Mobile Technology for Improving Quality of Education in India

In my previous blog, i mentioned that technology should not be the focus of India’s educational strategy. Having said that, i think technology can play an important role in addressing the educational issues, if used the right way. With over 850 million mobile phone subscribers in India, we need to leverage this enormous power and potential of mobile technology for making a positive impact in the education sector.

Here is how i think we need to address the 3 main educational issues in India, and how to make the best use of technology in this effort:

How To Make Teaching Profession More Valuable:
This is easier said than done, and will need a cultural shift in India. But one way to make the teaching profession more desirable to the youth is by raising teacher salaries to respectable levels. And with the 6th pay commission, India did just that – the government teachers salaries and benefits got a major boost. But this did not help improve teacher motivation, or the image of the profession. In fact, studies have shown that the teachers with higher salaries in India are more likely to be absent or inactive in classrooms. Couple of reasons for this – just increasing salaries will not have a positive impact if there is a total lack of accountability. The second reason being the teacher salary-structure in India, which is totally flawed. It needs to be changed from the currently seniority-based to a performance-based salary structure. Technology can play its part too – in the form of media for raising awareness and understanding about issues in the education system, and educating the people about importance of the teaching profession.

Technology For Addressing Teacher Accountability Issue:
The presence of a quality and motivated teacher in a classroom, is one of the most prerequisite for a high quality education system. Teacher absence and inactivity in classrooms is chronic in India. I’m convinced that lack of accountability (especially teacher accountability) is one of the major reasons for the abysmal quality of education in India. People have argued “why not focus on the teachers who are motivated and who do show up?”. It’s a fair argument…and all the current resources/projects/funds are focused on them. But 65% (percentage of teachers who are absent and inactive) is a huge number, and cannot be ignored. Its time we start focusing on improving accountability.
We need to exploit some of the clauses in the Right To Information (RTI) and Right To Education (RTE) acts in India, and use technology (especially mobile phones) to monitor teachers by either crowdsourcing the task to locals or by other automated means, and hold the teachers accountable. Technology can also be used to create some sort of transparency in the school administration (in the form of tracking funds, collecting data etc), and making it more efficient. This will help root out the corruption practices and hence improve accountability in the Indian education system.

Technology For Improving Quality Of Demand:
Mobile phones user base (~850 million) has grown at an exponential level in India (both urban and rural), and it boasts one of the cheapest mobile service rates in the world. We can use this mobile platform to help decentralize the Indian education system, by empowering the local community (the parent in particular) with school-related information. But its important to note that apart from training the local community on how to use the technology, it is also crucial that we educate the local population about the importance of this school-related information and the positive impact it can make, to educate them about their rights, and motivate them to adopt the technology. The parents will then feel empowered, and will have to voice/confidence to raise their concerns during the school management committee meetings. Empowering the local community using technology, and getting them more involved in the education system will also act as a key ingredient in improving accountability. It will take the combined effort of the citizens, media, and the NGO’s in India for improving the quality of demand; and technology can play a critical role in this effort.

Although technology should not be the focus, it can definitely play a key role in addressing some of the educational issues in India. A lot of talk/effort has been put into the direct use of technology in schools – computer labs in schools, one laptop per child (OLPC) program, teacher training using technology etc. But this approach has not given us better results in India due to the simple fact that is it not addressing the root cause of the educational problems. We need to stop pushing technology into education. Instead, if we just step back, analyze and assess the core educational issues, and use technology as a tool to supplement the other social, cultural and economic tools for addressing those core issues, then technology (especially mobile technology) can play its magic in helping improve the quality of education in India or elsewhere for that matter.


About pritamkabe

Originally from Bombay, India. Relocated to the United States in 1997 for attending graduate school at The University of Texas. Completed my Masters in Electrical Engineering in 1999 and then worked in the Hi-Tech industry for the next 11 years in Austin, Texas. I have a passion for travelling, meeting new people, and experiencing new cultures...and i've been very fortunate to have gotten the opportunity to travel quite a bit. Sports and food are my other big passions in life. Some life-changing experiences in my life a years ago changed my perspective of life, after which, just have an engineering job was not meaningful to me anymore. Hence i quit my engineering career, and I'm now motivated to give back to society and make a positive impact in some way. To get started on that journey, i went back in graduate school, and recently graduated as a "Mid-Career Fellow in Foreign Service", from the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service, at Georgetown University, Washington DC. Currently in New Delhi, India, on a research fellowship, to learn about the educational issues in India, and brainstorm my ideas about technological interventions for resolving those issues.
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