Monday, December 10, 2012

My Trip to India - Part 5 - Technology

India is in a very interesting place in a number of respects on technology.  One of the most interesting is the low-cost tablets being created and primarily focused on education.  These tablets will be $20 (subsidized by government) to schools and the people that had played with the Aakash 2 were very positive on it.  This puts India on the leading edge of truly affordable school devices.  Additionally, India has some very large potential advantages on the connectivity side.  They are rolling out a national  fibre network with connectivity even into rural areas.  Finally, they are moving aggressively on 4G LTE connectivity, which should make a lot of sense in the dense urban areas in particular.

So on the hardware and connectivity side, lots going on.  On the other hand, only 6.5% of phones in India are smart and many of those are the lowest end of web access phones.  So it could take several years before the average family has home access.  But overall, if the tablets work, and if connectivity gets deployed, Indian schools could be in very good shape to benefit from online learning.

In talking to the schools, especially affordable schools, technology in a school is seen as a key differentiator, so if there is useful stuff, they could be early adopters.  So far, this has mostly been things like Smartboards.  There is a very interesting pricing structure that has been used here.  The manufacturers lease the equipment to the schools which charge parents for the use, adding a couple more dollars per month to fees.  Maybe the same things happens with tablets, or maybe they are so cheap that parents just buy them.

Anyway, that leaves us with the normal school problem that the online curricula is not great.  Additionally, the majority of Indians other than the upper-class speak a local language and Hindi, but not English.  So even good curricula that is not Hindi localized will have a tough time gaining traction.  Khan Academy for example was localized poorly and I heard plenty of criticism about the translations, though there were clearly still people trying to use it.

My conclusion is that the strong desire for learning in India, the desire to use technology, the competitiveness of the affordable schools, the enormous leverage needed to allow teachers to teach 400 students each, and the hardware/connectivity plans could make India a big early adopter.

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