Will your job get moved to India?

James Miller doen’t think in half measures. He proposes to move teaching jobs to India, having Indian teachers interacting with students in the West by by video connection (via Stephen).

First question: how do you feel about this? Incredulous? Threatened? Or inspired by the socialist vision of global redistribution of wealth?

Personally, I’m intrigued. How much of this could work? Some, not all, I suspect.

We’ve seen classes by video link in SciFi movies, but there’s evidence that video link isn’t such a powerful medium as you might think. About a year ago, Harvard Business Review ran a survey of globally-distributed development teams (the corporate world’s equivalent of a class full of adolescents). Teams given access to all the sexy high-technology they wanted tended to plump for plain old email and simple web-based messaging tools, plus ordinary one-to-one phone calls. Video is a great broadcast medium, but for two-way communication it leaves much to be desired.

Miller also suggests hiring Indian teachers to mark essays. We actually explored the idea of setting up a service to do this three years ago, using Paperless School as the transport medium. Technically, it’s entirely practical, but we hit two insurmountable hurdles. First, marking an essay is one of the tools you use to understand your students. On most occasions, it can’t or shouldn’t be separated out from the feedback session afterwards. Second, to mark an essay well, you need to know a lot about the context in which it was set. Although we’re doing a lot of interesting development work with essay marking, we’ve not pursued the Indian connection for these reasons.

His third idea is 1:1 tuition. This is the interesting one to me, and it’s worth thinking through the ramifications. Check my logic, please…

  1. 1:1 or very-small-group tuition at a distance doesn’t suffer the problems I’ve enumerated above. Provided the student is reasonably self-disciplined, it’s entirely practical.
  2. There’s no budget in British schools for tuition, but up to half of parents are already willing to pay for some extra tuition for their children at some point in their school career.
  3. An Indian teacher with access to the internet could easily give excellent attention to a distributed class of 3-5 students, each working in his or her own bedroom.
  4. A qualified teacher in India could live very well off consistent earnings of £3/hr, so a cost to the parent of £1/hr/child is feasible.
  5. So if you’re a parent, you might wondering why you’ve stopped at private tuition, when for £6/day (£900/year) you can buy your child an entire private education.
  6. Therefore, a significant proportion of parents might well opt their children wholly or partially out of the school system altogether.
  7. More children in private tuition = fewer children in school = less need for teachers in Britain.

So there you have it. Indian Teachers will Take Away My Job: Discuss. When finished, send your essay to Poona for marking.

More thoughts following the BECTA report

The full BECTA report into open source software has been out for a few days now, long enough to digest. As I (and others) predicted, its tone is pro-open source, but by no means evangelical.

What I failed to predict was that the report would come out more in favour of open-source operating systems than open-source desktop software. I’m impressed. When you build a house, start with the foundations. The BECTA report carries a strong bias for network servers first, client OSs second and desktop software third. It’s a sound principle.

Chalkface has followed pretty much that path. Our servers run Linux (Gentoo distro, if you’re interested) and our services are built variously on Java, PHP, Python, Zope and Plone (purists would point out that Java isn’t open-source as it’s controlled by Sun, but it is free to use). We’ve built stable, scalable, secure applications on these foundations.

Equally importantly, we’ve kept our prices to schools low because we don’t pay license fees to Microsoft or anyone else.

New design for chalkface.com

Sometime in the next few days the design of this site will change. This affects all Paperless School users in that login will be via a tab at the top of the homepage, which takes you to a separate Paperless School login.

You can get a sneak peek at the new design here. At the time of writing not everything’s working; as soon as it is we’ll move the site across.

The rest of Paperless School isn’t affected.

Labour's promise: access to computers at home for every pupil

Catherine’s done her homework on the Labour Party manifesto, and come up with this exciting promise that I don’t think has had much coverage until now:

We will deliver our cross-government strategy for closing the digital divide and using ICT to further transform public services…

By 2006 every school [will be] supported to offer all pupils access to computers at home.

I’ve been saying for some time that we already have a pupil:computer ratio of 1:1 or better if you take into account childrens’ home computers, and that if we can tap into this resource effectively then accessibility problems simply go away. It seems somebody in Labour Party Headquarters was thinking along the same lines.

One crucial effect of the strategy is this: it puts the computers where the teachers are not. This forces you to into a strategy of separating individual work that can be performed unsupervised from group work that requires teacher interaction.

The greatest benefit that comes from computers in education, is the way they can free the teacher up from routine patrol and control, but this doesn’t work until you absent yourself when students are working on computers. Moving the computer to the students’ homes could be just the thing to break the old habit.