Updated: December 5, 2015 12:04:29 am
The homeland of private tuition now has a choice. India can tune out of the racket run by moonlighting teachers and turn on the data connection. Khan Academy, whose free learning resources on the internet have changed the way English-speaking schoolchildren the world over do their homework — and the way their parents brush up their integral calculus after the kids are in bed — is launching math and science services in Hindi. It proposes to tie up with mobile providers and schools to deliver more reliable support services for learning than the friendly neighbourhood tutor.
India offers a special opportunity for non-commercial online learning. The classroom is failing here because teaching after hours is a lucrative option to teaching on the job. Students and their parents forced into the tuition system support an artificial industry, to which free online courses offer healthy competition. In addition, Indian education is notorious for teaching students to shoot for results rather than learning, which should be its legitimate objective. The problem is pervasive and is rife even in foundational skills like algebra, where formulaic problem-solving is valued over an understanding of how formulae evolve. Online learning offers students the opportunity to explore the ideas
and intellectual histories underpinning their subjects, which are sometimes glossed over in formal education.
If online courses venture into other major Indian languages, they hold the promise of disrupting traditional means of instruction, which are struggling to cope with the evolving needs of India. More importantly, they can disrupt power equations and overturn the class system of the knowledge economy. The implications for politics and the economy would be enormous, and informal but high-quality resources like Khan Academy have a better chance of swinging it than massive open online courses, which merely mimic the brick and mortar university system.
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