Educating India

In the last three posts, I went on about the need to adopt innovations whereever we find them. There is nothing new under the sun. No problem we face is novel. Someone somewhere has encountered and solved every problem we face today. We have to have the smarts to understand what ails us, and then go out and find the solution.

Let’s discuss education. India has the largest collection of illiterates and semi-literates in the whole universe. India is also very poor and therefore cannot afford the luxury of going the traditional route as regards education. The tradition route of having fancy classrooms and well-paid teachers is beyond the reach of the majority. What is the way out, then?

Here is a comment by Bob Wyman which he left recently at Rajesh Jain’s Emergic weblog:

You wrote:”1. Education: Education is perhaps the most important investment that people can make in their future.”

India is *NOT* taking advantage of some very cheap and simple ways to spread education throughout the country. The most glaring example is that there is virtually no “educational television” available in India — even though TV has a surprisingly high penetration in India. For “schools without teachers”, one solution might simply be to install TV sets, hire “teaching assistants” and have the India’s *best* teachers broadcast from a central site. The teaching assistants would then keep order in the classroom, issue standardized tests, etc. This is, of course, not the ideal way to teach. However, it is much better than doing nothing. We have gained, in many countries, a tremendous amount of experience in teaching without teachers. Television, Radio, etc. have all been successfully used provide “distance learning” to students in the Australian outback, the Alaskan wilderness or some of the more remote parts of Africa. The fact that there aren’t enough teachers shouldn’t prevent teaching from happening — it should only change the method for deliverying the teaching. In fact, if one takes seriously the suggestion that only India’s best teachers should be used in educational TV, it is even possible that students “forced” to learn over TV would be better taught than some who had their own teachers.

Rajesh and I have proposed pretty much the same idea in a separate paper which was presented at a conference in Sydney last July. The idea was to create first-class content and then distribute it using the most cost-effective ICT tools, and have the “last mile” delivery done at the village level.

Bob added a very important bit that I am ashamed to say that I had not thought about. I am ashamed because I should have thought of that considering a number of things. I have spent over 20 years in the US, many of which were in university campuses. I am confident that as much as I learnt in universities, I leant a great deal from the excellent public radio and television in the US. I am more than familiar with the content available in radio and TV there — I swear by it. The most logical thing would have been for me to propose that we beg, buy, borrow or steal some of that content and translate it appropriately for educating our people in India. But it was Bob who wrote another comment on Rajesh’s blog and said:

You wrote: “The challenge lies in the creation of content.” NO!, NO!, NO!

Educational Content development is notorious for consuming vast quantities of money and producing little. To get started, with a reasonable budget, you MUST accept that you can not reach everyone on day one. Do first what CAN be done. So, exploit the vast quantities of recorded content (TV, Radio, etc) that exists in English in the US, England, Canada, Australia, etc. Billions of dollars worth of content has been produced by schools, non-profits, and governments and much of it is easily and cheaply obtained. Use this content first to establish the concept and the network and to convince people of the value of the idea. Only after you have exploited this material to its fullest extent should you get involved in the exceptionally expensive process of developing new, original content. While English language content may not be ideal and may not reach the full breadth of students desired, English is the second language in India and there are a vast number of students who would be! nefit from content in English.

With English language content, you could create a real “educational TV” network for India for little more than the cost of a tape recorder in one of the cable-TV head-end offices and someone to change tapes every half-hour or so. The real challenge would be the politics of getting a channel assigned and dealing with those who insist on coverage of vedic astrology… Nonetheless, the cost of such an effort can be kept to such a low level that it should be embarrasing to anyone to oppose it. Start small and then grow. Use English first and expand over time only as your budget allows.

Thank you, Bob, for that excellent recommendation.

I have had the misfortune of seeing what is on Indian TV. There is standard Indian stuff — song and dance and movies (with more song and dance.) Then there is Indian news and some other stuff such as sports. Then there are the imports. Among imports there is news (BBC, CNN, etc) and then there is good stuff such as Discovery and nature channels. Then we have the average American crappy sitcoms such as Friends (although I confess that I really really like Will & Grace, especially the character, Karen in it). But for real disgusting stuff, you have American wrestling. If we have the spare bandwidth for Wrestle Mania, I cannot fathom why we can’t have a 24-hour educational channel.

Like they say on TV, more to come. I will continue this one tomorrow.

5 thoughts on “Educating India

  1. Naveen Bachwani Wednesday March 24, 2004 / 6:44 pm

    Excellent ideas !!!

    …even if it took a firang to tell us how to solve a problem that affects the entire country !


  2. JockInTheBox Thursday March 25, 2004 / 4:18 am


    You seem to be fixated buddy. Firangi or no firangi, read the post on March 22, 2004 on this VERY SAME blog.

    I will repeat here for your convenience.
    “Let noble thoughts come to us from all universe”.


  3. Guru Gulab Khatri Wednesday November 16, 2005 / 1:12 pm

    well in indias case if the goal is to expand educational coverage we have to look beyond english, lets face it those who dont have access to education or come from have poor english reading and comprehension.
    Hell if they did they r the ones who would be running the call centers not the college graduates.
    But Indian NGO can use the materials and make a hindi or regional transliteration.
    I think a bilingual model is more useful


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