TECH TALK: Transforming Rural India 2: Process Innovation: Distance Education

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

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

    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 CD-ROMs and DVDs.

    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. CD-ROMs and DVDs can be mailed relatively inexpensively through the regular postal system. Or the content could delivered to the point of use cable or wirelessly. This represents high fixed cost but a very low variable cost of distribution of content.

    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-ROM 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.

    Tomorrow: How TIC and RISC facilitate Education

    TECH TALK Transforming Rural India+T

  • Published by

    Rajesh Jain

    An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.