Teaching Without Teachers

India has a lot of people to educate. It is trying to work out ways of automating the process. One of those ways is the design of a $20 (US) laptop called the Sakshat.

The Sakshat is planned to boost distance learning so as to allow India to meet its vast educational requirements: It has a huge, largely-poor population, of which over 550 million are younger than 25.

The Sakshat will also fit into a grand plan to boost e-learning at over 18,000 colleges and 400 universities.

Giving every person under 25 a laptop costing $20 is going to cost $11 billion dollars. I discussed my vision of a low cost laptop at The $20 laptop.

But that is not where the real cost savings and bottlenecks are. The real cost saving is education without teachers because they cost too much and there are not enough of them.

During the next six years, by some estimates, India will need to create another 1,500 universities. Educational institutions in the UK and US are lining up to become partners to help with this huge projected tertiary-level expansion.

Pressure is building on the government to permit foreign investment into the sector and use public-private partnerships to meet some of the demand. Leading universities across the world, such as Kellogg School of Management in the US and Imperial College in the UK, are exploring different models, including faculty partnerships, distance learning and setting up campuses.

But the government appears to favour turning to technology ahead of international partnerships to bring people into higher education.

Very smart. In a lot of ways it reminds me of what Bucky Fuller saw as the future of education in his book Education Automation. Maybe we can finally do something about the stranglehold of the teacher's unions on education.

Cross Posted at Power and Control

posted by Simon on 02.05.09 at 03:16 AM


Good idea! A nation without court intellectuals is a free nation.

Brett   ·  February 6, 2009 8:04 AM

This stuff gives me a chuckle. Where are those folks going to plug in their $20 laptops? Unless they can make them run off dirt, it is a useless, feel-good plan for the press.

Then there's that tiny issue of internet connectivity infrastructure.

They don't even have potable water or toilets for these people, but they're going to deliver $20 laptops?

It is to laugh!

Mrs. du Toit   ·  February 6, 2009 3:47 PM

Let me see if I can explain how it might be done: A central solar collector and satellite fed internet connection. You might call it a school. Put in a few WLANs and the whole village is wired up. Kids plug in their laptops at school to collect new data and recharge their batteries. Or they use the solar cells on the back of their laptops to recharge them.

Now you know why I'm worth the big bucks. People pay me to think of these things. Not as much as they used to though. There is entirely too much thinking going on for the health of my wallet.

M. Simon   ·  February 6, 2009 4:04 PM

The advantage of the laptop strategy is that you can parachute it in. These will not be 20 watt American laptops. They will be 1 watt laptops. One sq ft of solar cell should be enough to supply two of these laptops. Maybe add enough solar for a pump.

The key is: free up some time and energy. Educate the kids.

M. Simon   ·  February 6, 2009 4:15 PM

The problem is that you're thinking like an American. That's fine, if we're talking about the U.S., but we're not.

India is still manufacturing trucks, off the IDENTICAL assembly line the British left behind (after they left), because they have no ability to modernize or retool the factory. The trucks are unsafe, ineffcient, but they have NO ability to fix it.

They have little or no infrastructure.

The technology for bringing clean drinking water to the masses was developed in city infrastructures by the Romans... ancient, not modern, yet India cannot do it.

In their "Garden City" of Bangalore, they filled in the lakes to build all those buildings to house all the off-shored jobs, but they have no wheelbarrows (don't even think about something as trivial as a forklift), and then they're SHOCKED SHOCKED when the city floods and their traffic lights no longer work, because they're flooded.

They hand barefoot women and men colanders to wear on their heads, with which they carry bricks, sand, cement, or other building materials to a job site.

What India has is people, but no infrastructure to support them, even with basic necessities such as clean drinking water and toilet facilities.

They can't retool an existing factory and THIS is the place that's going to design, develop and distribute $20 laptops? The place that can't maintain constant power to their most prosperous cities and its so bad that businesses have gas powered generators to supply power.

We take our infrastructure for granted. We have things like Fedex and highways, on which they can drive to deliver goods. If our power is out for 8 days it becomes an domestic incident, yet India has villages that have NO power and the people drink water from snake and bug infested sewers. We have water and things like sani-johns to put at construction sites so that people don't sleep in dirt and pee/poop on the job-site, spreading diseases that the West hasn't dealt with in over 200 years.

The degree of missing infrastructure in India is mind-boggling.

They need to work on building roads and getting clean water to their people... and then feeding them, so they don't drop like flies.

THEN we can talk about stuff beyond the basic level of the hierarchy of needs.

Mrs. du Toit   ·  February 6, 2009 6:08 PM


Uh. India is not the country you think it is: It is bimodal. China is similar.

The deal is this: India has the engineers and mfg. expertise to make a $20 PC happen. And to make use of it.

M. Simon   ·  February 6, 2009 7:44 PM

Education seems like it might be useful in India. Especially when it comes to getting people out of poverty.

M. Simon   ·  February 6, 2009 7:46 PM

M. Simon, have you actually even visited India? Because Mrs Du Toit has. Several times. And her description of India is mirrored by what I have heard from several Indians who have moved to America to get away from the conditions she describes.

Anonymous   ·  February 8, 2009 10:51 AM

M. Simon, have you actually even visited India? Because Mrs Du Toit has. Several times. And her description of India is mirrored by what I have heard from several Indians who have moved to America to get away from the conditions she describes.

SDN   ·  February 8, 2009 10:52 AM

All I know is what I read in the electronics papers. They have a fairly solid high tech industry easily capable of designing and building a $20 laptop.

I also read that they have 200 million in their middle class. That leaves about 60% or 70% in dire poverty.

So I don't see why both couldn't be true.

How big a team would be needed to pull it off? Less than 100 people. Maybe as few as 30 depending. And you know if they are really desperate they can hire me.

M. Simon   ·  February 8, 2009 11:04 AM

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