By DAYO ADESULU
Mr. Shantanu Prakash is the Chairman and Managing Director of Educomp Solutions Ltd which was founded in 1994. He is the man responsible for bringing the much-awaited change in the Indian education system. As a first generation expert in education and entrepreneur who almost single-handedly redefined the concept of technology-enabled education delivery in India, he commands immense respect across the business spectrum for his visionary impact on the education sector in India and across the globe.
Shantanu’s vision has been to transform the teaching-learning process through the use of technology and best practices. Shantanu is also the Founder and Managing Trustee of the Learning Leadership Foundation (LLF), an organisation dedicated to bringing best practices in education to under-resourced schools. In this interview with journalists, he spoke on the antidote to Nigeria’s falling education standards. Excerpts:
From your experience in managing schools in a country like India, what differences or similarities are there between India and Nigeria?
I think that the challenges facing both countries are similar. They both have young population. Countries that have young population have opportunities but also a danger. The opportunity is that if you train these young people and give them the right education, they can become globally productive citizens. But the danger is that, if you do not provide them the right education, they can become a demographic disaster.
So I think the challenges facing countries like India and Nigeria are similar: what should we do about our human capital? In the 21st Century, I believe that one of the most important capital is human capital. It’s more important than the financial capital because we are rapidly entering into a knowledge economy and intellectual property is more important than physical property.
The dissimilarity is that India’s structure of basic education is 10-2-3. But I know Nigeria is different. Nigeria’s is 6-3-3-4. It’s slightly different. In India, it’s 12 years of schooling before college(university). In Nigeria, you have four years of undergraduate but in India you have three years of undergraduate for arts and humanities but if you doing engineering, it’s four years.
For the past 18 years, Educomp has been working tirelessly trying to find the best and the most technologically advanced method of making the student more efficient and productive; improving the curriculum interaction so that we have a better human capital base and we have been very well known across the world for a very large number of innovations.
Thus, we discovered ‘Smart Class’. Smart Class brings the power of digital content right inside the classroom. Almost every part of our world has been impacted with Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Recently I was in Eleme, near Port Harcourt and I was there at the inauguration of the Smart Class system in one of the schools and I said that today’s children are three screen children: they have the cell phone screen, the computer screen and the TV screen.
It’s not the same with my generation. But the big question is: has the education system changed and evolved? I think the big answer is no, it has not. So there is an urgent need for the education system to change with the times. Just before I flew to Nigeria, I had the opportunity of being at the World Economic Forum Conference which was held in Cape Town, South Africa and I was very pleased to know that more than 80 per cent of the debate was about young people, about human capital and about skills.
The place to start developing the skills is right inside the school and that is where Educomp comes in. Our first opportunity that we have in Nigeria is through our CEO, Hegdekatte. We have partnered with the Rivers State Government to set up a model. In this model school, every student has a laptop computer. Every classroom is enabled with the latest Smart Classroom. When a teacher is teaching photosynthesis, for instance, the old means is to use the blackboard and explain orally what it is. It’s very difficult to explain the wonders of nature.
But when you use the digital content and animation and you show these students how photosynthesis happens and they see the process, they get very fascinated and immediately in the brain the learning happens and that is the beauty of harnessing the power of education technology and that is why Educomp is here in this country for a partnership. The digital content from Educomp is currently used in Singapore, China, USA, Saudi Arabia and many parts of the world. And we are very happy that we had a very warm welcome from the Rivers State Government, where we currently operate.
Nigeria faces a challenge in the area of infrastructure – power and manpower. Is it the same in India?
Firstly, India doesn’t pay teachers very well. For some reasons across the world, teachers salaries are not very high. Which means that it’s difficult to attract the best talents to become teachers. If you go to the class and ask the students, how many of you want to become teachers, very few will raise their hands and say they want to become teachers. They want to become sportsmen, football players, politicians, pilots and others. Because the sector is not able to attract the best quality, the delivery of education is not so good, even though the students are very hardworking. So, when you have teachers who are unfortunately not the best given that the society can’t pool the best teachers and the students are very bright, to bridge the gap we have to use some support and Edumate is that kind of support.