Do city schools really need tablets?

A lot of traction has been made in cities around the launch of new, cheap tablets, software applications for school curriculum, and pilots in schools with tablets. But it's the children in villages who really need tablets.
Written by Swati Prasad, Contributor

Over a year back, I blogged about my new acquisition--a tablet--and how my world had nearly changed with the acquisition of this gadget. But I didn't tell you what happened after that. Soon enough, my kids got hooked on it and I had no option but to get back to a boring phone that would not interest them much.

The day my younger one turned two, he became adept at using it. He loves playing Angry Birds on the tablet and also instructs his older brother to Google some nursery rhymes and Bollywood songs. Sometimes, I wish I hadn't bought the damn thing.

Nowadays, I read about new (and very inexpensive) tablets being launched in India every day. Schools are holding pilot programs with tablets, and new applications for Android-based phones are launched regularly.

But do the city kids really need tablets for education? I, for one, don't think so. Here are some of the drawbacks I see from using it as a tool for education:

  1. Most school-going city kids already know how to use the tablet. They use it at home. Including it in the school curriculum would mean they spend more time in front of a screen. And a screen--be it a TV screen or a computer monitor--is not good for the eyesight. How many parents actually want their kids to have a dry-eye syndrome, or worse, wear spectacles at a young age?
  2. The proponents of the tablet as a tool for education believe it would help teachers explain concepts better. Well, if that's the case, it's the teachers who need it more (perhaps they can also use it in the classroom with the help of projector), not the children. Concepts can be made clearer by adopting a more holistic approach to education. Schools need to encourage project-based learning. They need to take students outdoors--to monuments, factories, parks, and museums--and conduct more experiements and projects. In short, bring fun into education. The excitement and fun around tablets will be short-lived, at least in the cities and metros.
  3. What about checks and balances? You don't want children to be watching adult videos on their tablets. To me, it seems like tablets will usher in a new set of challenges before the school administration (with the danger of education and the interest of the students taking a backseat). The younger generation is a lot smarter than us. They will always find ways to work around parental control software, school monitoring softwares, firewalls, etc.
  4. Why make education more expensive? Good tablet phones cost a lot of money. Every school in Delhi has to reserve 25 percent seats for the economically weaker sections (with India's Right to Education Act). Won't tablets increase disparities in the classroom?
  5. Tablets make children unsocial. They should be outdoors playing. The gadget will give them one more reason to stay indoors because they have some "interactive homework" to do.

The tablet, on the other hand, is a great tool for education in Indian villages. The government, device manufacturers, solution providers, and so on, need to focus on villages and semi-rural areas for the following reasons:

  1. Schools in villages don't have good teachers (some don't even have teachers), so a tablet loaded with good educational content would do the work of a good teacher.
  2. Children in villages don't spend much time in front of a screen. Even if they have a TV in their home or neighborhood, my guess is that they won't be spending as much time in front of it as their city peers.
  3. The parents of most rural children are uneducated. With the introduction of the tablet in schools, there is scope for educating the adults too.
  4. Experiential learning or project-based learning can be expensive. With the use of a tablet, children in village can get to see monuments across the world, learn how to pronounce words correctly, visit factories and so much more.

I am sure there are many more reasons why tablets should be introduced in villages. And I can't enumerate all of them in this blog. The fact is that there is a huge divide in India and technology has the potential to bridge the divide between cities and villages.

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