copying the hosted web logging business model of TypePad, and others are in the works. This market is getting fiercely competitive and over crowded. These are all interesting developments, and hopefully will help some of the blogging start-ups we love so dearly. (My big question is who are the people most likely to get funded next?) Having seen the blogging evolve from its early days, I find it amusing that venture capitalists have suddenly discovered this new trend. Herds! or Un-Smart Mobs!

While funding tool makers or service providers such as Six Apart and FeedSter makes sense, I am not so sanguine on the prospects of weblog-pubs etc.

Questions Matter

David Locke quotes Naguib Mahfouz: “You can tell whether a man is clever by his answers. You can tell whether a man is wise by his questions.” He adds:

  • Questions are very strong attractors in the chaos of ideas, they gather, focus, attract and energize the conversation.

  • Only questions have the power to beak our current mindsets, they set in motion the deep reflection needed to alter our beliefs.

  • It is the place and the space ‘between not knowing and our desire to know’ where we are most attentive, self-aware and alive. Questions hold the key to this special area.

  • Compelling and quality questions drive knowledge creation and expansion in a fundamental way.

  • Knowledge emerges around good questions.

  • Questions energize and glue our conversation, draw people into the circle to participate and gather diverse opinions.

  • Questions keep the conversation moving forward, awaken dormant discourse and may be used to guide the subject back on course.

  • So very right…just framing the question correctly can help a lot in getting us to the right answer.

    TECH TALK: An Entrepreneurs Attributes: Vision Knowing the Destination

    The life of an entrepreneur is different. I have been living this life for the past eleven years. Of late, as things get busy again and the shift happens from thinking to doing, I could not help reflecting on how this life is different. As I have mentioned in the past, much of what I write is driven by my own experiences (positive and negative). There may be some overlaps with what I have written in the past, but hopefully, there are enough new thoughts that can be useful to you.

    Having a reasonably clear perspective on where one is headed over the long-term is very important. At the same time, it is not that important to know the detailed roadmap that will evolve over time. More often than not, people get it wrong they focus too much on the near-term and not enough on the long-term rationale of why they are in the business.

    The vision has to be driven by a set of core beliefs only then will it stand the test of time, criticism and competition. This vision must define a future that is different from the present. The entrepreneur must be able to convince others that the future can be created. The beliefs must be based on a series of logical arguments, and not just a fancy dream.

    In my case, for much of the past two years, my driving belief has been that of affordable computing solutions for small- and medium-sized enterprises in emerging markets like India. The aim is to get a connected computer on every desktop for every employee at a price point of no more than USD 10-11 (about Rs 500) per employee per month for all the hardware, software, connectivity and services that these SMEs need. I embarked on the road thinking all I had to do was the software (create an integrated eBusiness suite). I was wrong. I realised that I had to think about creating a total solution comprising hardware and software since the biggest issue in technology adoption in SMEs was non-consumption. That led me to server-centric computing and thin clients, married with open-source software. Over these two years, the roadmap has changed but the destination has remained the same. We are still a long way from reaching the destination in fact, I dont even know how long it will take us to complete the journey.

    In the same vein, for an entrepreneur, it is very important to get the basic vision right this is much harder to alter. The vision must be something that makes the entrepreneur wake up every morning, irrespective of how the previous day was. It is this dream of a world that can be that drives disruptive innovations and revolutions.

    Tomorrow: Compass Thinking