The tablet is a great tool for education in Indian villages. There is no doubt that teaching our children to operate in a digital world is a good thing. Education that utilizes digital devices is a great way to acclimate children to their future lives, cultures, careers and workplaces. Suddenly, the tablet has become all the rage in education. India’s full economic potential will only be realised with sustainable, low-cost technologies that benefit all segments of the population.
The government, device manufacturers, solution providers, and so on, need to focus on villages and semi-rural areas for the following reasons:
• Schools in villages don’t have good teachers (some don’t even have teachers), so a tablet loaded with good educational content would do the work of a good teacher.
• Children in villages don’t spend much time in front of a screen. Even if they have a TV in their home or neighborhood, my guess is that they won’t be spending as much time in front of it as their city peers.
• The parents of most rural children are uneducated. With the introduction of the tablet in schools, there is scope for educating the adults too.
• Experiential learning or project-based learning can be expensive. With the use of a tablet, children in village can get to see monuments across the world, learn how to pronounce words correctly, visit factories and so much more.
Computer education in rural India comes with its own set of challenges.
First, electricity supply in even the most developed and forward-looking states can be very erratic. Second, access to educational facilities is poor and children often have to walk miles before they reach their school.
According to UNICEF statistics, an upper primary school in India is 3 kilometers (km) away in 22 percent of habitations. And often, these children have only one school to choose from, leaving them with little choice but to travel the distance.
With the penetration of cable television, villagers today are aware of what’s happening outside of their village. And that is changing the way they think.
Through its experience of working in villages, the Azim Premji Foundation found the critical parameter measuring “learning outcome” to show little change if six critical factors were missing from the program. These were:
• teacher involvement and leadership;
• making computer-aided learning an integral part of teachers’ pedagogy and classroom process, rather than a standalone activity;
• dedicated government resources and ownership;
• all-time availability of the prescribed infrastructure and hardware;
• availability of good quality digital learning material; and
• continuous ongoing dialog with teachers to explore the strengths of the available technology.
I-slate revolution in an Andhra village
I-Slate is a cheap, solar-powered computer tablet that has transformed the lives of the children of Mohamed Hussainpally Village School in Andhra Pradesh. This rural area has a population of around 4 million. District officials plan to use the I-slate in middle and high school classrooms.
The I-slate has a software that allows the teacher to track how much time is spent on a particular subject at home. The I-slate, a low-cost learning tool designed for classrooms with no electricity and too few teachers, is under joint development by the I-slate Consortium, which has developed through a partnership of Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Houston’s Rice University and the Villages for Development and Learning Foundation (ViDAL), an NGO in India.
I-slates have brought about a silent transformation in this remote school in Andhra Pradesh, opening up a new world of learning for first generation learners. Watching their children work on the gadget, their parents are keen to buy the high end I-slates for the children. The I-Slate is a cheap, solar-powered computer tablet that has been designed to help children in developing countries have access to computer technologies.
Despite all the progress made, access to ICT for education in rural areas – usually the less developed areas in India – is much less widespread and beneficiaries are almost always not the poorest or most disadvantaged groups. This is always the case in developing countries. Inadequate schools and teachers, expensive infrastructures, untrained human resources, non-sustainability and ineffective monitoring are some of the reasons behind this.
Since education basically is a main motor of social change and reform we need to embrace all we have and find more innovative and better ways for information and technology-enabled learning. But sadly while doing so we might have to encounter various obstacles.
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