The $35 Tablet That Is Changing The Education Landscape In India
As anyone in the US with children of school-age can attest, technology enhanced learning has become a standard. Increasingly, that computing is embedded in the methods that children learn. Moreover, “flipped classrooms” are taking hold. Under this model, lectures and homework in a class are reversed. Short video lectures are viewed by students at home before the class session, while in-class time is devoted to exercises, projects, or discussions. This model has proven to be quite effective. Naturally, the cost of computing has been prohibitively expensive in many developing countries, and as a result the digital divide between the developed and developing world has grown.
For all that we read about India’s rise as a technology powerhouse, the country has relatively poor infrastructure. Less than 20 percent of mobile towers deliver 3G service, and therefore, 3G data services are used by less than 5% of active subscribers. The country also has the slowest internet penetration growth in the Asia Pacific region at only 12.5 percent. Compare that to China’s rate which is over 42% or even Bangladesh’s, which is 21 percent.
It should also be noted that in India, the drop-out rates of school children remain appallingly high. 16 percent of students drop out during grades one through four, 43% drop out during grades five through eight, and 68% drop out between grades nine and 12. As a result, there are roughly 142 million children who should be in school but are not.
A few weeks ago, I spoke at a gathering of IT executives at former Mexican President Vicente Fox’s presidential library, Centro Fox. Another speaker at the conference was Suneet Tuli, an Indian who now lives in Toronto. Tuli is the founder and chief executive officer of DataWind, a Canadian wireless web access products and services developer. Having become familiar with the discouraging data regarding the digital divide, Tuli elected to do something about it. As Tuli explains it, “Although I was born in India, I grew up in Canada, and had access to Canada’s world-class public education system. But in various family trips over the years, I realized that in India the quality of education one received was in direct correlation to one’s economic class. I felt very strongly that access to the internet would level the playing field.” He developed a goal for his company to develop a tablet computer that would be affordable for the masses in India. PCs became ubiquitous in the US once the cost of the PC dropped to below 25 percent of a person’s monthly income. In order for this to work in India, Tuli realized that his tablet would need to cost $35.