In India, there are about 200 million students. At Rs 244 (USD 5) per student per annum, the annual cost of providing universal computer literacy is about Rs 5,000 crores (USD 1 billion). The unanswered question: how much of this can be recovered through fees collected from the students? Since we are covering students across every strata, it may not always be possible to get students to pay the entire cost of their computer education, even though as one may look back later, it may be one of the best investments made in their future.
So far, we have talked about computer education. A related area is computer-enabled education, where computers are used to teach other subjects like Maths, Science, History and Geography. These benefits are still not clear, as a recent Economist article (Oct 26, 2002) states:
Classroom computers can be disruptive. They rarely enhance the studious atmosphere in which children are most likely to learn. The new conventional wisdom is that young children in particular learn best when they face the teacher. But computers encourage children to split into noisy little groups. And one of the vaunted advantages of computer-based learning, that it allows children to proceed at their own pace, has so far turned out to be wrong: educational software is much more one-size-fits-all than a good teacher, skilled at tailoring the lesson to the varied abilities of a class.
This view may be somewhat biased towards the West, where the assumption is that families are likely to have a computer at home and the quality of teaching is very good. While no computer can replace a good teacher, it is not always possible to get good teachers in schools in developing nations, especially in the interiors. Besides, a digital library and the Internet can help enhance and widen the learning process. It would be nice to see some of the scientific concepts brought alive through animations, making for a richer and more interactive learning. (This is my personal view I remember spending a lot of time in the school library going through encyclopedias and discovering the world beyond. It was this which helped stimulate curiosity and fire the imagination both about the past and the future.)
The 5KPC can make computer labs in schools a reality at an extremely affordable price-point. It must become one of the key priorities of government and NGOs. Also, by replicating content on the thick servers, they can bypass the need for high-speed connectivity, and at the same time open up vast digital libraries for the students. The connected computer, like the radio, can open up new windows to the world. Computer education is no longer something that should be available only to the elite it has to become a universal right. This is one of the fastest and surest ways to begin bridging the digital divide.
TECH TALK The Rs 5,000 PC Ecosystem+T