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Broadband can morph education

Listening to Bill Gates talking on an Indian visit, to be honest, has become a bit of a drag, but in his own way, the Microsoft chairman does throw in some extra idea or two.

india Updated: Jul 26, 2009 22:12 IST
N Madhavan

Listening to Bill Gates talking on an Indian visit, to be honest, has become a bit of a drag, but in his own way, the Microsoft chairman does throw in some extra idea or two.

While much of what he said at a CEOs’ gathering on Friday was not new to me, I did sit up when he spoke of how a cellphone can be linked to a microscope for a futuristic way in which medical tests can be conducted. Video-conferencing to help doctors see patients from a long distance has been around for a while. And telemedicine in which diagnostic test reports or x-ray files are sent to remote doctors has also been making quiet progress. But a cellphone doing the job of beaming a microscope’s vision? That seems uber-cool and useful.

Gates very well brought out the key utility in this — the ability to leverage the talent and time of high-value experts. I think this is where both teaching and medicine could gain from 3G telephony and high-bandwidth communications.
In less than two years from now, you can carry more than 100 Gigabits of memory on a cellphone card. That’s hours and hours of video.

While technology progresses, we find mushrooming universities and hospitals lacking in the main resource — real experts who know their subjects, be it faculty members or doctors.

I shudder whenever I see huge advertisements for private universities and hospitals that I had never heard of (and probably did not exist two years ago), luring gullible students and patients who pay high charges.

A few years ago, Quantum, a Delhi-based institute, used to award computer science degrees from the University of Urbana Champaign at Illinois in the US by combining local tutors with recorded video lectures from the university downloaded overnight. That could be the way to go.

I think that model can be very effective in helping both education and medicine. I have also begun to notice effective tools that can bring browsing, slides and other interactive and collaborative communication methods to the Web. I trust and hope that 3G can help medicine and education from slipping into mediocrity.