Tuesday, 27 November 2012

In the Blanket of Darkness

Infrastructural barriers to education could be educational infrastructure such as skilled teachers or strong curriculum, but also physical infrastructure that limits the access to quality of education.

In India, we face several infrastructural barriers to education including lack of:
  • “Pakka” buildings, due to which school are unable to provide basic infrastructure (e.g., chair, table, board, etc.) due to the fear of theft
  • Access to transportation to take them to school, which may, at times, be many miles away
  • Sanitation and clean drinking water, making it difficult for the kids to get through the school day
  • Electricity, which means that classrooms are at times dark and hot due to not light or fan
The lack of electricity is more strongly felt in the case of ICT education, where almost all gadgets are electrically powered. Non availability of electricity implies that a large percentage of our students remain bereft of the use of the education technology. There is a great rural urban divide in the access to education technology and digitisation due to lack of rural electrification.

Various studies have shown the negative impact of lack of electricity on education.
  • A study of the use of ICT in Tanzania by the Dar es Salaam University College of Education (DUCE) suggests that since electricity reaches only 13% of the population with frequent power cuts, teachers are much unmotivated to use ICT in the classroom or even to digitize the school by use of computers for administration. 
  • An article in The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning about providing distance education to students using the web and technology in Uganda, confirmed that deprivation of electricity was one of the primary reasons for the failure of the project. Uganda is a landlocked country; therefore obtaining fuel for electricity is expensive. To add to it, access to electricity is declining at a rate of 0.4% in 2008.

The development of the ICT infrastructure in a country is dependent on the availability of a reliable electricity supply.

Electricity penetration in India 

Statistics regarding power penetration in India are rather dismal. An article in the Times of India states that 11 lakh household in India have no electricity, or any other power source to even light their homes. While electrification of urban areas was almost complete with 93% of urban people having access to electricity, just over half of rural India has electricity access, an increase of just 12% since 2001.

The National Electricity Policy targeted 1000 kWH per capita of consumption by 2012, but we have so far achieved a 474 kWH capacity, a dismal number when compared to Iceland’s 37147 kWH per capita, the highest in the world. The Central Electricity Agency has reported a 8.5% deficit of electricity in the county.  However the real shortage is said to be even more than the stated figures.

Below we present state wise electricity shortfall data, indicating deficit in supply –

Impact on the Learn, Out of the Box Project

The WebBox as a device is battery powered and therefore can be charged before use, but it must be connected to a Television or a Projector, both of which require constant electric supply. We have faced several delays in launch due to electricity cuts. Our schools in Assam faced severe electricity cuts in the Monsoon due to flooding; this was also experienced in our Nagpur school. As we move forward towards rural penetration, access to electricity has become one of our prime concerns for the success of the project.

Possible Solutions

One great solution is the portable palm sized battery operated projector developed by Toshiba Digital Products Division to play audio visual content in schools in remote areas. This device is developed especially for on the move businessmen who are required to make presentations.
Technology working on chemical batteries is the most reliable in bridging the access gap to education technology between people who have electricity and those who don’t. But the major shortcoming of this is the limited capacity of the battery, which must be replaced or recharged periodically. But this too reduces dependence of electricity in the classroom, so that these devices are not affected by power cuts during school hours as it can be charged and prepared before hand when electricity is available.

A company - Advanced Media, Inc. - has developed a solar powered charger to charge rechargeable battery operated devices. If such a charger could be made available at a low price, it would prove to be a boon to the advancement of educational technology to deprived pockets.
The best solution to this problem is to develop devices that run with in-built mechanisms to generate power, such as solar power devices that entrap sunlight and generate power as they go. The availability of such devices is limited as development of such devices is expensive. In such a case, the way forward to inclusive use of educational technology would encompass the need to bridge the electricity access gap.

Examples of Initiatives using Solar
  • A great initiative in this front is taken by Samsung, who has established a solar powered internet school in South Africa as part of its CSR.  Solar Powered Internet School has solar panels on the roof that can generate nine hours of electricity a day. That power's needed to juice the electronics inside - a 50-inch electronic board, Samsung Internet-enabled solar-powered notebooks, Samsung Galaxy tablets, and Wi-Fi cameras. The school can fit up to 21 students at a time. Maendeleo Foundation initiated a project in 2008 in Uganda called the Mobile Solar Computer  Classroom (MSCC), which introduced computers to local schools, many of which have no electricity.

The generation of electricity through alternative sources such as solar energy and wind can facilitate wider inclusion of students in ICT education and greatly reduce the rural urban power divide. Government policy should focus on developing sustainable sources of energy while ICT designers should focus on developing technology that do not require direct supply of electricity and consume low power.