What India needs to do is to leverage the forces of digitisation to build out a digital infrastructure across the country to make up for the various gaps that exist. If there is one area where India needs to focus on, it is education. Atanu Dey, in his May 2001 essay entitled Who Paid for My Education?, lays out the grim reality of Indias utter failure in providing primary education:
We neglect primary education. Our constitution mandates primary education for all (Article 8 of the Indian Constitution). Yet, 41% of children do not reach grade 5 in India.
The most devastating impact of our dismal educational system is that we are condemning ourselves to a future of exceedingly low economic development. If there is one thing that growth and developmental economists have learnt, it is this: education is the most important factor in economic growth. Education has more impact on economic growth than natural resources, foreign investment, exports, imports, whatever. Neglect education and you may as well hang yourself and save yourself the pain of a slow miserable death.
So who paid for my education? It is the poor rural children, thousands of them, who paid for my education by losing their opportunity to become semi-literate. The system is tilted against them and unless there is a radical change in the way that education is funded, they will continue to pay the price for subsidizing the US for decades to come.
A collection of digital technologies is what is needed to address the education problem in India. These words from Nicholas Negroponte, written in 1998, are as true today as they were then:
Will the information-rich get richer and the information-poor get poorer? Will the divide shrink, or expand? The question might also be phrased in terms of the education-rich and the education-poor. The latter category includes some 200 million children who do not complete their primary education.
One-room schools are often believed to be a sad consequence of poverty. But instead of a problem, they may be a solution. These schools, which may make up as many as half the number of primary schools on the planet, are driven by the principle that young children should learn as close to home as possible. The result is an educational environment that is small, local, personal, and age-integrated and that potentially provides a much richer learning experience than larger schools in urban environments.
My advice to political leaders in developing nations: Adopt an educational strategy that focuses digital technology on primary education, particularly in the poorest and most rural areas.
Digitisation of teaching content complemented with electronic means of distribution can help India transform its education system and bring primary education to tens of millions who languish in schools with no teachers. The solution is discussed [1 2 3] in an earlier Tech Talk essay, As India Develops.
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