Wednesday, March 08, 2006


Computers in Schools: Clothing the future emperors of the IT Superpower?

The recent announcement by NIIT, Intel and Microsoft, in conjunction with the State Bank of India sends shivers down my spine. A short summary of the announcement is that the above four entities plan to extract Rs 1000 crores from the parents of children in about 1000 private schools in India over the next two years. Depending on how successful they are in this phase, they plan to target a further 8000 such schools. In return, they intend to implement "IT and IT-assisted education" in these schools.

The gullibility of parents and the mass marketing muscle of the first three organisations are directly to be blamed for such criminal waste of scarce resources.
These three entities, have successfully implanted in the minds of most educated
and aspiring parents in India that there is a three step path to riches and glory: "do computer" in schools, then do a NIIT diploma and then work as a programmer in an MNC. I do not know where to start in countering the weight of this huge propaganda that is ably assisted by the government, agencies like NASSCOM, and the media.

Over the past several years countless crores of rupees have been spent in setting up computer labs in schools across the country. A very popular elective of Computer Science has been introduced for the eleventh and twelfth standard, which most 'bright' students opt for as a replacement to biology. The computer science syllabus of the otherwise very enlightened CBSE makes it very clear that computer science is equated to the process of learning to manipulate a computer and the use of various software packages (the most sophisticated of which being MS Power Point) as a minimum, and graduating to being able to program either in Visual C or Visual C++ as the ultimate pinnacle of accomplishment. And if a student acquires on the side the title of MCP (no, not what you think, but Microsoft Certified Programmer), then his parents become ecstatic and give interviews to newspapers.

I can not attempt to better the description of Professor Jeannette Wing of CMU,
in an article Computational Thinking published in the Communications of the ACM, a leading publication of the computer science community, on what computer science is.
It is just three pages long, and it is worth reading once if you are a non-tech type, and worth reading twice if you are a tech type. And for once, I will heartily recommend a chain mail with this article as its content. Please forward this to friends, especially if they are working for either Intel, Microsoft or NIIT:-) Most likely, the decision makers are clearly aware of the distinction and that is why there is a specific use of the phrase "IT and IT-assisted" instead of computer science.

Sadly, even most engineering colleges in India that offer computer science degrees
have no real grasp of what computer science is and we now have a public-sector bank funded initiative to thrust computers down students' throats in schools.

There is a double tragedy here: parents who can afford to, buy computers (never low-cost machines, but only the most recent, highest speed processor, fastest graphics, etc., that the market has to offer). Parents who cannot easily afford computers, stretch, sacrifice and buy PCs at home in the hope that they have provided the best for their children. In addition, such parents also pay huge amounts of money to put their children through private schools that provide enlightened education, which are simply those schools that claim to offer "IT and IT-enabled education".

Parents of children that can neither afford to buy computers nor send their children to enlightened schools are the target of government policies and that attempt to
bring technology into education. With the result, governments spend thousands of crores providing the very same "IT and IT-enabled education" to government schools
as well. The only constant in all of these expenditures is that the recipients
are Intel, Microsoft and NIIT!

The second tragedy is that by introducing computer labs in schools, most intelligent
and creative students are turned off from computer science, just as most students who have gone through the horrors of a physics lab or a chemistry lab in school, never want to go anywhere near the basic sciences. Students that can thrive in rote learning excel in school computer labs and these are the very same students who become very successful as part of the celebrated 'workforce' in IT and IT-enabled services!

The only novelty in the recent announcement is the fact that SBI has jumped in to this bandwagon, which is a clear statement of the low-risk nature of this project. No one is going to complain, and there will be recurring revenues for all parties concerned since every three years the current set of machines and software will be declared as "un-enlightened", by three of the above four parties. The parents of successful children will be happy that their early efforts and sacrifices have paved the way for success for their children. The parents of the not-so-successful parents will bemoan the fact that in spite of the best education that they have given to their children, they have not succeeded as expected and point out a range of reasons for this, not one of them will be that they placed their bet wrongly on "IT and IT-assisted education".

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?