After visiting the “Technology for Education Expo” in New Delhi last week, i realized that the new buzz words in India when it comes to education is “Digital” or “Technology for Education”. The visit to the Expo was an eye-opening experience. There were all kinds of new gadgets at the different booths at the Expo – Interactive learning hi-tech tools, hi-tech blackboards, digital content…you name it. And some big names too – Cisco, Texas Instruments, Oracle to name a few. India has come on everyone’s radar – huge market, very poor education system, and tons of money to be made. If anyone says Education is not a money-making business, but more of a social good thing, should have come to this Expo.
I have nothing against making money…or using technology. But my biggest concern is that technology is NOT the silver bullet….and the lack of Technology in schools is NOT the main problem in the education system in India. My impression is that people are just trying to avoid or mask the real issues, and are just focussing on what looks “cool” or “hip”.
After the visit to the expo, i went to the Education Summit (the event was happening at the same venue) – a discussion of sorts between some of government officials and young entrepreneurs. At the summit, i met this young guy Akhil, who flew in with his mom from Hyderabad for this summit. During a Q&A, he stood up and made a comment that had a big impact on me. He said that he went to this first “Digital School” in Hyderabad, and that he hated it. The teacher in his schools just showed up in the morning, turned on the digital equipment, and then did their own thing. He hated the fact that there was no teaching activity from the teacher, no human interaction, and that the students in the class learnt nothing. The students used the digital content and the classroom activities for the playing games in class. As a result, he added, the quality of education was pathetic. Agreed, that this school had gone too far in terms of being “digital” and this school might be an exception. But it teaches us an important lesson…that technology cannot replace quality teaching…it can at best supplement it!
Akhil was immediately shot down by the government official even before he had completed expressing his concern. This is also something i’ve seen in India – time and time again. Whenever there is a discussion and a Q&A session involving a government official, any tough question or a criticism is immediately shot down, and the focus is diverted to something else. Then why have these fake Q&A sessions? If you ask me, the main reason for having these sessions is to hear from the people, have them express the issues/concerns, and then discussion/brainstorm ways to resolve them….instead of just running away from the issues.
During the lunch break, i spoke with Akhil and his mom briefly. They said everyone at summits like these, have an opinion, and they claim to have a solution. But no one wants to listen to the people who matter the most – the students. Hence, there wasn’t a single student body or associations represented here at the summit. He said that these “Digi-schools” did not care about the quality of education. He added that one of his friends who was in 10th grade in one of these schools, could barely read English. I couldn’t help but ask him why he chose that school, and why didn’t he drop out of that school? He replied that when the school opened, the word “Digi-School” sounded hip, and everyone thought these schools would provide a very high quality education. And the reason he didn’t drop out later is because he has no choice. This was the only school in his neighborhood.
Guys like Akhil, who have gone through the system and are willing to speak up, are a valuable resource and should be used to learn about the REAL issues in education. His suggestions/inputs will go a long way in coming up with APPROPRIATE solutions to the RIGHT issues in the Indian education system.
The key is to identify and work on the root cause of the educational issues in India – issues like low accountability, focus on quantity and NOT quality, corruption….i can go on and on. Just throwing technology in the Indian classrooms (or any classrooms for that matter) is like trying to come up with answers, without even knowing what the question is. It is just a money-making business, for which the kids are paying the price.
Blind faith in technology and its inappropriate use in education, is NOT the way to go. For starters, let us at least hear what the students and parents have to say, for a change, and we can take it from there.