This conversation took inside one of the three rooms of this school. Located far away from anything, the school at Sookha Semli was almost like an oasis in a desert. Within an area of 2-3 kms we could only see bushes and trees and motorcycle tracks. The headmaster, while answering my questions on how often he has to visit the block office, said ‘block me soochna dene ke liye motorcyle leke 12-15 km duur jana padta hai. Main us din school nahi aa pata. Pura din nikal jata hai kaam me. (I have to travel 12-15 kms to submit information/data to the block office. I am not able to attend the school on such days).’
Having said this he took out his mobile ph0ne and showed it to me. He found it hard to believe why this instrument could not be used for sharing data and information between teachers and block offices. Every teacher in India doubles up as data collectors for the education system. Sometimes the same data is collected more than once and reported to different authorities. Multiplicity of data also means more work for teachers who spend considerable time in collating and communicating this data. And data is not data alone, it brings with it considerable stress to meet deadlines and the fear of rebuke and criticism.
Coming back to the teacher’s question- can we use a mobile phone to submit data to a common repository which can be accessed by different departments in the government as per their needs? There are issues here-
- Only certain kinds of data are amenable to this medium- numeric data or very short status updates
- How to prevent data theft? One way could be to give every teacher a password which he/she can prefix to the data message
- Schools could be recognized by their individual codes, which too is suffixed to the data
- The syntax of the data message could be shared with schools and teachers in advance
There is a lot more that a mobile phone can do- used for opinion/information sharing; for teacher professional development; for accountability etc. More on it later.