Feb 24, 2012

tBook and not iBook is the solution to India's education problems

(photo credit - IVD Volunteers)
Raise you hand if you think that the situation of education in India is pathetic. If you don't think so, i will try to enlighten you in the rest of the post. So keep reading.

Here are some figures to get us started - 
  • Literacy rate in India - 75%. 

Seems good, doesn't it? Let's look closer - 
  • % of students who reach high school - 15%. And just 7%, of the 15% (i.e. 1% of total) who make it to high school, graduate. (source - wikipedia)

Doesn't sound so good anymore. And don't at all get me started on the quality of education (57% of college professors lack either a master's or PhD degree). School enrollments have increased at primary level but has lagged behind in case of secondary and tertiary education. The next logical question to ask is "Why is it so pathetic?". 

The reason, in one word - "ACCESS". Though there are multiple other reasons, non-access to quality education remains the number one and by far the biggest hinderance. 70% of our total population lives in rural areas and this makes distributing education an even bigger challenge. Private firms do not want to open up schools/coaching centers in villages because the Return on Investment is low and economies of scale do not exist. Trying to get the government to do something is a slow, painful and long ride, which most of us do not want to take. Then how the hell do we reach that huge chunk of students who are talented and worthy but still end up working at their father's kirana shop or the highway dhaba? 

The key lies in looking at mediums which are present in most indian homes. There are two such leverage keys currently - 
  • Mobile - India has world's second largest mobile phone user base. Around 900 million (90 crore) users as of December 2011. (source: wikipedia). That is around 80% of our total population!!
  • Television - India had 78% pay TV penetration in 2009 and would reach 90% penetration by 2014! (source - Media Partners Asia Ltd.)
Source: Screen Digest
These are, what an economist will say, high leverage points. Small twist, BIG impact. Between mobiles and TV, mobiles have inherent limitations with respect to their screen size and the amount of data one can consume on it. TV's, on the  other hand, are perfect for distributing knowledge content. We, as a nation, are already addicted to TV. All we need to ensure is that the students switch to the right channel. Done correctly, the TV might no longer be called 'idiot box'. 

With the advent of DTH (penetration in India: 20 crore) and interactive application channels, the line between the idiot box and internet if further blurred. Channels like iExam and iKidz on Airtel are taking the first step towards providing quality education to otherwise unreachable areas. 

With iExam, you are no longer on the mercy of coaching centers to prepare for your exams. Students in the remotest of villages can prepare with the best coaching institute material sitting at their home. See the leverage created? All iExam needs to increase it's impact is add more content and bam!, crores of students cross the line.

iExam twitter page - https://twitter.com/#!/BrizzTv

So what are you waiting for. Go use that leverage and make an impact. Help more students cross that line. Go, do it now!

P.S. - 
For people wanting to know more about the state of affairs in education, you can read this excellent report by worldbank - http://info.worldbank.org/etools/docs/library/235784/2Amit%20Darsecondary.pdf

Feb 11, 2012

Improving website load time - part 1

This was quite a shock. Enabling APC extension made a remarkable difference to my site load time.

Here's how to do it in MAMP, Mac (my local environment) -

Go to MAMP->Preferences->Php tab->php Extensions.
Select APC from the dropdown.

How to do it in a linux environment -
Ubuntu -

Install apc -
pecl install apc

If you get any permission errors like "pecl.php.net" is not writeable by the current user", then do this -

sudo pecl install apc

I still got the following error -
pcre.h: No such file or directory

Did a -
sudo apt-get install libpcre3-dev

and then
sudo pecl install apc
worked like a charm.

Next step is to enable the extension in php.ini file. You can do that either in /etc/php5/apache2/php.ini by adding the following line -


Important: you will need to restart your apache server to load the apc module.
For Ubuntu -

sudo service apache2 restart