While assisting a class 10 child studying in an IB School, I learned that his school does not have textbooks. Notebooks are used only for Science, Maths, and Art. Kids carry iPads/Laptops and mobile phones to school. Free wifi is provided. Students borrow type-C and HDMI cables instead of sharpeners and erasers. Assignments are submitted and evaluated online. As teaching methods have evolved, so have methods used while copying during exams. Kids use Discord and email to discuss answers. However, the School has a faculty expert in coding who caught these kids assisting each other on Discord. The next step was to find and use a platform where you may not get caught. Kids even used PUBG to connect during exams.

During the pandemic, even college students have used different methods to cheat. There are blogs where students discuss different ways to copy from each other. People are even paying to have exams written on their behalf.

The child I was acquainted with from an IB school googles anything he is not aware of. From concepts to memes to passion projects. A passion project is an activity in the school where a student works on his interest and presents his progress quarterly to his peers. Since there are no textbooks, an assignment is given online and students are asked to research the same. Relevant links are provided to find the data. However, one cannot simply copy and paste the data found on these links. Naturally, students prefer to find other websites to get the job done. Rather than relevant content, students are more afraid of plagiarism. There are numerous ways to find out if the text is copied or typed letter by letter. Students are trying to find out ways to avoid getting caught after pasting from other websites.

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‘Don’t ask questions you can Google’ is a common thing you hear now.

All this has made the use of Google or any search engine increase significantly. The internet provides the opportunity to learn anything from scratch, up to advanced levels free of cost – anytime, anyplace at one’s own comfort and pace. All you need is a phone and the internet. Both have become significantly cheaper in the past few years, thanks to Jio and Chinese phone companies. While Apple and Samsung bring out the best phones after tons of research, there are companies that try to replicate the phones and provide the same tech to the masses. You get 90% of the features at almost one-fifth the price.

All these make accessibility to information extremely easy. Gone are the days when it was common to buy a book for INR 100 at a bookstall. If the condition is average, you would bargain till INR 75. Just like any torrent movie, you can now find any book on the internet. For free. It can teach you anything from how to tie a tie to how to mine a cryptocurrency. All these give an advantage to those who have a phone and internet.

Children in tribal areas have just gained access to electricity a few years back. Phones and internet seem a long way away, but they will definitely bridge the gap to learning in the coming years.

While learning by working in a rural area, I have been thinking about the best thing I can teach to anyone who wants to learn, which will prove to be relevant for a long time. I believe that it’s ‘How to use Google’.

You get answers from Google Translate, YouTube videos teaching English, great colleges to study in and best practices in agriculture. Most importantly, the goal is to show the people that relevant content is available in their own language produced by a person from their own area. There are channels dedicated to farming in the context of Odisha.

One can easily access courses taught at Harvard and Yale for free on the internet. Most of the hobbies you took up in your childhood were from watching others do it or by reading about it. These days, the algorithms of social media platforms are shaping hobbies. Kids want to dress like TikTok stars and make videos. But you can also find a random person from BITS Goa educating the masses on how to pick up in-demand skills like copywriting, video editing, social media management and use them to pay their tuition fees. You can find a newsletter from an ex-Wall street banker on the future of fiat currency and how to clear any investment banking interview for a job without any prior knowledge.

From my work place in a tribal village of Odisha

There is never a lack of opportunity or resources to learn, there is only a lack of interest.

The Internet will certainly bridge the gap in the coming decades and make the above statement true. Just like people are working in Silicon Valley while sitting in an apartment in India, the internet will generate employment opportunities in rural areas. More businesses will emerge to serve rural communities. Finding a mobile phone and an internet connection in each house is becoming more and more common. 90% of the work can be done on a mobile phone these days. Expensive laptops are not required.

The question then is, how do you make the internet accessible, and more importantly how you explain and teach these skills. How can you educate with the resources communities already have? It can also be countered that school-going children do not have a mobile phone and by the time they get one, they are already out of the education system and are working. A lot of questions can be asked on whether a school-going child should be handed a phone. More and more time is spent on phones these days instead of playing outside.

Imagine that your favourite subject is Mathematics. You love your teacher for the interest that has been created in the subject for you. Ultimately, you score good grades and are keen to learn. A new teacher arrives and it kills your interest and you are stuck with them. I remember this incident from my own schooling experience. The new teacher had told me to not ask questions outside the book.

Imagine the best teacher of each subject teaching children in their local language throughout the country/area where the language is relevant. And the school teacher can elaborate on the concept, some more skills, explain real-life examples, help with questions. Can one of the two teachers in a rural area be replaced by a laptop, projector, or a speaker?

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