The other day, while driving to my farm in Hoshiarpur, I was shocked to see a bunch of government school children with chalk-slates clutched under their arm pits. Yes, the old dreary slate, in a zamana where these children should have been carrying a tablet. The appalling sight, other than reinforcing the fact that the education system in Punjab sucks big time, prompted me to share the kind of stuff that a device as small as a tablet can bring to the classroom.
Though, traditionally described as a flat slab of stone, clay or wood, used especially for inscription, the modern tablet has come a long way and the iPad version undoubtedly is the new avatar of the chalk-slate, phatti etc, etc.
The technological marvel brings along unlimited possibilities and opportunities for learning, which can transform the lives of thousands of children who have been denied quality education for decades. No more looking for chalks or rubbing of text with saliva, as all you got to do is swipe, touch or scroll and the world is in your fist. Its new avatar is the most convenient visa to the world, which could only be dreamt of, but never was possible, till a few years ago.
The cynic, the politician and the bureaucrat by now would have dubbed this thought as idiotic, impractical and utopian. But, who cares! If the super intelligent ideas have failed to kick off, isn’t it high time we took a chance with the idiotic ones?
Moreover, if the head of the state’s Ambassador can evolve into a 7-Series BMW, there is no reason why the children of this country or state should be deprived of the latest learning tools.
Did you realise that the cost of one full tank of a pilot gypsy can pay for one year’s internet fee for a school? Imagine the window of opportunity, as simple a thing as an internet connection can open for children, who are oblivious of how their future is being squandered away because governments refuse to think. One day’s cost of laying a foundation stone of a project can fund training of hundreds of teachers who will help children use this technology.
No, this is not hyperbole. The sight of the chalk-slate is not even nostalgic anymore, but a stark reminder of the reality — how out of tune we are with progress. It speaks of the poor quality of polity that exists in Punjab; for, progress is a value system, not a mere word. Like religion or secularism is an ethos of a political party, why can’t we have education or progress as a rallying point? Undoubtedly, the Punjab government did promise some tablets, but then it’s like that fussy parent who keeps postponing things by saying ‘this year, iss dey naal guzzara kar ley.’
Just to throw some hot statistics to your face — in America, within the first 45 days of iPad sales, 47,000 iPads were sold to schools. Mind you, I am just giving you the figures for iPads, not the other cheaper tablets. I have also learnt that Samsung is soon launching a tablet with the name Slate. According to the website ipadsinschools.com, American students currently use 1.5 million iPads, as mobile technology in education is becoming the game-changer.
Kithey Amreeka, kithey Punjab, I can hear one cynic say. Phaji, if Gurdaspur can become Paris and Bathinda, London, Punjab’s children deserve at least the basics. And, if your average politician was sincere enough, basics such as potable water, uniforms and textbooks for all children would have been taken care of much earlier.
How much more time do we need to waste before we get our act together? We lost a full generation to terrorism when schools hardly functioned; we did not seize the IT revolution when it was there for the taking; and now we are squandering when the next big leap in technology is in education.
According to Apple, there are over 20,000 education and learning applications available for iPads alone and more than 80% of the best selling paid apps in iTunes’ Education category target children.
Did you know that there is a thought that the tablet can help arrest India’s urban movement, especially of that category which aspires to be in cities to provide tuitions for children? It can also cut heavy tuition costs that middle-class families pay. Take the example of a non-profit organisation like the Khan Academy. Started by one US-based Salman Khan, a graduate of Harvard and MIT, Khan Academy is a free of cost resource and tutorial for anyone from anywhere for Math,
Biology, Physics and Science.
Obviously, I am not an educator and my position in this column hardly matters, and the tablet is not the panacea for all educational needs. However, my job is to provoke the mundane mind, because it is high time we addicted our youth to this tablet, before it’s consumed by the tablet sold at the chemist.
The columnist is a Punjab-based author and journalist.