One promise of EdTech that gets talked about is about its ability to reduce the cost of education delivery, and thereby, expanding access.
This is a powerful notion that drives many business plans and policy decisions. Information Technology has changed a lot of things, but changing the lives of the poor is where it becomes truly transformational. The quest for efficiency and better management have impacted healthcare significantly, and enhanced its impact and extended its reach. We have seen similar transformational change in Banking and Retail. This is the model we now expect EdTech to follow.
Already, we know something about its impact. When I was with NIIT, I saw first-hand the impact of The Hole-in-the-Wall experiment that Professor Sugata Mitra, now a TED fellow, carried out. One big outcome of this was to put an end to the patronising notions about the intellectual capacities of the poor that we all secretly held. This idea of making a computer available, unsupervised, for children to play with and figure out, and eventually to learn from, brought out evidence of agency, curiousity and engagement is not the sole preserve of middle class children (or as Prof Mitra would put it, they don't have the monopoly of genius!). This is indeed one benchmark for what thoughtful use of education technology could do to transform education.
There is also another thing about using technology this way. Professor Mitra installed one of his computers in a remote island in the Sunderbans, in the midst of forests in Southern West Bengal, the home of the Royal Bengal Tigers. I got a close-up view as I was coordinating the technology activities of the Rotary District 3290 that particular year (2002), and it was one of our clubs that facilitated the experiment. The Hole-in-The-Wall was installed in a very remote village (though there was no wall there, only mud houses) with high salinity - which is why the spot was chosen - where one could only go by boat with a requirement to get out before the evening to avoid being eaten by a tiger. I was told by the local Rotary members how this transformed the approach of the local children. In a few months, they were confident and they treated the computer as their own. When Dr Mitra visited, some of them told him that they wished he could design a better navigation tool, a huge transformation for village boys who would not even make eye contact with city-men only a few months ago! This transformation in person is the holy grail of all education, and that unmediated access to technology could initiate such transformation was reason enough to think seriously about its potential.
I would often contrast this with the experience of government funded literacy missions. Its logistical challenges and costs are comparable (the Hole-in-Wall required the computer, the pod to house it, solar power and monitoring mechanism), and yet, its impact is as uncertain as it would be in case of this unmediated Hole-in-the-Wall. We know that teachers are often absent in government schools and the education is not just poor, but counter-productive. A teacher, coming from town, who took up the village teaching job not as a mission but as a choice of last resort, could indeed do enormous harm to the pupils self-esteem and interest in learning.
However, at the same time, a lot of EdTech is also very poorly used. It is a fashion now to be culture-blind and to create one-size-fits-all model of delivery in search of scale. Hole-in-the-Wall was, and still is, a research project, with the objective of learning about learning behaviour. It did not claim to change everything, at least not in short term or without experimentation. But the usual culture of EdTech, either venture funded or for Government projects, is not to seek to learn, but to solve. All those preconceptions about the poor that a project like Hole-in-the-Wall tries to dispel, make a comeback at this point. The whole conversation - in case of Government funded projects - becomes one of pleasing the minister, who do not care either about the poor or about the learning. In case of private venture funding, the quest for scale trumps everything, leaving no room for customisation or learning from the poor.
If we contrast these two approaches, the key issue about employing EdTech for the poor perhaps become apparent. In banking, healthcare and retail, the examples I cited earlier, what one is seeking to do is to make available a model already available to the middle class to the poor, extending the business model to the so-called bottom of the pyramid. Education, however, is different. To be effective, education for the poor is not about co-opting them into a structure already made up for the middle classes - that is exactly what the government funded programmes seek to do - which may allow them to compete for low-level jobs, but at the same time, steals their agency and confidence, and undermine their ability to solve their own problems. Technology can help change this, but not if it misses the first step - that of learning from the poor!
The key difference between the approach of Hole-in-the-Wall and the EdTech that we talk about is this - that the former seeks to learn from the poor and enable them to learn themselves, whereas the latter seeks to teach. In fact, in most EdTech projects, the notion of learning from the poor would be a ridiculous concept, not allowed for in the business models (though it is a standard part in business models built for products for the rich). And, it would go against one of central assumptions of all the bottom-of-the-pyramid models - that customisation is only for the rich! It fits our assumptions elsewhere, consider the tailor-made suits versus the supermarket ones, but education is not a bucket to be filled, but a fire to be lit, and failing this is failing to educate and failing the poor, and doing more harm than good in the end.
Popular posts from this blog
A friend has recently forwarded me a quote from Lord Macaulay's speech in the British Parliament on 2nd February 1835. I reproduce the quote below: "I have traveled across the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief. Such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such calibre, that I do not think we would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage, and, therefore, I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, their native self-culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation." The email requested me to forward me to every indian I know. I was tempted, but there were two oddities about this quote. First, the language, which
Nations are ideas. We try to fashion them as territories. But how can a river, a mountain ridge or sometimes an imaginary line in the middle of a field can explain the wide division in the lives, thoughts and futures of the people who live on different sides? Nations are not the people too. Indeed, people build nations and become its body. But the soul of the nation is an idea: People come together on an idea to build a nation. While that's what a modern nation is - an idea - and that way exceptionalism is not an American exception, very few nations are as completely defined by an idea as Pakistan. There was hardly any political, geographic or military rationale of Pakistan other than the idea of an Islamic homeland in South Asia. [In that way, the ideological brother of Pakistan in the family of nations is Israel] This, abated by the short term political calculations of some backroom colonialists, created a modern state which must be solely sustained on that singular idea. Religi
This post is a reaction to Aatish Taseer's evocative obituary of secular India in the Atlantic ( read here ). While I agree with it mostly - and share the reservations about the direction and the future of India - I differ with the author on one key aspect: I do not agree with his portrayal of a resurgent Bharat eating up a secular India. In fact, I believe while Mr Taseer regrets the Indian elite's loss of connection with the realities of day to day life of the country, his very presentation of Bharat and India as oppositional entities stems from that incomprehension. While I understand that he is only using these categories as RSS uses them - to effectively other the English-speaking elites and non-Hindus - I believe it is a mistake to describe the profound changes in contemporary India as the ascendance of Bharat. I grew up in Bharat. I never learnt English until late in life, when I started working. My growing-up world was one of small-town India, vernacu
Today, Helen Goddard, 26, a highly popular music teacher of a City School for Girls, has been sentenced to 15 months in prison. Her crime was to carry out a year long lesbian affair with one of her pupils, who appeared in the court and admitted that the affair was consensual and it was she who pressured Helen into the affair. For Helen, a bright musician and a devout Chistian, this is an extraordinary lapse of judgement. Also, she was teaching in the £13,000 private girls only school in London. She was surely aware what the consequences of her action will be. The fact that she still could not stop herself tells us that lovers do not always act rationally, something we always knew. There is more in this affair than personal tragedies. For a start, this has all the dramatic elements: a bright, beautiful teacher more in Julia Roberts mould [as in Mona Lisa Smile], a stiff upper lip school [not unlike Wellesley] and a story like Notes On A Scandal with an added twist. Indeed, Helen was gui
Introduction : The Business of Gift Giving Business gift giving has always been common and contentious at the same time. Business gifts are usually seen as an ‘advertising, sales promotion and marketing communication medium’ (Cooper et al , 1991). Arunthanes et al (1994) points out that such gifting is practised usually for three reasons: (a) in appreciation for past client relationships, placing a new order, referrals to other clients, etc.; (b) in the hopes of creating a positive, first impression which might help to establish an initial business relationship; and (c) giving may be perceived as a quid Pro quo (i.e. returning a favour or expecting a favour in return for something). The practitioners of gift-giving generally argue that doing business is often an aggregation of personal interactions and relationships, and gift-giving should be seen as a natural way of maintaining and enhancing these relationships. ‘Business gifts, especially one given in the course of the festive s
In most societies today, making profits are accepted as moral, if not especially praiseworthy. This was not as obvious as it appears today – people used to be embarrassed about making a profit not so long ago. Crazy as it seems today, it is worth thinking why it was so. Profits, as economists will put it, is the reward for risk-taking, for putting a business enterprise together in the pursuit of an objective. In this definition, remember, profits are not what it is commonly understood to be – the gross middle-line towards the bottom – but a figure net of entrepreneur’s earning [wages for his labour], dividends and interests on borrowed capital, and provisions for building and other physical assets [a sort of rent, offsetting what these assets could have earned if leased out]. This pure profit – surplus – accrues to a business as a reward to its organisation, for the act of entrepreneurship itself. Economists were divided on how this surplus comes about. The conventional wisdom was, as
A lot of conversations about Kolkata is about its past; I want to talk about its future. Most conversations about Kolkata is about its decline - its golden moments and how times changed; I want to talk about its rise, how its best may lie ahead and how we can change the times. In place of pessimism, I seek optimism; instead of inertia, I am looking for imagination. It is not about catching up, I am arguing; it is about making a new path altogether. It had, indeed it had, a glorious past: One of the first Asian cities to reach a million population, the Capital of British India, the cradle of an Enlightened Age and a new politics of Cosmopolitanism. And, it had stumbled - losing the hinterland that supplied its Jute factories, overwhelmed by the refugees that came after the partition, devoid of its professional class who chose to emigrate - the City's commercial and professional culture evaporated in a generation, and it transformed into a corrupt and inefficien
Introduction: Hastings in the history of Indian Education Whether or not one includes Warren Hastings in the history of Education in India is a matter of perspective. If writing the history of education means writing the history of schools, the impact of Hastings' administration would be quite limited. If anything, the rapid implosion of local rulers in Eastern, Southern and Northern India during Hastings' tenure had meant a bleak period for the indigenous education system, as patronage and funds would have dwindled away for many of them. The Company administration really concerned itself with the schooling of the natives only after 1813, as Nurullah and Naik rightly pointed out ( see my earlier post ) and one can legitimately start the story at this point. However, if history of Education in India is to encompass the transformation of Indian Scholarship, on which foundation the new, colonial, system of Education would be built, the story must start with Warren Hast
Introduction Erna Petri née Kürbs, a farmer’s daughter from Herressen in Thuringia, arrived in Ukraine with her three year old son to join her husband Horst in June 1942. Horst, an SS leader inspired by Nazi ideologue Dr Richard Walter Darré, settled in the plantation of Grzenda, just outside today’s Lviv, to become a German Gentleman-Farmer. Erna saw Horst beating and abusing the workers in the plantation within two days of arriving there, which was, as Horst explained, necessary for establishing authority. Erna joined in enthusiastically, settling into a combination of roles of ‘plantation mistress, prairie Madonna in apron-covered dress lording over slave labourers, infant-carrying, gun-wielding Hausfrau.’  However, there were clear rules in the plantation, and Erna was very much expected to play the woman’s role of being a Cake-and-Coffee hostess. When four Jews were caught in the estate while trying to escape from a transport to a death camp, Horst told Erna and her female
The story of British influence on Indian Education, to which Macaulay's Minutes of 1835 belong, has been told in six distinct phases. Syed Nurullah and J P Naik's very popular and influential History of Indian Education calls these 'six acts' of the drama: From the beginning of Eighteenth Century to 1813 The British East India Company received its charter in 1600 but its activities did not include any Educational engagement till the Charter Act of 1698, which required the Company to maintain priests and schools, for its own staff and their children. And, so it was until the renewal of its charter in 1813, when the evangelical influence led to insistence of expansion of educational activities and allowing priests back into company territory. From 1813 to Wood's Education Despatch of 1854 The renewal of Charter in 1813 re-opened the debate, which seemed to have been settled in the early years of the company administration, between the Orientalis
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.