A Revolution in Education for the Third World
In the Third World, a teacher may earn typically $5 per hour, and a poor parent may earn typically $0.25 per hour. Class size to be effective is maximum 40 and preferably 30. Teacher’s labour cost can be estimated at maybe 50% of total fee cost in a well-run school (most schools in the Third World are run on an exploitative basis, where teachers’ salaries component are less than 10% of total fees).
So how do these numbers compute?
They indicate that the low-income parent must spend 100% of his earnings on educating his or her one child. If he or she has 2 or more children, then the numbers are out of the window. There is no money for food or anything else, even with a one-child situation.
How is this situation contained?
The answer is that, up till now, education has been subsidized by State and/or Church, with the pay-off that the children get indoctrinated in the thoughts of CofE, Rome, Mugabe, Pol Pot or whoever.
These days, there is much move towards education being a self-financing sector. The result? Lots of children not being regularly in school. Incidentally, lots of teachers are also playing hookey these days, since their salaries are not really what the teachers expect or can even afford to live off, and therefore they are moonlighting with second jobs, vending etc., and their primary job – and the pupils – are losing out.
What is the solution?
Move to a situation where only 5-20% of education time is done by teachers, and 80-95% is done by the mixture of video, books, electronic books, and interactive CBT (computer-based-teaching). This 5-20% can be done on a rotation system – instead of having a school building with 10 classrooms and 10 teachers, serving 400 pupils. There is one classroom and one teacher, but still serving 400 pupils. Pupils are there for 30 minutes per day or 3 hours per week. Labour costs are 10% of previous. For the surplus teachers this is of course a problem, and they may have to start their own similar-formula low-cost schools in competition, or they can do coaching and tutoring for the better-off pupils.
How can this be economic?
By the following factors:
– Mobile phones are becoming less expensive and more prevalent, and if they can be used with local non-wireless content then there are zero running costs
– Many poor have tv and video recorder. The cost of a blank dvd with content is $0.30 if the content is free. And that one dvd can have 2+ hours of video content or probably 100 hours of text-plus-photo content (to run on a PC or smartphone)
– Vodafone in Ghana has launched the webbox, which turns a TV and a video player into an online computer. This concept can be built on and modified and enhanced. But the objective must be to MINIMIZE running cost and connection time and megabytes, and to depend mainly on local offline content
– USB flash ram is another possibility – a 4 GB flash ram now costs $10 and holds as much as a DVD (which as stated above costs $0.30, and this therefore preferable if the dvd drive exists and is usable)
– It is possible to imagine one PC with lots of local offline content working with up to 20+ low-cost smartphones through Bluetooth, displaying menu systems and content on the smartphone, and even running interactive CBT applications and tests. This may require some imagination on the part of Windows and Linux OS people….
What is required for this Dream to become a Reality?
The main missing ingredient is e-content which is high quality and free. This is not difficult to do, and does not require any high-tech stuff – since conventional htm and pdf file formats will do the job perfectly well. Since the content is free there is no need to copy-protect it.
Additionally, we need free pupil management software, and also free software for the setting, taking and marking of tests and exams. These are also simple to handle, and once made will be globally available. The only small (very small in fact) complication may be dealing with many languages. They will be developed from scratch to be multi-lingual.
The price of mobile handsets will have to fall even further – who knows in fact what they cost to produce? Certainly less than what they are being sold for. When handsets are lowered from $300 to $150 in one step, then you know that huge margins are in action…
Who will develop the free content? Aid and Development organisations should be queuing up to do that work, but no-one has rushed yet into that space. Maybe Gordon Brown, with his recent post-IMF fixation on Education, will meander into this space?….
But the omens for Western-generated free content are not good – 4 years ago there was a JAM Project inside BBC to develop free global online content for schools. It was shut down within one year because of complaints and pressure from competing commercial interests. The EU and British Government were instrumental in this shutdown….
Do not despair! The People can do this themselves. It isn’t rocket science. Even scanning existing non-copyright or donated-copyright material will do the trick. And/or Google Books scans and digitises/ OCR’s – they can do that bit of the job if the right books and printed material is fed to them.
The Future for our Children is Bright – let us get cracking!
Alex Weir, Gaborone, Botswana, Sunday 5 June 2011