Monday, March 24, 2008

Hope Springs Eternal

[The links to the following 2 stories about the proliferation of technology in rural India were forwarded to me by my friend, Uma Chandru, a cultural anthropologist, environmental designer and educator, who recently concluded a fellowship at the Smithsonian where she researched democratic policies and practices that accord respect to and foreground the values and agency of indigenous visual artists and artisans in India with a view to safeguarding tangible and intangible cultural heritage.]

The first was about FM radio stations in Bihar schools, and the second about 100% broadband connectivity to the Internet in Gujarat (every village is now connected!)

Here's the note she attached to the first story -
For those interested in educational technology and design in state
schools in India---

The Bihar government has some lofty aims in its plans to set up Frequency
Modulation (FM) radio stations in schools

- to make education more effective and user-friendly.

- use information technology in schools for easy access to knowledge

- to provide entertainment

- to educate and inform students about community development, health and
disaster management

what I find most interesting is the aim

-- to help revive local and folk music and art and provide opportunities
to local people to generate employment, particularly in the rural areas.

It is interesting how state policies in the education arena are getting so
technology centered-and also to see such ambitious plans on what can be
achieved through introducing FM technology in schools.

Not clear if they have the people trained for this in such schools and who
will generate the content and how govt school teachers will utilize this
in their teaching and whether this will do good or make things worse for
the children in such schools or the bearers of the "folk" art and music

While I am all for appropriate technology and content, given 4-5 hours of
such FM programming which will also include entertainment, to be aired
each day presumably during school hours, what will the govt school
teachers do during this time? Will they be capable of choosing and
integrating appropriate content in their classroom and facilitate new
and meaningful learning through this technology ?

Or will it merely become a substitute for the teacher who hardly comes to
the school anyway, at least in govt schools in rural areas.

I may be wrong on this, but the state officials also seem to be over
estimating the costs of the equipment etc-I thought I had read somewhere
that they cost much less these days.

Big Question is - Will the ministers and the technology company that is providing these FM radios and some mega content generation company benefit more from this more than the teachers, students or the culture bearers?
Good questions, Uma. Unfortunately, one cannot help being skeptical, given Bihar's poor track record in development. One also wonders about how Gujarat villages and schools will leverage broadband connectivity, what with so much electricity shortage!

That said, such stories make my heart soar. Hope springs eternal in the human breast, and one looks forward to an India - and not just urban India, but rural India as well - that has truly turned a corner with respect to access and connectivity, and subsequently leveraging the Internet and other technologies to better the lot of the average Indian, not just with respect to education, but quality of life in general as well.

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