Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Bringing quality education to Masses

This post actually describes what I do on education front. I am generally not interested to write on what I do, but this post is an exception.

What causes learning?

First of all, learning initiation happens through the exposure. For example, if I am watching a movie wherein someone traveling by flight then I may learn about how a flight looks like or even the feeling of journey in a flight. But then I get exposed to a variety of stuff every day. Do I learn all of those? The answer is 'No'. I learn only few things which I am curious about. Depending on 'how much curious I am' about a particular thing, that much I learn about it. So, it is very clear to see that if we are interested in something then we would learn quicker and deeper. Moreover, interest makes our learning much more enjoyable.

How to identify a child's interest?

How can we understand what the child's interests are? If we can figure this out then we can encourage the kids in those stuff. We can even personalize the teaching content to each child. For a long time, I have been thinking about this. Recently I could get the answer for this interesting question. If you interact with any child for sometime, whenever he observes some stuff (interesting to him) he starts asking questions. As you answer he would ask more and more. Most parents and/or teachers discourage this process as they get disturbed frequently or if they don't have answers. Actually asking questions shows his interest on that particular object/thing.

What a child needs to learn at minimum in order to succeed in this digital-age?

Digital world is full of information (currently it is in the magnitude of petabytes) and it is much much more than any individual can consume. This means, child need not learn whole text-books that are available to him rather he should learn few concepts that are interesting to him. In particular the child must learn how to construct such concepts on his own. Here, technology/schools/parents/friends/etc may help in filtering the petabytes of information and provide qualitative information which suits his requirements. In order to utilize this aid effectively, at the fundamental outset, he must be skilled in "reading, writing, logic or arithmetic and 'how to learn'".

How to train a child to learn on his own?

I am part of a private school of 700 children (Sarojini Vidyalayam) in a rural village near Guntur (Andhra Pradesh, India) and experimenting this process in the following manner. Here, I have initiated on every week one specific day as "FUN-DAY". On this day, we conduct some interesting stuff to entertain children. One of such thing is called "Question Hour". In order to attend this class, each child is expected to bring a note (Doubts book) wherein he mentions his doubts those came into his mind during the week. These doubts could be anything like, why sky is blue? or why don't fan falls down? or why is air invisible? etc and need not be specific to their class subjects. Now assuming the classroom containing 50 children, all are divided into 5 batches (10 students per batch). Now batch-wise, that is, 10 children are to clarify their doubts among themselves. When they can't answer certain questions which will be written on teacher's notebook along with the names of the students who raised those doubts. Now the class teacher answers whatever she knows and passes unanswered questions to Principal. Question hour ends with this. Then the principal arranges a "Dial an expert" hour on the next FUN-DAY. Wherein, on a speaker phone an expert answers some of those questions to the children.

The goal of this process is to make sure that children ask right questions (obvious ones are filtered out much before it comes to the expert level). Now the expert is required to give answers filled with many more questions and provide examples/reference books/programs/etc. So that the children get the answer but then they become much more inquisitive to answer those questions (of the expert) on their own by reading the reference materials. We are considering the rewarding program for the children who answers these. Yes, learning happens through practice. So why, we have created this process in order to make the children learn on their own.

Can this process be scaled to the national level?

I am piloting these concepts at our school. Once I have matured processes, I want to use technology in order to automate and scale it to the masses across India (or elsewhere). This is what I am currently working on education front.


  1. Experts could be anyone who is relatively more educated. I think, technology comes at this level.
  2. Children (for that mater, anyone) learn by observing others or things around.
  3. Before inventing such system, my initial constraint was that not to disturb existing school system procedures.
  4. I am writing a book on Google tricks in order to help children to filter information on their own.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

How many people can actually read/write in Rural India?

Recently I was asked about the data (in each state) on educated population in rural India. Although government releases data about literacy rates, but I don't believe that this actually represents the people who can read and write. Say for example, consider the census of 2001. Download this pdf file, in order to get the detailed data on education in India. Here you find that both higher secondary pass-outs and graduates are 37 million. Similarly you find that 'below primary school' educated are lesser than 'upper primary educated'. Anyone with common sense predicts that number of higher secondary pass-outs should be much higher than graduates (simply because almost all graduates are HS pass-outs and moreover, drop-out rates are very high in India). Anyway let us move ahead.

As there is no single source for such authentic data, I am attempting to collate from several sources in order to get a feel for media companies. The following data is a "rough" estimation from various sources (Ministry of Education, NSSO, Pratham, etc).
  • More than 70% of the population fall under rural India
  • At least 40 million people of rural India can read/write in their local language (females : 30%)
  • At least 18 million people of rural India do have familiarity with English, minor arithmetic
  • 12 million rural population can be considered for formal employment considering their interest in higher education (certificate, diploma, vocational training, industrial training, degree, etc)
  • 4 Million rural population (Females: 15%) can directly be trained for professional employment
Notes: Based on Pratham's observations, here I assume that the people who completes their school education can read/write in their local language. Similarly who completes high school education successfully should be familiar with English/arthmetic. Graduates can be trained for employment.

If you have any authentic sources in this regard, do let me know.