The tragedy of our times is that access to quality education is limited. Whether in the US, internationally, education remains a privilege that only select few are entitled to, whereas a majority of this without financial resources are forced to compromise on the quality of education or go without. This perpetuates a cycle of poverty and illiteracy which condemns the poor to stay poor. In the past few years technology has emerged as the single biggest game changer in the field of education. As computing has become cheaper and more powerful, access to technology has increased proportionately. Another trend has been led by those who question traditional education methods and structure. For example many feel that teachers unions lead to a shift in focus away from the child to the pecuniary interests of the teachers. Others argue that the traditional classroom lecture where teachers talk and students listen is no longer effective. These trends have led to some interesting developments. Of these one is the focus of nonprofit organizations on supplying cheap tablets for free in the developing world. Another is the interesting possibility of eliminating school systems and teachers via innovative use of technology.
Recently featured in the news was a 35 USD version of Apple’s iPad that the Indian government hopes to mass produce by 2011. India also hopes to bring the unit price down to around 10 USD. If successful, this initiative could bring an affordable, mobile, multiple application device within reach of lower income families in poor countries. CNN’s Fareed Zakaria expressed the opinion that a fully-functioning 10 USD computer “could change the world” similar to the way in which satellite dishes and mobile phones have in the past. I think implicit in Zakaria’s point is the belief that information and communication revolutions have the potential to increase productivity and enhance human development. But this potential rarely leads to an actual breakthrough. Due to a host of factors in addition to price (see, for instance, Michael Trucano's post), what might perhaps be called “socio-technological epidemics” tend to be few and far between, especially in poor countries. There is a difference, of course, between a predominantly commercial success and one that really contributes to development results.