Quickly! What comes to mind when I say education?

Last week, I’d had the good fortune to speak on the phone with the Chairman of India’s National Knowledge Commission, Sam Pitroda for an interview I’d been requested to contribute. While the call barely lasted 40 minutes or a little more, I came away enthused, energized and impressed with Sam’s vision. One question that he posed gave me much food for thought.

Talking about the priorities for India’s future growth and development, he listed the following three:

  • Knowledge
  • Infrastructure
  • Institutions

Then he asked me, when we talk about education what is the first thing that comes to mind? Classrooms, teachers, blackboards, in essence infrastructure. Infrastructure that could not feasibly be put in place in time to reach the numbers in India who need basic education.

I’d written in an earlier post that by using existing techological infrastructure to minimize costs and
maximize reach, both in terms of return on investment and social value
created, basic services that were based on the flow of information [for example, not potable water, but perhaps information about how to dig a well cost effectively or what kind of mechanisms may be available] – that is, knowledge itself, learning or education – could be disseminated by leapfrogging the conventional understanding of what infrastructure and institutions meant.

The mobile handset as a means of delivering this information is not an unreasonable potential solution – Dave points me to MobileEd as an example. Here are two snippets from posts titled "Why mobile phones ?" [part one ],

3. Use of the mobile phones in the classroom do not disturb the actual learning

Mobile phones are ubiquitous technology.
We may assume that use of them in a classroom do not disturb the
learning process, the group work, the debate taking place when choosing
what is important in the topic and what is not. We may hope that the
mobile phone is not going to be the object of the activity, but
something that is supporting students work when they are focusing on to
learn more about the topics.

4. The service is available everywhere – not only from the classroom

The mobile service we are using is actually available for students
from any mobile phone. They do not need to be in a classroom or with
the mobile phones of the KIT to use it. They can use their own phone or
borrow their fathers phone. This makes use of the service very

And the author adds, about 8 months later, that,

But if you imaging a group of people learning together under a [tree], I
somehow like better an image where the people are at first focusing on
each other and only once in a while consulting their small devices for
instance to check some facts related to their discussion, to take
“notes of it, to document it (audio, video), etc. I am afraid that
laptops on front of the people will make them to focus primary in to
them and not to each other. Tools becoming ubiquitous, invisible and less distrubing is good for [learning].

But at this point of time, it is clearly not enough to simply state that "woo hoo, let’s put everything on the mobile" as I’ve been doing for the past year, its time to take things one step further into the realization stage. So, what next? This conversation will continue…

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2 Responses to Quickly! What comes to mind when I say education?

  1. Jim Lane says:

    I guess all the recent research showing that when people multitask they do not do very well at any of the tasks has escaped the writer’s attention (perhaps because he was multitasking). Sorry, bubba, but when a student is using a cell phone to text a friend about the party last night instead of listening to the class materials, learning DOES suffer. ASS-umptions do just that, make an ass out of the writer.

  2. niti bhan says:

    If the reader had actually clicked through to the writer’s blog it would have been noted that the writer was considering this application in remote areas of African villages [note the classroom under a tree mention] and by extrapolation, remote areas of Indian villages [my current interest area]. Few elementary school children in an Indian or African village would text each other about the latest hot celebrity on TV [no electricity or TV], party last night or whatever. In context, the mobile is a valid alternative to consider if there are no teachers, school buildings or infrastructure available.

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