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Cover Story Part I

25 Wonder Products and Services Transforming Indian Education

I
t’s painfully apparent that post-independence India’s governments at the Centre and in the states have miserably failed to fulfill their constitutional obligation to provide quality, meaningful education to every child born after the nation’s midnight tryst with destiny. But within the groves of academia and the drawing rooms of the intelligentsia there’s rising expectation that new wonder information technology (IT) and internet-driven technologies may succeed where governments have failed.

Suddenly students and classrooms across the sub-continent have been jolted into wakefulness by lessons explained through electronically projected audio-visual graphics stored on compact discs; lectures delivered by Indian academia’s most respected professors becoming available through distance learning technologies, and interactive private tuition provided over the internet at a fraction of fees chargeable by traditional one-on-one private tutors.

Other new technology driven innovations are also revolutionising teaching-learning environments in schools and institutions of higher learning countrywide. They include ergonomically designed classroom furniture, world class lessons available on compact discs, interactive electronic smart boards, fully updated encyclopedias, PC-compatible audio-visual projectors, revolutionary writing instruments, audio-visual textbooks and standardised, high-nutrition meals delivered by outsourced specialist agencies.

Twenty-five of the new wonder products and services which have mind-bending potential to transform Indian education across the spectrum by creating novel 21st century learning environments, are profiled in this first-of-its-type feature compiled by EducationWorld correspondents across the country.

Integrated multiple technologies marvel

Since it was first introduced into the Indian education market in 2004, the K-Yan Community Computer has sold over 1,300 units countrywide. Buyers — including schools and colleges — have used this wonder product to deliver multi-media enabled education to thousands of students. Designed and developed for IL&FS-ETS (Education and Technology Services) — the education division of the Mumbai-based infrastructure construction behemoth IL&FS (Infrastructure Leasing & Financial Services) — by IIT-Bombay’s Industrial Design Centre, K-Yan is an innovative integrated multiple technologies marvel offering the features of a high-end computer, screen projector, television, DVD/ CD player and internet surfer, all rolled into one compact portable unit.

"K-Yan was primarily designed as a group-learning device for classroom settings. Since it’s difficult for teachers to project a lesson to a typical classroom of 40-50 students using a personal computer with a standard 21 inch monitor, an IIT-Bombay team designed K-Yan as a PC with an in-built projector which allows teachers to beam large images and lesson plans on a classroom wall or screen. Moreover in schools and community learning centres in rural India where power supply is erratic or unavailable, K-Yan can be powered through a solar panel, UPS or even a car battery," says Neena Paul, the Bangalore-based regional head of IL&FS Education Technology Services.

Powered by Intel Pentium 4, 3 GHz CPU with 512 MB memory, this versatile invention offers a CD writer, LCD projector, internet surfing, video conferencing and audio visual capabilities within a single unit with 160 GB data storage facility. Its built-in projection system can magnify computer terminal images to the size of 300 proportionally adjusted inches.

Not surprisingly this easy-to-use compact wonder product (Rs.1.13-1.28 lakh) has been enthusiastically welcomed by teachers and is currently operational in an estimated 250 schools countrywide. "K-Yan has enabled teachers to deliver audio-visual lessons in their classrooms which has radically improved comprehension and learning outcomes. Moreover teachers can use any education DVD/VCD available in the market or create their own explanatory material which students can absorb at their own pace. With the introduction of K-Yan in our classrooms, the teaching-learning process has become much more interactive and interesting," testifies Gita Venkatesh, head of V.V.S. Gandhi Centenary School, Bangalore.

In addition to the technology wonder that is K-Yan, IL&FS-ETS has also developed multimedia content — over 3,800 lessons — in subjects such as science, maths and social sciences. Stimulating, animated, and audio-visual, the lessons recorded on CD-ROMs map CISCE, CBSE, and several state board curriculums. "These kindergarten-class X lessons developed by expert teams of teachers and educators, use a variety of simulation, animation, audio-video and graphic elements to explain prescribed texts to students. They follow the curriculum and most important, are India specific. Each subject on CD-ROM is priced at a mere Rs.60 and enables every student with access to a home computer or cyber café to replicate the classroom lesson in her own time," says Paul.

Little wonder that in the hundreds of schools countrywide which use IL&FS-ETS’ products, learning outcomes are improving dramatically .

Touch-sensitive whiteboard

Although an estimated 120,000 of india’s 1.1 million schools lack even the simple and primitive blackboard, paradoxically a growing number of the country’s 10,000 private sector high-end schools are switching to the revolutionary Smart Board.

Launched in India in early 2006 by Calgary (Canada)-based SMART Technologies Inc (annual sales: US$ 300 million), the Smart Board is an innovative computer-driven interactive whiteboard which is revolutionising the teaching-learning process in a minority of India’s classrooms.

The Smart Board is a whiteboard, the size of a traditional blackboard. Connected to a computer and projector, the interactive whiteboard is in effect a giant touch-sensitive computer monitor. Using a finger or pen as the mouse, teachers and students can navigate any software program (MS Word, PowerPoint, Excel, etc), including the internet, CD-ROMs and DVDs projected on the electronic screen/monitor. They can also overwrite applications in digital ink, and save their work for future study and review. Moreover teachers/students have access to specially designed Smart Board software featuring a gallery of over 5,000 images and templates, including music scores, clocks, maps, sports fields, solar systems, shapes and protractors, and other visual aids to embellish and illustrate lessons and concepts.

"The interactive Smart Board was invented by my husband David Martin in 1991," says Nancy L. Knowlton, president and co-chief executive of SMART Technologies. "The greatest advantage of the Smart Board is that any student can take the lead to write, draw, annotate, mark, etc on the whiteboard. This opens up exciting possibilities for exploratory learning for children," adds Knowlton.

Currently more than 250,000 classrooms worldwide are equipped with Smart interactive whiteboards. In India, over 70 upscale schools use this wonder whiteboard in their classrooms. Among them: Lotus Valley International School, Tagore International School, British School, Delhi; Queen’s Mary School, Don Bosco School, Mumbai; and Carmel High School, Indus International School, Military School, Bangalore, among others.

Priced between Rs.89,250-2.67 lakh, the Smart Board is available in four sizes — 48", 64", 77", 94" .

One-stop mini library

A conspicuous lacuna of education institutions in contemporary India across the spectrum is lack of library and research culture. For schools and colleges intent upon developing their libraries, a good starting point would be investment in the much venerated Encyclopædia Britannica.

First printed and published in 1768, this oldest encyclopedia in global history continues to be unmatched for accuracy and authenticity 230 years on. The fully updated and revised encyclopædia britannica 2007 print set is a marvel with over 1,100 new and updated entries, 65,000 articles, 24,000 selected photos, maps, and illustrations and boasts 4,000 contributors including several Nobel laureates. The full set comprises 32 exquisite leather-bound volumes organised into three sections for easy navigation — the Micropædia which provides quick basic information; the Macropædia which provides detailed information on complex subjects and topics, and the Propædia which helps readers plan step-by-step study of any subject.

"No other encyclopedia or reference book has taken as much effort or as much investment — $56 million (Rs.264 crore) — as Encyclopædia Britannica. The essays included are written by 4,000 carefully selected subject experts drawn from over 100 countries. Little wonder EB is the single largest knowledge resource in the English language," says Neeraj Rawat, the Delhi-based assistant marketing manager of Encyclopædia Britannica India, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Chicago-based Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

Priced at Rs.55,000, the 32 volume 2007 Print Set has sold "tens of thousands of sets" worldwide, including India. Given its unsurpassed utility as an accurate and reliable reference guide, it’s unsurprising that progressive schools are EB India’s prime customers.

"Encyclopædia Britannica is an excellent reference guide for students and teachers as it provides easily accessible information on almost every subject. Moreover the 32 volumes are really well organised and well-written, making it easy for even junior school students to navigate," says Valli Arunachalam, principal of Padma Seshadri Bal Bhavan Senior Secondary School, Chennai in a ringing endorsement of this one-stop mini library .

Unique curriculum mapping program

I
nvented, developed and marketed by Rubicon International, an Oregon (US)-based education technology services firm, Atlas Curriculum Mapping is a unique, user-friendly school curriculum management program. This internet-based computer program allows teachers to access their K-XII school curriculum wherever they have access to an internet connection and web browser. The program helps schools do curriculum mapping — the process of collating and recording the taught curriculum of each grade, pedagogies employed, and assessments for each subject in every classroom. Once the curriculum is recorded, teachers can ‘map’ the progress of the class and of each student against it and identify their weaknesses, and gaps in knowledge.

Although the concept of curriculum mapping is new to Indian school education, it is widely used in K-XII schools in the US, Canada, Britain and Australia. The Atlas system is inspired by the acclaimed curriculum mapping methodology developed by Dr. Heidi Hayes Jacobs, a well-known US-based education consultant and curriculum designer. The system facilitates the seven phases of curriculum mapping outlined in Jacobs’ book, Mapping the Big Picture: Integrating Curriculum & Assessment K-12.

The most distinguishing feature of this wonder program first introduced in US schools in 1999, is that it can be customised to meet the curriculum needs of each school. "We customise every Atlas system because each school’s curriculum is unique to its combination of students, teachers and local culture. Teachers can record the entire curriculum of a class, divide it into planned units of instruction and enrich lessons by attaching documents, website links and pictures. As teachers record their progress in Atlas, school managements can monitor each student’s knowledge and skills learning," says Ben Zang, senior consultant, Rubicon Interna-tional, which offers its client schools extensive hands-on teacher training on how to use the Atlas curriculum mapping system. According to Zang, feedback on the Atlas system indicates that it "has completely revolutionised the way schools record, implement and upgrade their curriculums".

Currently "thousands of schools" in over 80 countries, including "a small and growing number of IB, IGCSE, CISCE and CBSE schools in India," use the Atlas program priced between Rs.60,000-3 lakh.

Among the schools in India which have invested in the Atlas system is the Bangalore International School (BIS). "The USP (unique selling proposition) of Atlas is that it is easy-to-use and internet-based. This means that the teacher is not constrained to work only from school; she can upload, review and update curriculum lessons from home or anywhere else. Using Atlas in BIS has helped foster collaboration and peer review among teachers, enabled the school management to monitor the content being delivered in classrooms across all classes and allows teachers to track learners’ progress," says Anu Monga, principal of BIS .

Alphabet learning made easy

To provide high quality learning material which will stimulate the reading habit in children, the Chennai-based children’s book publishing company Scholastic India Pvt Ltd (estb. 1997) will be launching its Alpha Tales Series in June through the company’s book club which is operational in 3,500 schools across the country. Designed to creatively teach the A-Z alphabet to pre-school and nursery children, the Alpha Tales series devotes a 16-page illustrated story-booklet to each letter of the English language alphabet.

Clever alliterations and 26 short, absorbing, graphically illustrated stories stimulate young readers to develop early reading skills. In every booklet, children are introduced to an animal character whose name starts with the chosen alphabet. For instance the sixth story booklet features the adventures of Fifi the Ferret and the 18th booklet of Olive the Octopus. The alphabet mascot familiarises children with every alphabet through an entertaining story, alphabet activities, an easy-to-learn rhyming poem, a hide-and-seek picture page and helpful reading tips. The complete Alpha Tales series of 26 story booklets is yet to be priced.

"The objective of the Alpha Tales series is to make learning the English language alphabet a fun-filled and memorable experience for all children, including late starters. Since the Alpha Tales series highlights each alphabet with pictures, stories, rhymes and activities, learning becomes entertaining for children. Scholastic India’s mission is to make reading, beyond school texts, enjoyable for children and hence every product designed by us has high production values and is infused with illustrations and creativity," says Sayoni Basu, publishing director of the company which publishes around 100 titles annually and also reprints selected titles under licence from Scholastic UK and USA .

Revolutionary adult literacy programme

Given the national preoccupation with reaping India’s demographic dividend — contemporary India hosts the world’s largest child population of 450 million children below 18 years of age — the inconvenient problem of educating the country’s estimated 200 million adult illiterates has typically been swept under a very suspiciously bulging carpet. In 1999 the Mumbai-based Tata Consultancy Services Ltd — India’s largest IT enabled services and consulting company (sales revenue: Rs.18,633 crore in fiscal 2006-07), constituted a small task force headed by Faqir Chand Kohli, its deputy chairman, to devise a quick-fix adult literacy programme to transform the country’s huge pool of adult illiterates into productive, self-supporting citizens.

Within a year, the TCS task force designed a revolutionary Computer-Based Functional Literacy (CBFL) Programme which has the proven potential to transform a comprehensive illiterate learning with a standard personal computer, into a newspaper reading adult with acceptable comprehension of news reports following a mere 40 hours of computer aided learning.

"Wide scale adoption of a cognitive approach to learning — making the connection between spoken and written words on a multimedia terminal or screen — would enable an illiterate adult to develop a vocabulary of 400-500 words, which is sufficient to read and comprehend a daily newspaper, within a period of 40 hours spread over eight-ten weeks. In early 2000 we ran a pilot project in the Medak district of Andhra Pradesh for 25 completely illiterate women who started reading within eight-ten weeks," Kohli informed EducationWorld which ran an enthusiastic six page cover story in July 2003 heralding this great breakthrough technology.

Unfortunately EW’s enthusiasm about the high potential of CBFL was neither shared by the media nor the indifferent public. Subsequently national rollout of the programme was mired in typical problems for which India is infamous. First, despite Kohli’s high standing as the founding father of India’s $40 billion (Rs.160,000 crore) software services industry, a personal appeal to captains of Indian industry for donation of used computers to action CBFL, went unheeded. Inevitably Kohli’s appeal to US industry drew a better response. But the Union government’s customs department refused to permit duty free import of donated computers even though they were for a charitable purpose. After considerable lobbying in New Delhi, at the fag end of the BJP-led NDA government’s term (2004), the then Union minister for disinvestment and former crusader journalist Arun Shourie persuaded the Union cabinet to pass an ordinance permitting duty free import of used computers for the CBFL programme. However after that the project has been stymied by the unwillingness of the UPA government at the Centre to undertake the nationwide distribution of donated computers.

Consequently seven years on, a mere 1.02 lakh adult illiterates in seven states of the Indian Union have crossed the literacy threshold (in their native languages), mainly due the efforts of TCS. However now with the Union government’s National Literacy Mission programme having acknowledged the utility of ICT (information communi-cation technologies) in the Eleventh Plan (2007-12) and the Chennai-based M.S. Swaminathan Research Founda-tion (MSSRF) having committed itself to installing the CBFL programme in all its proposed 100,000 Village Knowledge Centres, fresh buds of hope have sprouted within TCS. "The hurdle is not technology or software, but availability of computers and the power supply to run them. Our partnership with MSSRF is a great step forward in addressing this monumental nation-building task," says Pankaj Baliga, vice president and head global CSR (corporate social responsibility) of TCS .

Private tuition online

Rising teacher-pupil ratios in classrooms and falling teaching standards have made supplementary private tuition a necessary adjunct of school education for most middle class children, especially in high and higher secondary schools which culminate in stiff and highly competitive board and college entrance exams. But growing demand for private tuition has resulted in the fees charged by private tutors rising steeply. For instance in Mumbai maths and science teachers charge up to Rs.500 per hour for supplementary private tuition.

For middle class parents and students struggling to pay for private tuition, TutorVista, a Bangalore-based company which received widespread press and television plaudits in the US late last year for successfully providing online one-on-one tuition in physics, chemistry, maths and English to over 2,000 students in the US and 200 in the UK, has good news. On April 16, Tutor Vista formally launched its online tutoring service for Indian school students with the inauguration of www.tutorvista.co.in.

Initially restricted to students following the CBSE and ICSE curriculums in classes VI-X, the company offers eight one-hour tuition sessions to online groups of five students (followed by two sessions of one-on-one tutoring) delivered by carefully selected proven teachers (operating online from their homes). The price: Rs.499 per capita per month per subject for classes VI-VIII and Rs.999 per month for students in classes IX and X.

According to company spokespersons, TutorVista has invested heavily in technology platforms to provide students with a good customer experience. The use of Web 2.0 provides a collaborative environment for tutoring sessions. Tutors use whiteboard, chat, voice-chat and application sharing mechanisms to teach. Students can log into the TutorVista portal and schedule their sessions online. Moreover teaching sessions are monitored at all times and necessary fail-over mechanisms have been put in place so that they are unhindered.

"The success of our interactive online private tutoring service for offshore students prompted us to make this natural diversification to tap the massive domestic market estimated at 200 million students. Now we offer students anywhere in India access to the country’s best tutors, competitive pricing and convenient home-based learning accompanied by continuous learning assessment reports to parents. In short we offer the smarter, contemporary and convenient way to better grades," says K.Ganesh, a successful serial entrepreneur (Customer Asset, IT&T) and promoter-CEO of TutorVista
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Enduring wonder

Invented nearly 2,000 years ago in China, Korea and Japan as a device for learning mathematics and calculation, the ancient Abacus methodology of learning maths and calculus has evolved and spread worldwide and is particularly popular in India. The essence of this pedagogy is that initial use of the physical abacus for learning calculus becomes redundant after sometime as students start visualising the abacus and computing mentally. Hence the abacus method of computation is technically known as ‘mental arithmetic by image of abacus’. In the latter half of the 20th century, the abacus method of learning maths proved very effective in improving the maths abilities of millions of children around the world.

"The abacus helps children to compute with accuracy and speed. It is used to convert abstract numbers into concrete forms or images. Such conversion helps children compute with ease and also grasp the process. Computing by visualisation of the abacus helps children to calculate at a speed and accuracy that is five times faster than any other form of mental arithmetic," says Basheer Ahamed, chief managing director of the Chennai-based UC MAS Mental Arithmetic (estb. 1999) proclaimed as India’s largest abacus training company. Currently UC MAS has franchised 1,300 learning centres in 25 states of the Indian Union. In UC MAS centres across the country 160,000 students who typically pay supplementary maths learning tuition fees of Rs.450 per month, are being instructed by 2,500 teachers.

According to Ahamed, product upgradation and modification has not been found necessary in the abacus, except for minor modifications in product material composition.
Quite obviously the newly-revived ancient abacus maths learning pedagogy works. Currently an estimated 30 maths tutoring firms across India have over 1 million students learning numeracy skills the abacus way
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Fully-wired classrooms

Although new ICT (information communication technologies) aided teaching-learning is a fashionable status symbol in Indian education, most schools including top-rung private sector institutions are unaware of how to effectively integrate technology into their classrooms. While most schools invest in a central computer learning centre, they rarely employ computer technologies to improve the daily teaching-learning process.

Therefore for institutional managements keen on fully integrating ICT into the teaching-learning process, the Delhi-based Educomp Solutions Ltd (etsb.1994), a computer-aided learning solutions company (annual sales revenue Rs. 60 crore) has invented SmartClass — a fully wired and equipped classroom.

A SmartClass is a paperless classroom, equipped with Educomp provided hardware (computers, servers), digitised content mapped to the school curriculum, internet connectivity and large display monitors. Therefore in a client school display systems (large sized monitors) in tamper-proof custom-designed casing, are installed in each classroom. These display monitors are connected with the personal computer of teachers in every class. The teacher’s PC in turn is connected to a central Knowledge Centre based in the school. The Knowledge Centre houses a library of digitised content developed and customised by Educomp in accordance with the school curriculum. Class and subject specific content is broadcast from the Knowledge Centre to Educomp Technology Enabled Classrooms (ETECs) throughout the school.

To help teachers create and utilise digital resources, the SmartClass package includes a full-time resource coordinator in every subscriber institution.

Educomp, which has offices in 12 cities, has ambitious plans to help schools, especially in small towns, enter the digital learning age by offering them superior content, hardware and software solutions, and internet technology. "Currently more than 300 schools use our SmartClass technology and we expect to reach 1,000 schools in this fiscal year," says Rajesh Bhardwaj, the Delhi-based marketing manager of Educomp. "We estimate research equivalent to 200-man years has gone into building a digitised database of over 8,000 multi-media lessons," adds Bhardwaj.

The price of SmartClass is calculated on per student basis and varies with aggregate enrollment. "Our prices are affordable and range between Rs.100 to 200 per student," says Bhardwaj.

With PC penetration in schools improving dramatically, a fully- integrated education technology solution typified by SmartClass, will undoubtedly improve student concentration and learning outcomes.

Moreover under the brand name Learning Hour (formerly Mentoraide), Educomp offers online one-on-one tuition in physics, chemistry, biology, maths and accounts to students of classes VI-XII. In addition online tuitions are also offered to students preparing to write the IIT-JEE, SAT and other public entrance examinations .

R2D is here

One of the newest innovations to hit school classrooms in Afro-Asia in particular is the Intelligent Educational Robot (IER). This gadget of Chinese origin, helps children develop English language reading and speaking skills. The robot can comprehend a limited number of pre-loaded English language voice commands and respond in standard American or British accents. The robot can also be equipped with preloaded teaching material of primary to high school level. Once loaded the robot articulates selected paragraphs with the child/children following a matching print textbook.

The robot can be programmed for three levels of users: primary, middle and high school children. The primary level programme helps children learn the English alphabet, numbers and simple words. The middle level programme helps children learn to recite short stories and complex sentences. For high schoolers teachers can load computer usage instructions and language learning lessons.

A wide array of resources in the form of English language essays, ancient and modern poetry, short stories and other lessons suitable for students of every grade can be loaded into the IER.

Priced at a modest Rs.14,000, this amazing educational robot developed in Guangzhou province, China in 2003 (distributed in India by Education Resources, Jaipur) has been purchased by 300 private sector schools in India .

Satellite technology distance education

Decades of neglect of primary, secondary and tertiary education has resulted in an acute capacity and infrastructure crunch compounded by an accentuating shortage of well qualified faculty, especially in institutions of higher education. Currently only 9 million students who constitute a mere 10 percent (cf. 80 percent in the US and 50 percent in the UK) of youth in the age group of 17-24, are admitted into institutions of tertiary education countrywide. Confronted with a massive nationwide education deficit and capacity shortages, informed educationists are increasingly looking to new information communication technologies (ICT) to deliver high quality distance education to students in widely disseminated special learning centres and in their homes.

A prime mover in harnessing the new 21st century ICT to deliver high quality professional (IT, business management, hospitality, mass communication and other disciplines) distance education, is the Manipal and Bangalore-based Manipal Education Group (MEG). Currently MEG delivers distance education to 70,000 students in IT, business management, commerce, fashion technology, biotech and seven other disciplines. These learning programmes are being offered through VSAT (satellite technology) which enables transmission of lectures delivered by renowned professors and educators sited in studios in Manipal, Bangalore and Mumbai to students in captive learning centres countrywide.

"This distance education arrangement enables students to follow lectures on their individual PCs through communication technology which facilitates complete interaction between students in learning centres and lecturers in our studios. Through utilisation of VSAT technology it has become possible to disseminate education provided by very high quality faculty across the country to students even in remote areas. Currently, VSAT technology infrastructure connects our three studios with 400 learning centres spread across 200 cities and towns in India making Manipal Education the largest VSAT-based education provider in Asia. Moreover recently Manipal Education has upgraded the technology so that students can log into the studios through the internet," says Anand Sudarshan, an alumnus of Regional Engineering College, Trichy and IIM- Calcutta and currently managing director and chief executive of MEG.

According to Sudarshan, MEG has invested over Rs.10 crore to operat-ionalise this technology which connects three specialised studios with its 400 customised learning centres with an aggregate enrollment of 70,000 students. Tuition fees which enable access to Manipal Education learning centres, range from Rs.20,000-30,000 per year .

Satellite technology distance education

Decades of neglect of primary, secondary and tertiary education has resulted in an acute capacity and infrastructure crunch compounded by an accentuating shortage of well qualified faculty, especially in institutions of higher education. Currently only 9 million students who constitute a mere 10 percent (cf. 80 percent in the US and 50 percent in the UK) of youth in the age group of 17-24, are admitted into institutions of tertiary education countrywide. Confronted with a massive nationwide education deficit and capacity shortages, informed educationists are increasingly looking to new information communication technologies (ICT) to deliver high quality distance education to students in widely disseminated special learning centres and in their homes.

A prime mover in harnessing the new 21st century ICT to deliver high quality professional (IT, business management, hospitality, mass communication and other disciplines) distance education, is the Manipal and Bangalore-based Manipal Education Group (MEG). Currently MEG delivers distance education to 70,000 students in IT, business management, commerce, fashion technology, biotech and seven other disciplines. These learning programmes are being offered through VSAT (satellite technology) which enables transmission of lectures delivered by renowned professors and educators sited in studios in Manipal, Bangalore and Mumbai to students in captive learning centres countrywide.

"This distance education arrangement enables students to follow lectures on their individual PCs through communication technology which facilitates complete interaction between students in learning centres and lecturers in our studios. Through utilisation of VSAT technology it has become possible to disseminate education provided by very high quality faculty across the country to students even in remote areas. Currently, VSAT technology infrastructure connects our three studios with 400 learning centres spread across 200 cities and towns in India making Manipal Education the largest VSAT-based education provider in Asia. Moreover recently Manipal Education has upgraded the technology so that students can log into the studios through the internet," says Anand Sudarshan, an alumnus of Regional Engineering College, Trichy and IIM- Calcutta and currently managing director and chief executive of MEG.

According to Sudarshan, MEG has invested over Rs.10 crore to operat-ionalise this technology which connects three specialised studios with its 400 customised learning centres with an aggregate enrollment of 70,000 students. Tuition fees which enable access to Manipal Education learning centres, range from Rs.20,000-30,000 per year .

Write your exam online!

Manipal Education Group (MEG) has also invested an estimated Rs.15 crore in establishing 18 state-of-the-art online examination centres across India. Christened Parkisha Online Centers, each centre is equipped with latest technology to conduct online entrance exams in a secure and user friendly manner.

"Currently school-leaver students are often obliged to write a plethora of competitive entrance exams for admission into institutions of professional and higher education. But sometimes college/university entrance exams are scheduled on the same date, forcing students to choose. Pariksha Online has been designed to offer students a broad time frame of 40 days during which they can write their exams online. To institutional managements Manipal offers complete security because students writing entrance exams in Pariksha Online centres are photo-graphed, finger printed and use computers with security screens and web cams. To students we offer convenience, flexibility and instant scores after the exam," says B.N. Manohar, chief executive (education services) of MEG.

According to Manohar, the Pariksha Online system was successfully tested with 65,200 students who applied for admission into professional courses offered by Manipal Group institutions in 2007. "This is a neutral examination writing service which could be utilised by any university or groups of institutions such as the IITs and IIMs. We expect a growing number of educational institutions to start using it in the near future," adds Manohar .

Multi-purpose campus card

The Idenizen Smart Card is a multi-purpose microchip embedded identification-cum-transaction card for the use of faculty and students in education institutions. This wonder card has been developed by the Bangalore-based IDenizen Smartware Pvt Ltd (estb.1997) to reduce paperwork and speed up routine transactions in collegiate education. For instance the Idenizen Smart Card enables students and faculty to access institutional facilities such as libraries, pay and accounts offices, attendance registers, academic records, on-campus stores etc without identification or security clearances. Currently over 35,000 students and 6,500 faculty in 50 engineering colleges across Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala are equipped with IDenizen smart cards, first launched in April 2005.

The multipurpose Idenizen smart card is supported by a backend software program christened Smart Campus which automates several ‘pain areas’ of education administration such as attendance records, timetable prepar-ation, marks tabulation, etc. Smart Campus is also an ERP (enterprise resource planning) package comprising 17 modules which integrate all admin activities of education institutions starting from admission and fees to information consolidation.

The smart card works on the subscription model. For a one-time fee of Rs.400 a student subscriber is provided the smart card which remains active for the entire duration of the four year engineering degree course. Idenizen has been tested and proven in engineering colleges in peninsular India and is all set to be marketed to other institutions of education. "The Idenizen Smart Card is a great boon for institutional managements. I am now able to monitor all campus activities including staff attendance and student progress from my computer monitor. Every staff member swipes his Smart Card to record attendance, avail leave, communicate with management, access facilities etc. It has taken a great deal of pain out of institutional administration," says Prof. B. G. Sangameshwara, principal, Sri Jayachamarajendra College of Engineering, Mysore (Karnataka) .

Gourmet school meals

L
ike locally commissioned bespoke tailoring for school uniforms, school meals have traditionally been the preserve of learning-by-doing self-styled cooks who as several generations of boarding school graduates will willingly testify, infused students with life-long gastro-intestinal disorders. Now this long tradition has been broken by a Mumbai-based hospitality and associated services corporate, Radhakrishna Hospitality Services Pvt. Ltd (RKHS).

Currently RKHS provides comprehensive, on-site scientifically designed, high nutrition catering services to over 40 front-rank day and residential schools across the country. Among them: the American School of Bombay, Arya Vidya Mandir; Dhirubhai Ambani International School; Ecole Mondiale World School (Mumbai); Mahindra United World College, (Pune) and Whistling Woods International (Mumbai).

Promoted in 1966 as Radhakrishna & Co. by the late Radhakrishna Shete with ship chandling as its core business, RKHS entered the nutritional meals business in 1981 as caterer to an oil-rig owned by the public sector Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC). Today RKHS, managed by chairman Raju Shete and CEO Sunil Nayak, offers a multitude of outsourced services including food catering and hospitality services to 900 clients across 20 states countrywide.

"Client and customer satisfaction objectives drive us to deliver innovative solutions in a growing number of hospitality services. In 40 high-end schools across the country we have introduced innovative menus for students of various age groups to encourage healthy nutrition in attractive dining environments. Our highly trained chefs offer scientifically prepared gourmet meals according to menus drawn up by professional nutritionists for all students including those convalescing from illness," says Alok Bishnoi, an alumnus of the Institute of Hotel Management, Mumbai who served with Taj Mahal Hotel, Mumbai prior to taking charge as head of education services at RKHS in 2005
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Jolly alphabets learning pedagogy

A
lthough most educationists agree that the formative pre-school and nursery years are critical for children’s learning and development, in post-independence India pre-school and nursery education is an unregulated grey area. Therefore teachers and educators have considerable latitude to innovate and/or adapt early childhood learning programmes to give their pupils a headstart.

For pre-school promoters and teachers, Jolly Phonics, a phonetics-based early literacy programme introduced in India in 2003 by the Mumbai-based Brainstorm Solutions India Pvt Ltd, offers a revolutionary English language alphabets learning pedagogy. Researched and developed by Jolly Learning Ltd, an independent British company, Jolly Phonics has been adapted for Indian conditions and offers a multi-sensory learning programme in which the phonetic or phonic sound of each alphabet is linked to visuals and activities. This pedagogy enables children to memorise alphabets and makes the learning experience enjoyable.

"This is a fantastic pedagogy to teach the alphabet," says Marjorie Newbury, a UK-based teacher who teamed up in 2003 with Mumbai-based educator Harshita Sharma, promoter-director of Brainstrom Solutions, a company which markets education aids, learning programmes and reference material developed in the US, UK and Australia, in India. "The Jolly Phonics pedagogy enables teachers to teach four-five year olds the 42 sounds of the 26 letters of the English alphabet and how to blend them," she explains. "I introduced it into my classroom in the UK with incredible results. I now want to inform pre-school teachers around the world about this wonder programme," says Newbury.

In August 2005 Newbury and Sharma reached out to over 1,000 educators in five cities across India through workshops organised by them. "We received a great response to the Jolly Phonics program and a number of schools including the British School, Delhi; Symbiosis Nursery School, Pune; Delhi Public School, Mumbai, among others have adopted it," says Sharma who now trains teachers across Asia to employ the Jolly Phonics programme in their classrooms
.

Student friendly PC

A
corporate which is a model of enlightened self interest American style, is the US-based multi-billion dollar behemoth Intel Inc (annual sales: $30 billion) — the world’s largest computer microchips manufacturer. Heavily involved in global education particularly by way of the annual Intel International Science & Engineering Fair and Intel awards for innovation, super computer chips apart, this Seattle-based transnational has also ventured into the manufacture of highly inventive student-friendly computer hardware.

Last November it launched its Classmate PC — a small, portable learning assistant specially developed for students. This ruggedly built personal computer is a user-friendly, affordable, collaborative learning device. Developed to address gaps in education discerned by Intel’s extensive ethnographic research, the Classmate PC incorporates unique software and hardware features designed for daily use, supporting students’ needs through enhanced features such as handwriting recognition, internet connectivity, wireless networking etc.

Moreover this lightweight notebook-sized mini computer allows teachers to make presentations and monitor student access to the internet. The Classmate PC is available in two differing models: for students and for teachers/parents. The student model allows one-to-one student-teacher interaction and also serves as a communication medium between teachers and parents.

Unsurprisingly this ‘kid-proof’ lightweight (5.5 kg) laptop computer (price: Rs.25,000-35,000), which can run on Windows or the Linux operating systems, sharply reduces time and effort expended by teachers on routine administrative tasks like lesson preparation and monitoring attendance. "Our research people have taken great pains to make the Classmate PC, a durable, rugged, portable, user-friendly learning device incorporating all the basic software necessary for children. It stimulates learning through fun, peer collaboration and interaction, and information exchange. The day is not far when school children will replace heavy bags and textbooks with the Classmate PC," says a spokesperson of Intel India .

Everyday wonder product

Contrary to popular belief the humble and ubiquitous lead writing pencil invented in 1794 is not a low technology product. Certainly this belief is not shared in the modestly furbished Mumbai headquarters of Hindustan Pencils Ltd (HPL, estb. 1958) — India’s largest stationery manufacturing and marketing behemoth (estimated sales: Rs.300 crore in the year ended March 2007) — which produces 5.25 million pencils, 450,000 sharpeners, 1.2 million erasers and 120,000 measurement scales per day in its seven factories spread across the country.

"A pencil which introduces children to writing and graphics has to be very carefully manufactured and standardised. It should write smoothly with minimal pressure, not emanate gritty particles and should be sufficiently dark to make a good impression even on low quality paper. To fulfill these criteria, we manufacture 14 varieties of pencils ranging from HB (General) to our Apsara Platinum Extra Dark Pencil. We also have to ensure that the lead content is strong enough to resist frequent breakage and that the wood casing is soft enough to facilitate easy sharpening. In short, manufacture of world class pencils at affordable prices is a highly sophisticated process requiring high quality management, technology and machinery," explains C.V. Ramachandran a science alumnus of Kerala University who has been the quality assurance manager of HPL since 1989.

Proof that HPL manufactures globally accepted high quality pencils is provided by the company’s rising export revenue. In 2006-07 HPL’s export earnings were Rs.20 crore from a mix of clients in the UK, Turkey, the Middle East and Sri Lanka, and recently in the US.

"Quality issues apart, since a huge segment of our end users are children we have to ensure that all our products — pencils, erasers, sharpeners — are non-toxic and safe. Moreover since we use a lot of wood casing we only purchase wood from reafforestation projects to avoid environmental damage," says Ramachandran .

For more go to Cover Story Part II

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