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Ideas for India's education innovators

Posting in Education

Last week, I blogged on two stories in The Economist's print edition that analyzed the potential of India's technology startups. This week, I noticed that The Economist looked at the potential of another type of Indian startup: innovative private schools.

The Economist's Schumpeter columnist makes a good, although maybe not perfectly matched up, analogy to push India's education innovators -- India's entrepreneurial health care industry. Citing examples such as surgeon Devi Shetty's low-cost, highly available heart operations and Anant Kumar's inexpensive chain of maternity hospitals, the model suggested is to create chains of affordable private schools for India's poor students. According to recent statistics from the India Institute, 70% of parents surveyed in Patna, India, would like to send their kids to private schools. If they could afford the $1-10 monthly fees.

It would be helpful to see if there were specific learnings from such healthcare examples that could translate directly to education. But this column seems to be a conversation starter, not the final word. That's because, as The Economist points out, there are Kafka-esque bureaucracies to navigate in terms of licensing for entrepreneurial private schools. So it's not that easy to make realistic recommendations. But the need exists: India has lots of room for improving existing public schools, such as penalizing (relatively) highly paid public school teachers for underperforming in the classroom -- or, as studies show, for not even showing up (teachers' absentee statistics are stunningly bad).

While the diagnosis seems grim, the potential for disruption in Indian education seems exciting. The majority of India's citizens are under 25. This made me realize that there is one big idea missing from this essay, which echoes the points in last week's Economist about India's increasing use of the mobile Web: what about the opportunity to create more educational services via low-cost smart phones?

Image: xnmeme/Flickr

— By on March 26, 2013, 5:05 AM PST

Reena Jana

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Reena Jana has written for the New York Times, Wired, Harvard Business Review online, Fast Company, Architectural Record, Artforum, Time Out New York, Harper's Bazaar, and GQ. Previously, she was the innovation department editor at BusinessWeek. She holds degrees from Columbia University and Barnard College. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure