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Could India turn itself into the School of the World?

Two months ago I had some serious problems with my web host which led to daily calls with the helpdesk. I soon found out that it was far better to wait until the French support center closed and therefore my call was routed to the call center in India. After their initial choc that I actually speak English what they had apparently not thought possible as I was calling from France, I had some very pleasant and helpful conversations with the team in India although they did not have sufficient rights to fix the problems. Nevertheless all guys I spoke to where very knowledgeable and in the end one of them gave me a tip how to fix the problem myself.

Up to this point I had only heard stories of call center agents in India who hardly spoke English and who would follow the script by the line without actually being able to solve problems on their own. Based on my experience I have to dump that myth and it also made me think of the implications that could potentially have on online education.

Everyone I talked to spoke an excellent English. It was clear, easy to understand and pleasant to listen to, at least for me as a European as it reminded me of old movies playing in the era of the British Empire. I would have been happy to have had such a teacher back in school, to be honest.

Based upon the problem solving strategies the agents gave me I also have to state that these guys clearly knew what they were doing and they could have solved my database problem without much trouble but, as I said, they did not have the necessary access to the servers. I am leaning a bit out of the window now but I believe if you are able to explain explain methods to fix a MySQL database problem you could also teach English or Math or Science.

After all it’s a certain mindset that bears great teachers. One example to back this up comes to mind immediately: Salman Khan. I think there are not many people who would deny that he has a gift to teach. And after concentrating on Math and Science for the first years, Sal has now started teaching history and it works.

When I started to cover education 2.0 in January 2009 I stumbled upon founders with Indian roots all the time. Every single one of them told me about the importance of education in their families. There is for example Harman Singh who founded authorGEN, a company that launched products like authorSTREAM which is a presentation hosting platform similar to SlideShare but focused on teachers and WizIQ, an online marketplace and virtual teaching environment. There is Rohit Agarwal who aims to disrupt K12 math education with his startup TenMarks which offers a video library of more than 1300 videos produced in India. There is Gagan Biyani, co-founder of Udemy, an online marketplace for asynchronous courses from yoga to raising funding for a start-up. There is Pooja Nath who recently raised $1.5 million for her start-up Piazzza that enables students to ask questions anonymously to their peers and professors when they are stuck. And the list goes on.

Now what if India would make education to one of its major exports? They have a growing number of highly qualified people who can work on the software development as well as the curriculum side. The access to a basically unlimited number of potential teachers and tutors could give Indian start-ups in education a critical competitive advantage. To only name one example here, TutorVista offer private lessons to students in the US and UK. I don’t see a reason why this should not work for other subject matters or languages.

Picture: NOAA

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