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TECH TALK: As India Develops: Education (Part 2)

March 9th, 2004 · 1 Comment

Atanu Dey has put a set of ideas together for delivering education to rural India:

The availability of ICT tools has major implications for the provision of education. The process of providing education involves the following steps at a minimum:

  • Content Creation
  • Distribution of content
  • Delivery of the content at the “last mile”

    Content Creation

    A good primary education system has to be built on a solid foundation of content. Content creation involves a high fixed cost. Once created, if the marginal cost of duplicating the content is relatively small, the average cost can be made arbitrarily small depending upon how large the population is that is served by the content. Since the content for primary education is relatively stable, once created the content can be reused year after year. Therefore the use of ICT tools for content duplication is a natural choice. For instance, once produced, the content can be digitized and then duplicated on digital media such as CDs and DVDs.

    The major innovation that can be done is in the way the content is presented. Hyperlinked content has the potential to present content in a more holistic way without artificial boundaries normally encountered in linear textbooks. One could navigate through the content in ways that suits individual tastes and inclinations. One could start off learning about the geography of a certain place and learn about the people who live there and understand their society and from there move on to history; or start following the links to the flora and fauna of the place and start learning biology and from there on to studying the ecosystem which supports them, and so on.

    The remarkable thing about rich hyperlinked content is that it can be endlessly fascinating to a young mind which can take it all in at a pace that the student herself sets. The important thing to note is that the creation of this type of knowledge object is extremely expensive since it requires the efforts of highly trained teachers. But because of the low cost of duplication, the marginal cost is very low and therefore the average cost can be extremely low.

    Consider that we have about 100 million children who require primary school content. Even if we spend Rs 1000 million to create the content (which can be reused for a number of years with minor changes), the cost per student for content creation is still only Rs 10. Massive economies of scale can be obtained because content once created can be distributed so inexpensively.

    Distribution of Content

    If content is produced centrally and then duplicated so as to reduce the average cost of content, then the next issue that arises is that of content distribution. CDs and DVDs can be mailed relatively inexpensively through the regular postal system. Or the content could delivered to the point of use via cable or wirelessly where internet access is available. This represents high fixed cost but a very low variable cost of distribution of content.

  • Tomorrow: Education (continued)


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