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TECH TALK: As India Develops: Education (Part 3)

March 10th, 2004 · No Comments

Continuing with Atanu Deys ideas:

Delivery of the Content: The Last Mile

Ultimately, primary education has to be delivered to the hundreds of thousands of schools throughout the land by an impressive number of teachers. Training of these teachers itself is a formidable task. Again ICT tools can come to the rescue both for teacher training and for assisting them in delivering the content to the millions of students.

This component of the educational process involves high fixed costs and high variable costs. The high fixed costs can be reduced by facilitating the last mile delivery through ICT tools. ICT tools can reduce the total training that the teachers need by shifting the burden of content creation from them to creation of the content centrally and have the teachers facilitate the delivery of the content. For instance, the actual teaching could be done by a virtual teacher on a CD connected to a TV monitor, while the physical teacher is someone who mediates the delivery and maintains discipline and the schedule.

As we noted earlier, about seven million teachers are required for the primary education of those who are currently illiterate. Training those teachers alone itself is a formidable task. This task can be made tractable through the use of ICT in three distinct ways. First, the training of the teachers themselves can be mediated by ICT tools. And second, the teaching of students by these teachers can be more effectively done by the use of tools such as audio-visual material to supplement books that are currently in use. This not only reduces the load on the teachers but in fact teaches the teachers at the same as the students. Finally, it reduces the variation in the quality of the teaching delivered. This happens because the audio-visual material is professionally produced and the quality of the teaching imparted is not entirely dependent on the skills of individual teachers.

As we shall see later, ICT has a key role to play in the entire process. The commoditisation of hardware and software makes it affordable for use across the education value chain and deliver education to large numbers of Indians more rapidly than any other mechanism.

The challenge lies in the creation of content. At present, there is some content available in some Indian languages. What is needed is an investment to create quality content from the best teachers in the country, and then have it translated for delivery at the schools and colleges. The same ideas can be also used for vocational education.

The likes of NIIT and Aptech have done excellent work in delivering IT education to Indias students in urban and semi-urban India. What is needed is the equivalent of such organizations for the poor India. As Atanu puts it: The fortunate fact is that education pays for itself many times over. The return on investment in education is estimated to be many multiples. An educated labour force is many times more productive than an uneducated one. The policy prescription is therefore simple: spend whatever is required to provide education because the future earnings will more than pay for the present expenses. Even if a nation has to borrow the funds required, it would assure a future in which repayment of the loan would be easy. Education is too important a subject for it to be neglected merely because the nation is deemed poor at present.

Tomorrow: Microfinance


TECH TALK As India Develops+T

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