This article was originally published in the INDIAN EXPRESS EDITORIAL on Jan 12, 2011.

Education is a child’s right. It is a promise made in the Constitution,and followed up rigorously by ambitious government programmes. Yet,as even the government’s flagship programme,the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan — whose aim is to address the need of almost 200 million children — shows,demand overshoots supply by a large,worrisome margin and millions of children still remain out of classrooms. It is in this context that an unusual,heartening story of a school in a poor Bihar village,reported by this newspaper on Tuesday,acquires significance — and even points to a way forward.

The Chaitanya Gurukul Public School in the village of Chamanpura does not have teachers or blackboards. Both have been replaced by laptops as teachers from across the state and experts from outside Bihar teach students through Skype. Interaction between a teacher and students in the confines of a room has long been the template of a class; the teacher’s physical presence considered essential,inviolable and,often rightly,inspirational. But the Chamanpura example shows that maybe we have to rethink our structures of learning to take quality education to children in far-flung areas; that a low-cost laptop,in the right hands,could play a bigger role than as a means just to bridge the digital divide. It could play the lead role in dispensing education. Poor infrastructure and shortage of teachers have been the bane of education programmes in India. New and interactive tools of communication could be,along with a greater budgetary spend on education and a better allocation of resources,one of the ways to address both these issues. There also has to be a simultaneous shift in pedagogy to equip teachers in their new roles. For,along with the children,teachers too have to be prepared.

Tomorrow’s classrooms will be fundamentally different from today’s — they will be smart,wireless — but the revolution does not necessarily have to begin in the metros and trickle down to villages.

 

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