Friday, October 16, 2009

How to improve education in India: a proposal

1. Making Internet Access a Legal Right in India
This week, Finland passed a law that made 1Mb Broadband Access a legal right. In the United Kingdom, Martha Lane Fox, a successful Internet entrepreneur of fame has been chosen to head a 'Digital Inclusion' project of the U.K. government. Her mandate is to make
sure that the 4 million "socially excluded" UK citizens falling behind in areas such as health, education, income and housing get help to use the Internet to improve their lives.

They want to enable the socially excluded people make informed decisions using the Internet - help them use comparison shopping online for "energy [purchases], insurance, clothing and package holidays".

Miss Fox estimates that through comparison shopping on the internet, each household might save £560, the lowest-income household saving £300 annually.

Now you might ask whether internet access is only about internet shopping and saving money, and you are right.

In a developing country, Internet access is about access to two extremely important things,

A. Quality Education: (more on that below.)
B. Quality news: access to more news means access to more sides of every story and figuring out the spin put out by government, big business and vested interests.

By some estimates, the government spends Rs. 4500 per children per year on education. Out of that we can allot Rs. 1200 (@100/month) for Internet access.

We can't match the Scandinavian countries for the quality of mobile and internet reach. A 1 mb/month connection costs Rs. 1200 in Delhi. A commercial 256 kbps connection costs Rs. 500 in the cities [with download caps] Considering the number of students in this country of 1 billion +, we can do some workaround the maths, add some government help, and make sure we are able to connect every school and library in this country. You can also cut down on internet costs by capping downloads, synchronizing off line content with cloud etc.

2. Solve the education quality problem
I think that in India Universal internet access is more important that universal primary education. By law, we might have made Universal education up till 14 years a right but we have not made the conditions for quality education services.

Until we have made service quality a right, this law is good on paper and for providing lifelong employment to the untrained, undisciplined people in name of education.

Once we have internet access for everyone, we can get educators of repute, along with subject matter experts to set up a curated portal of quality educational content, across all disciplines and grades, sourcing content and links from, and not limited to Wikipedia, MIT OCW, and the Educational Channel on Youtube. Just Google and Curate, dammit.

On the device front, we can make sure the educational content is available, for example, battery of quizzes on mobile devices and low cost computing devices, such as the OLPC.

While we are discussing law making the issue of 'service quality', why don't we make it a legal requirement that all government-funded educational institutions video record all their lectures and post them online, on the above mentioned curated website, or to any of the big web 2.o services such as, along with lectures notes and study material - this includes the IIM, IIT too.

I want the caste system in India's education system to end. If a privately funded MIT can put all its content online, free for all, why can't our IITs and IIMs?

By making some useful tinkering with the law, through some generous and creative use of public moneys, and by combining low cost technologies with quality (and free) information, we might be able to improve the educational level of India.

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Why Digg needs editors - Part 2

I still think Digg would be a better resource for all of us who are looking for 'news with the context'/the big picture.

I found the above image 'If Digg were a newspaper' on the Shortformblog blog.

Yes, Digg needs editors. Editors to curate what goes on to topic-specific front pages. The traffic is huge, the comments are getting better and at times they inform me on issues I previously knew little about.

In case of some topics, Digg is approaching Slashdot like quality, but then we have to remember that Slashdot has moderation, while Digg has stupid bury brigades. If you want to deal with spammers, trolls, duplicate content, do it properly and openly, not firing from free-ranging cabals.

BTW, did you know the New York Times has a whole department moderating the comments?

Related stories about Digg on this blog

Digg in print?
Creating a Digg about Diggs
Loving Digg, why?
Getting on top of Digg is out, becoming a top digger is in

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UGC 1 Politicians 0: The unstoppable rise of the citizen's voice

Everyone a reporter now. The rise of user-generated content on the internet and mobiles is forcing politicians to the proverbial wall, making them do more stupid things, as in the case of African countries of Namibia and Botswana where politicians are hitting back at citizen reporters with Medieval/Soviet tactics.

Rattled by the loss of control over information (actually, the flow of it), politicians have reduced to leveling charges of racism in case of an editor in Namibia, and in Botswana they have passed laws making it mandatory for journalists and bloggers to register themselves with the government.

In this mighty age of user-generated content, will they require the whole country to register themselves?

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Khabar Lahariya: How a local print newspaper still makes a difference

The Columbia Journalism Review has this beautiful, inspiring story about a local print, biweekly newspaper called 'Khabar Lahariya' ('The Wave of News' in English) in the local bundeli language, staffed by 20 local women, who are either high school or college grads and freshers.

Started some seven years ago, Khabar Lehariya has a circulation of 35,000 and sells for two rupees (four cents, roughly the cost of a cup of tea in Bundelkhand, a hot and dry region in central India, famous for its bandits, harsh landscapes (think of Robert Rodriguez's Mexico movies), the place where Lord Rama lived and most importantly, for rains that almost always disappoint.

Focus of coverage: To cover all "local issues", all that the main press ignores - untouchability, dominance of upper castes, banditry, women's rights education, governance (rather, the lack of it) is an endless list of problems in India's heartlands, mercifully untouched by the malls.

A paper like this might do great with help of cheap technology like mobiles, for example, for filing voice and SMS-based reports.

How much will take for similar local village journalism initiatives to bloom in 600-odd districts throughout India?
At 20 reporters per district, Rs. 5000 ($100) per month, that comes to $24,000/year per district and $14,4000,00/year ($14.4 million) for whole of India. That is what I have in mind. At the current budget for the completely unnecessary Commonwealth Games, we could have funded this 'non-profit local news across India' initiative for 50 years, at least, give or take another 50 years.

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The best SEO/SMM tip ever

"Make something great. Tell people about it. Do it again."
Nothing can be more simple (and demanding).

So, why pay for SEO when you can get it for free?

In an article titled 'Spammers, Evildoers, and Opportunists', Derek Powazek zips through the SEO industry and offers the aforementioned piece of priceless online marketing wisdom.

Why pay for common and obvious pieces of SEO advice?

Derek says,
Look under the hood of any SEO plan and you'll find advice like this: make sure to use keywords in the headline, use proper formatting, provide summaries of the content, include links to relevant information. All of this is a good idea, and none of it is a secret. It's so obvious, anyone who pays for it is a fool.

Google is actually waiting for you to find loopholes in the search algorithm

Occasionally a darkside SEO master may find some loophole in the Google algorithm to exploit, which might actually lead to an increase in traffic. But that ill-gotten traffic gain won't last long. Google changes the way it ranks its index monthly (if not more), so even if some SEO technique worked, and usually they don't, it'll last for a couple weeks, tops.

Folks, isn't that also the best SMM tip ever?

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