The Pratham Infotech education initiative, is a part of Pratham - the motto of which is a simple and precise "Every child in school... and learning well..". Besides focussing on the basic primary and secondary education needs, Pratham has over the past few years started its IT educational initiative - "From illiteracy to e-literacy" - as the motto goes.
The IT education programme is already operational in 7 states throughout India, with Uttar Pradesh being the latest state targeted. I have been involved with the Pratham IT initiative in collaboration with the Sir Dorabjee Tata Trust in Lucknow, Basti and neighbouring districts since the past few months. The programme aims to reach almost 37,500 students through a direct and catalytic methodology.
While the direct method's focus is on complete involvement, right from providing laptops to the schools to monitoring progress, the catalytic method being implemented for the first time in the programme, aims at reaching schools around the direct schools with computer labs which already have the necessary hardware through government grants and other charitable initiatives but are effectively obsolete due to lack of operational knowledge, pedagogical methodologies, or sheer ignorance and apathy in some cases.
These schools are provided with a curriculum tailored to match the one being taught at the DPSs and DonBoscos in the country, which is not to say that they are necessarily the best in the world but they bring the others at par with the ones who get to study and get into an Infosys or an Accenture. The teachers are trained in educational software and better pedagogical methods. The students are tested throughout the programme to gauge improvements in their learning levels. It is effective, efficient and a sustainable and cost-effective model.
Field Video of computer-aided learning centers in 2 slum schools:
While I have been closely working with Pratham, I have also been following similar initiatives in the past and in the present, by organizations such as NIIT (The hole in the wall project) or the more popular OLPC (One Laptop per Child project).
While the hole in the wall project was a brilliant preliminary tool that gathered amazing insight into the learning patterns among underprivileged urban and rural kids, the OLPC seems to have taken just the top-most, more obvious layer of that insight -- Kids are fascinated by technology. Hence give them a fascinating peice of technology and leave the rest to the greater gods of curiosity.
A free laptop seems like a great thing to get a child excited about knowledge. And it is. Even an adult would be excited by a free laptop. (As is aptly demonstrated in the number of teachers wanting to own laptops meant for their students). It is an incentive.
Even if I ignore the completely obvious fact about the OLPC being an utterly unaffordable thing for India, the skeptic in me screams TANSTAAFL (There ain't no such thing as a free laptop). There are hidden costs. A normal village in Uttar Pradesh suffers from an average of 10 hours power cut each day (This list obviously excludes the ones which do not have electricity). The hours that the child might get with his personal laptop might as well be sabotaged by the fact that she has households chores to do, or he has his father to help plough the fields with. The girl and boy will love to have a laptop to take home and play with, but I have huge doubts about the scalability of the project. What are the measurement tools to gauge an improvement in their math skills, their language skills, or thinking long-term, their employment opportunities as a graphic designer or a basic DTP operator? Will they all suddenly develop an insatiable thirst for technology and free-ware and get jobs at some tech firm? It's likely that a small fraction might but what about the rest? Where is the scope for scalability here?
Though I find the OLPC a great thing, consdering the XO being a brilliantly crafted machine, I can't help but be skeptical. Children will come to school for the laptops because they're excited and curious regardless of whether they're allowed to take them home. I had the privilege of studying in a pretty good school, and I don't remember being any low on enthusiasm about the three hour computer practical sessions weekly because I didn't have a computer at home.
To summarize the OLPC thought process in my opinion - "Let them eat cake... at the price of bread"... is what Marie Antoinette would've said had she been a little more politically correct.
This just doesn't seem to fit my petty Indian mindset but I'll be glad if I'm proven wrong.
Born and brought up in Lucknow. Completed my Graduation through IGNOU. Worked in a lot of random jobs including one at Times of India, Pune in the editorial department for a while. Then, spent two years at Mudra Institute of Communications, Ahmedabad and got my PG diploma in communications managemen.....read more