Spreading education through free computers

Spreading education through free computers

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav has started fulfilling his pre-election promise of distributing free computers to students. Last week...

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav has started fulfilling his pre-election promise of distributing free computers to students. Last week 10,000 free computers, each costing Rs.19,000, were distributed in the 1st phase. Over the next eight months, 15 lakh computers will be distributed throughout the State. The total expenditure involved is estimated to be in the region of Rs 3000 crores. The scheme has started showing immediate results. As per news reports,within hours of the distribution programme, some of the recipients of this largesse tried to sell the new computers in second-hand market! There is a consensus that computers can serve as a panacea for learning and education problems in poor and developing countries. The concept of low-priced computer as a means of mass learning was initially led by Nicholas Negroponte, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), who started a project named One Laptop per Child (OLPC). Till 2012, this project had distributed 25 lakh computers worldwide with the majority of supported countries in Africa and Latin America. The complaint against this program is that it tries to espouse a First World solution to a Third World problem. Studies have shown that after the initial "novelty" factor of receiving free computers, interest quickly wanes among both students and teachers. The progress of this programme has not matched the initial promise. Use of computers as an educational medium also requires relevant software/applications, reliable Internet connectivity and, more importantly, a simple and effective training mechanism. A robust low-priced device is the first requirement. With the introduction of newer portable devices like tablet computers and smartphones, a new dimension has been added to personal computing technology. In 2011, the Indian government showcased a tablet computer christened "Aakash" and developed by a private company named Datawind. The idea was to produce a mass market computing device at a price point of $ 35 and to use it as a medium to link students across 25,000 colleges and 400 universities in the country. Even after multiple postponements and subsequent controversies, the product is yet to take-off. A The other facet of computing that could aid mass learning is the availability of better material in the realm of education. One of the leaders in this area is Salman Khan, a US citizen of Bangladeshi-Indian heritage with degrees from Harvard University and MIT. He quit his high-income finance job to support the spread of education using technology. It began when he started teaching his cousin, who was living in a different location. To get her interested in mathematics, Khan started creating small audio-visual bits in his computer for different topics and shared them with her. These bits, which were attractive and intuitive, allowed his cousin to pace her learning and progress.
The results were very promising. Khan decided to share it with the rest of the world and created an online site named � Khan Academy. The site now covers over 4000 learning videos from different subjects and with supporting exercises to test the student's learning. The academy has delivered over 240 million lessons so far to millions of users. The model adopted by Khan Academy could be adapted across different parts of the world to cater to local conditions and native languages. A In an endorsement and validation of his idea, Khan received generous grants from Bill Gates, Google and others. In the domain of training, a breakthrough study in the use of computing technology for mass education was carried out by an Indian Professor in England named Sugata Mitra. In multiple experiments known as "hole in the wall", Mitra provided access to a computer through a large hole, in a room, to children of slum areas. He placed cameras to record how children interacted with the computers. To his surprise he found that within a short time, these children with no previous exposure to computers were able to learn its use. His proposed hypothesis is � "The acquisition of basic computing skills by any set of children can be achieved through incidental learning provided the learners are given access to a suitable computing facility, with entertaining and motivating content and some minimal (human) guidance." There are a number of promising developments worldwide reinforcing the use of technology to promote education and learning in places where there is scarcity of resources like good schools and teaching staff. Since Independence, a lot of money has gone down the drain while trying to improve education standards. Half-baked ideas like distributing free computers have not helped. More thought needs to go into these ideas. There is a concept of GIGO (garbage in�garbage out) in computing which says that if the input to a computer is imperfect, the output will also be imperfect. The same holds good for the overall policy of distributing free computers to promote education. OPINION
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