Envisioning next generation school education in Tamil Nadu… and elsewhere

Some of the problems that plague schools in Tamil Nadu (TN), in India & many developing countries are:

  • Lack of good teachers
  • Very high teacher-student ratio
  • Too much focus on just chalk-talk-and-exams
  • One-way dissemination of data/knowledge rather than interactive problem solving

Following is a vision & plan to improve school education in TN but might be applicable with changes in other places as well.

There are  large changes happening in the Education scene (like other areas of life) in India – some key changes in 2010 here. One major change in TN in 2011 has of course been the new AIADMK State Government headed by Jayalalitha. The new government has proposed some major initiatives as part of their election manifesto and is seeking Central funds to implement the ideas. From an education standpoint, there are a few promised initiatives that the TN Govt seems keen on moving forward with:

  • Free laptops for Senior School Students and Engineering Students
  • Free Cable connections for the public
  • Revamping “Samacheer Kalvi” with better books (post election promise)

But they don’t directly solve the problems stated in the beginning.

Meanwhile, the Internet, Smartphones & Tablets have been driving rapid innovation in education frameworks throughout the world, like:

  • Next Generation Learning Project by Gates & HP Foundations has funded many interesting educational projects based on sound education research done by many organizations.
  • The Khan Academy has shown how a single person can inspire new ways to learn online and now has a large library of free education videos.
  • India’s National Program on Technology Enhanced Learning (NPTEL) initiated by IIT & IISc has put together a large collection of college level educational videos.

But there are still many challenges in immediately making these online & computer-based initiatives available usable for school education in Tamil Nadu:

  • Broadband Internet penetration is still less than 1% of population in TN, India
  • Computer penetration is less than 5% of population
But on the other hand we have very different dynamics with television penetration:
  • Almost 90% of the population has access to Television – previous DMK govt had provided free TV sets to Below Poverty Line (BPL) families.
  • New TN government is planning to provide free (or very low cost) cable TV access via the Arasu Cable network.
Given the above situation, I have a simple proposal to improve school education in Tamil Nadu using a Hybrid approach of one-way lectures as well as interactive learning.
Phase 1 (2012 to 2014): Using existing infrastructure & technologies
  • Create High Quality Educational Videos for each class from 1st standard to 12th standard for the entire syllabus and make it available freely to all students/families – via Cable/Satellite Television as well as DVDs, USB sticks for laptops. These should be made highly interesting to keep student attention.
  • Students should be able to see these videos on their TV sets any time they want and review it as often as needed based on their individual pace.
  • In order to facilitate better access to these educational videos, there should be atleast 12 new TV channels created via Cable TV or Satellite TV – one channel for each year/standard. With Govt Arasu cable and Doordarshan capabilities, additional TV channels should be easy to provide. The class lectures should be repeated many times in a day & over the weekend to allow multiple reviews by students who dont have DVD/Player or USB/Laptop access.
  • The focus of school classrooms should be interactive discussions, exercises, Q&A, group work. One-way chalk-talk lectures should be done only via the above mentioned videos.
  • Teachers have to retrained to manage these class interactions effectively. They also no longer have to teach the same lectures over and over again every year and instead interact with students.
  • Even in areas where teachers are not so effective, students can learn much better than current system by using the high quality educational videos.
In this phase, some students in some rural areas & poor urban areas might still not be able to make full use of the above educational methodology. But accessibility can steadily improve with time with goal of 100% access by 2015.
Phase 2 (2015 to 2020): Using better Computer penetration & Internet connectivity
  • By 2015, India (especially TN) should see much broader Internet (via 4G or newer wireless) connectivity.
  • If TN govt does make good on promise of free laptop to students, computer penetration should be quite high. Even otherwise, Internet access devices should also become a lot cheaper by 2014 – good wireless equipped Tablet PCs for under Rs 8,000 should be available.
  • Even higher quality (better than Phase 1) Educational Videos should be made available to students. By 2015, these videos should be accessible to 100% of all students – either via Cable or Satellite TV or via laptop/tablet & USB sticks.
  • Students should be able to do the interactive portion of their learning via the Internet using tools like Moodle – interacting with other teachers & students throughout TN and other places.
More detailed planning & clarification of vision still needs to be done. Also in-depth cost/budget assessment needs to be done.
But more importantly feedback is needed on this vision/rough plan.
Does this make sense? Please add your comments below and add a note if you would like to work on this project.

Bold decisions in Product Marketing…

Apple & Steve Jobs are of course known for Marketing… But thought the following snippet drives home their bold decision to develop iPad for a market that did not exist – contrary to most Marketing theories of listening to the market.


“One month prior to the iPad’s launch, a Forrester survey of more than 4,500 US online consumers revealed the top features consumers said they wanted in their next PC purchase. Two-thirds of US online consumers want a DVD drive, but this feature, along with other most-wanted features like CD burners and webcams, are absent from the iPad. The iPad’s features, such as the touchscreen, are lower on consumers’ wish list, with only 22 percent desiring a touchscreen for their next PC.”

Envisioning the post-iPad world of personal computers…

First, let me start by saying that I’m a big fan of my iPhone & iPad… Is it perfect? No! Not by far!

  • iPad is cumbersome. Holding it in one hand & reading is guaranteed to cause pain. Typing on the iPad for any length of time is sure to aggravate your carpal-tunnel syndrome
  • Viewing movies on iPad is far from satisfying.
  • But it is good enough for consuming small amounts of data regularly. And the iPad is a very capable computing device powerful enough to do most common personal computing tasks – browsing, emails, videos, docs.
So, what will the future post-iPad computers look like?
  • Display & the actual computer will be decoupled.
  • The computer will be the one that accompanies you all the time – your future superphone.
  • The display as well as the keyboard/mouse will be a separate device that is appropriate to the task at hand – either a TV or a projector or a tablet or a laptop or just a small phone display.
  • Your computer will always be connected – Wifi or 4G.
  • But the data on your computer will all come from the cloud –  or atleast be backed up there. So losing your computer wont be as traumatic.
To some extent, the Atrix 4G is a sign of what’s to come in the post-iPad world.

Could we build a true simulation model of the Human Brain?

We have discovered and invented lots of things in computing since Charles Babbage invented his Analytical Engine and Ada Lovelace started programming it. Our quest has been to mimic the human brain and its functions. There are many areas we have gone way past the abilities of the human brain – fast numerical computations, massive data analysis like in internet search, etc.

But we still dont understand how the human brain works.

Lately we have started understanding the fundamental biology, chemistry & function of the neuron (fundamental unit of the brain) much better than ever before.
         – We are able to map the complete neuron structures of small insects
         – We are able to tap into the ends of neurons, sense their signals (audio) and make them control machines (bionic hands)
         – For many decades now, we have used the “postulated” principles of the brain in Neural Networks and Genetic Algorithms. We have even attempted to replicate the human brain as a software model for Machine Vision applications.

Now that we begin to understand the “real” function of the neurons and their connections, the question is:
       – Could we build a true software model of the human brain, provide it some “sensory input” and let it freely “think”
       – Not to solve a specific application. Not to control any robots. Not
       – But just to understand how our own brains “think”

Why would we want to do this? We’ll “know better” once we actually build it. 🙂

Hype Cycle for Digital 3D – Will 3D become mainstream by 2015?

We are now in March 2010 in the post-“Avatar” world. Above timeline is my prediction of a hype cycle for Digital 3D.

We are in the early part of the cycle:
– Avatar released in Dec 2009 has triggered a huge hype and interest in Digital 3D technology, though 3D itself has a long history.
– At this year’s January, 2010 Consumer Electronics Show (CES), lots of companies (technology, entertainment) interested in establishing a new market have announced new products – though there is no accepted standard.
– New standards like HDMI 1.4a announced in March 2010 are critical foundations for real 3D products.
– Early applications like entertainment (movies – Avatar, Alice in Wonderland, ESPN sports) show a lot of promise.
– Early products are too expensive like this $21,000 3D camera.

In the next stage of this hype cycle, real products need to be available. They need to become affordable. Then they will be really adopted by larger number of people.

I for one, hope to see applications like 3D Tourism become popular. I would really like to see Live or Realtime 3D Two-way communication – almost like Teleportation. 🙂

iPad as a Thin Client PC for personal or corporate use (via VNC or Citrix GoToMyPC)

I have my own gripes about the iPad launched today – lack of multitasking, front-facing camera, HD video, open APIs for USB/Bluetooth, etc – that would prevent it from being used as an alternate light-weight PC replacement. But I do think in typical Apple style, they would roll out some of these features in future revisions in the coming years.

But in a corporate environment (or personal use for techies), iPad could turn out to be a flexible Thin Client PC if there are good apps for the use case. There are already many VNC clients for iPhone which would probably get updated to iPad promptly. But an app that targets the corporate user with a virtualized desktop & storage on the server – intranet or public cloud – would make the iPad a really useful tool. It already has email, calendar, word, excel, powerpoint and can even support connection to projectors (with the awkward VGA connector). A well-integrated VNC or Citrix GoToMyPC app for the few custom corporate applications could nicely serve the corporate user. Webex already works for the iPhone and if the full features are supported for the iPad it could take care of meetings.

Now if only Apple could give me a nice iChat on iPad with front-camera – Jan 2011??

Update Feb 3, 2010:  Citrix and others are coming out with announcements related to this usemodel for iPhone and potentially for iPad. See this LinuxDevices.com article.

Comparing my “iPad” predictions from Oct 2008… Not bad.

Not bad… 10 out of 14 of my predictions from Oct 2008 turned out to be true today (Jan 2010) – especially the price point.

But my big mis-prediction was that I expected this product from Apple in 2008/2009. They are a year late.