Rural India has a challenging context with respect to quality education. In India, rural areas lack basic infrastructure facilities, and universalization of schooling in India is one of the most urgent development issues in the world today. The major challenges of quality education in rural areas include
- Absence of students in schools
- Absence of teachers in schools
- Insufficient good teachers
- Absence of schools.
The listed issues cannot be solved easily as there are 600,000 villages in India. Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) have raised some hopes to tackle these challenges to some extent.
ICTs offer greater access to quality learning resources. The Internet is a forerunner in the technology front with respect to get access to educational resources. Rural areas are still not able to exploit the benefits of the Internet due to the absence of technological infrastructure.
In rural areas, two major ICTs seem to have the greatest potential to deliver quality education, namely, computers and mobile tablets. These technologies can be easily taken to rural areas.
The i-Saksham Project
Understanding the potential of ICTs, a group of entrepreneurs in ‘Jamui’ and ‘Munger’ districts of Bihar, India have implemented i-Saksham project in the remote rural areas. The project aims to give access to quality education using mobile tablets. Mobile tablets contain relevant educational content with respect to primary education.
A local educated youth is selected and trained to use a mobile tablet to deliver primary education to village children. In return, tutors charge fees from the child’s parent. The tutors, in turn, give a fixed amount to the project implementers.
Tablets vs. Computers
The main reasons for using mobile tablets, in comparison to computers, as a platform for the initiative are:
- Computers need more maintenance compared to mobile tablets. Computers can’t be moved from one place to the other comfortably. However, tablets are highly portable. If there is a hardware issue, tablets can be taken easily to the project main center. It will be difficult in the case of computers.
- In rural areas, there is a lack of electricity and therefore, it will be difficult to run computers. However, mobile tablets once charged can be used any time in the day/night
- Computer with an accessory like UPS, increases the cost of investment. This has an effect on the overall sustainability of the project. As the number of tutors rise, investments will also rise if computers are used.
- Mobile tablets used in the project are not very expensive. They cost around Rs. 4000-5000 (1$= Rs. 65.00 as on 22/10/2015) with basic features.
- With a single computer, all students in a class can’t active part in learning. However, with mobile tablets, students are able to work in groups, play educational games. With increased number of tablets, students’ interaction with the technology and content will be higher.
Computers as a delivery medium has many advantages over the mobile tablet. For example, good video and audio quality, larger memory to store content and better performance. Computers also give opportunity for tutors to enhance their computer skills.
However, in the context of rural areas, mobile tablets because of their portability, lesser cost and maintenance, provides sustainable technological solution to the issue of quality education in rural areas. The mobile tablets complement books during a teaching session. Availability of educational apps enhances the overall ability of the tablet as a medium for education.
Nevertheless, content is a major challenge for the project officials. There is a need for localized content so that students learn faster and better.
Gaurav Mishra is an Assistant Professor at Development Management Institute (DMI) – Patna