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OLPC and the problems in India's education system

Cross-posting my comment on Atanu's blog post today.

The post was about OLPC issue and why it will not work in India. Btw, even the HRD ministry has rejected the idea. Atanu had earlier written a lot about this.

Srinivas has commented that Atanu has done a backflip on the 'education and technology issue' :

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The author goes from saying“The OLPC is irrelevant in the context of Indian education. It’s a technological solution, and the problem in India is largely non-technological.” and that “Electronics is neither necessary nor sufficient for education.” to doing a back flip “The solution to India’s educational problems will and must use technology intensively, but it will have little to do with children toting laptops around.” Before finally concluding “OLPC is a costly device for poor countries. It’s going to be a huge waste of money that could be more efficiently spent on other technological solutions such as radio, TV monitors, and DVD players.”. Wish he paid some attention to the non technological solutions for improving education in India.

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Below is my comment responding to Srinivas and sharing my perspective on some of the aspects of a possible solution.

While I agree that OLPC is by now a non-issue in the Indian context, I don't think Atanu has done any back flips.You may want to read his previous (there are many) on the ills of the current education system and the possible solution/s.I don't think we readers should expect him to restate everything in every post.He usually does give links to relevant posts from the archives.

Coming to state withdrawal - a complete withdrawal by the Govt may not be necessary.Local self governing bodies could still be involved in the education aspect. And at the National and State levels, there could be a regulatory body (similar to TRAI for Telecom) that monitors the various entities in the education field, and provides guidances from time to time.
By monitoring, I don't mean 'authority to give licenses to run educational institutions'. I mean a watchdog that ensures that unscrupulous elements can not misuse the liberalization of the education sector.

Now, I would like to highlight something I have noticed of late in my visits to my hometown (Kadapa in Andhra Pradesh).Both my mom and my two aunts work in Govt schools and colleges.One of them is a Maths lecturer and Principal of a Govt high school and junior college in a rural area.She told me a few months back that most of the students have been leaving the school in the past 2 years. Reason: They are all joining the local branches of (private) corporate schools and junior colleges. In fact, throughout rural AP, literally hundreds of schools and colleges have come up as franchisees to big name branded institutions in Hyderabad.

Students are leaving govt schools and colleges in droves and joining theseprivate schools.These new schools are charging less than what they charge in the cities and towns, but still, it is a significant investment for the villagers to make. And the 'poor' villagers are making those investments for their children because TV/Telecom growth in rural areas has taught them the need to educate their children to the best possible quality.

It is a different point whether these private schools are offering quality education compared to the Govt schools.But the 'consumers' are demanding more attention and results and are willing to pay for the same.

How are the teachers in Govt schools reacting to this?Some of them are quitting Govt jobs and joining these private schools.Some are ploughing on trying to do their best for the remaining children. While a few are continuing to receive govt salaries, but also teaching in private schools.
Only the very poor, who cannot afford the private schools, are continuing to send their children to the govt schools.At least in AP, over one lakh education volunteers (unemployed graduates who act as interim teachers for half the salary till permanent positions are created)are working in rural areas. Some times, they don't receive any money for months together.And when they do, some money is deducted by the bureaucracy as commission.And guess what, for the money spent on Vidya Volunteers, the Govt deducts 50% of it from the funds given to the village/mandal.

You tell me now, whether the problem is that of technology or of government control of education? IMHO, the problem is primarily due to the nature and scope of the govt control, and the policy around distribution of resources. The Govt could get out of the education execution field, be a regulator/watchdog, and also provide education vouchers to the children of the very poor (middle and bottom layers of the bottom of the pyramid).This can't be done overnight.But we need to start sometime.

Ok..that was a longish ramble:-)