Thanks to Kaushik Ramanathan for the link to the article, Bitter Tablet: Laptops distributed by Rajasthan govt of little use to students in rural areas, published recently in the Indian Express:
Gehlot govt may have distributed laptops, cheques for tablets under the Rajiv Gandhi Vidhyarthi Digital Yojana, but they are of little use to students in rural areas. Many feel hiring more teachers instead would have helped.
The new Mathematics teacher at Matasula Secondary School, located in an interior tribal village in Udaipur, is having nightmares. He has to teach simple addition, subtraction and multiplication to even Class IX and X students. Among the “brightest” students in these classes are Hitesh Kumar Ranji and Leela Kumari.
Hitesh, a Class X student, has learnt division and Leela, a Class IX student, is learning “tenses”.
Hitesh and Leela have been rewarded with an Acer laptop each for topping in Class VIII in 2011-12 and 2012-13 respectively. The others in the top 10 in Class VIII have got cheques of Rs 6,000 each to buy PC tablets. Their parents have submitted “receipts” from a stationary shop from where they purportedly bought them. The students, however, don’t seem to have any clue about the PC tablets.
Ahead of the Assembly polls, this is the Congress regime’s much-publicised contribution to GenNext in, what Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot says, making them “technically more proficient” under the Rajiv Gandhi Vidhyarthi Digital Yojana (RGVDY).
About 3.5 lakh students across the state have got these cheques ostensibly to buy tablets. Toppers in Classes VIII, X and XII were given laptops by the debt-ridden Rajasthan government, taking the total expenditure under the RGVDY to an estimated Rs 422 crore.
The laptop opens with the picture of the late prime minister on the screen. Hitesh and Leela know it is Rajiv Gandhi but don’t know who he was. While Hitesh is more eager to know whether “the government can give him a job after studies”, Leela’s problem is more immediate. “I am trying to understand past continuous tense,” she says. But that still won’t be enough for her to understand the “English stories” that are recited on her new gadget.
It appears that the government’s investment in technology does not extend to thinking through how students are going to make use of it. This is not the only scheme that seems to have fallen flat-Aakash, produced as part of the One Laptop Per Child scheme, has faced similar hurdles. As journalist Akshat Rathi wrote in The Hindu a few months ago, there are serious issues ailing the Indian educational system that the mere presence of laptops/tablets cannot help with:
Even if the government somehow, however difficult it may seem, is able to get access to cheap tablets, they are not going to help achieve its aims. Can a laptop overcome the negative impact of a bad teacher or poor school? Can it make children smarter despite the lack of electricity, water, toilets or playgrounds? Can it overcome the limitations of stunted growth among the malnourished? Can Aakash increase productivity of the workforce to counterbalance the money invested in it?
While I am deeply uncomfortable with his idea of “bad teachers,” I think Rathi makes some important points. The state and central governments should focus on developing infrastructure, investing in teacher training, and dealing with pressing questions of access instead of blindly investing in laptops and tablets.