In the third installment of this four-part series, David Robinson shares his team's experiences in exploring the role of educational settings as part of the innovation paradigm.
We all know what it takes to clinically validate a medical product, to test it with your customers and ensure it can be reliably deployed into the resource settings in which it will be used. In our case we’re working to develop a new class of Point of Care (POC) sensors for the screening and, ultimately, for the diagnosis of Tuberculosis (TB), beginning in India. In this third installment of our 4-part series I share our experiences in visiting and speaking at schools in India.
We wanted to visit schools in rural India because one of our business hypotheses is that we might utilize schools in India as a place to stay and perhaps deploy in the field, or even as a location for testing both student and family populations in the area.
We were fortunate to be able to stay at and teach at several schools during our visit—from kindergarten through college—where students were getting graduate degrees in chemistry and physics.
The schools have some characteristics in common. Even the small ones are quite big by western standards—ranging in size from 700 to over 4,000 students. Students live in dorms and typically attend classes together for their entire school career.
India has made great progress in increasing both public and private education, and now estimates put the population’s literacy at more than 80%. India’s educational system is often cited as one of the primary drivers in the economic growth over the last decade, and as a visitor it’s easy to see why.
The youth here take education very seriously—both because it provides a path out of poverty, and those lucky enough to attend a private school realize what a great sacrifice their families make to pay their tuition fees. In India approximately 29% of all students get a private education, with most post-secondary technical schools being private. Education is big business in India, too. We saw ads for schools all over—from billboards to newspapers.
Our first stop was Pune in the Maharashtra District. Once little more than an army outpost, Pune (pronounced 'Poona') is a city that now epitomizes ‘New India’, with its mix of capitalism, spiritualism, ancient and modern.
Today, Pune is a thriving centre of academia and business with traffic approaching Mumbai craziness and a population that is growing faster than any city could accommodate. Pune was also our first introduction to India’s private schools, with the campus hosting students from many of the area's technical colleges for the conference we were attending.
We stayed in dorms at the Yashwantrao Chavan Academy of Development Administration (YASHADA), the Administrative Training Institute of the Government of Maharashtra, where we attended a conference sponsored by India’s Center for Materials for Electronics Technology (CMET).
Staying in the Yashada dorms was my first introduction to an Indian bed (hard) and Indian “pillow” (harder), but the experience was amazing. Maybe I slept well because we worked so hard and were always exhausted at the end of each day, or maybe it was the energy and enthusiasm from the students and conference attendees.
We also visited Pandharpur, which is often called a “pilgrimage city”, in the Solāpur District in Maharashtra. Pandharpur hosts four annual pilgrimages ("yātrās") of Hindu devotees, and despite it not being pilgramige “season”, we saw thousands who had come to visit the temple here.
In Pandharpur we stayed at the World Peace Institute, a K-10 school that teaches science, technology, engineering, and mathematics alongside a “spiritual” curriculum that is designed to help students develop a social conscience. It’s non-denominational, which in India means they worship any one or even several of the hundreds of deities that are found in India.
We enjoyed starting our day with prayers and chants and the students seemed to enjoy having some strangers around who were willing to talk to them. They peppered us with questions: “What did you study?” “What do you do in America?” or “Do you have a home?”
The campus is amazing, with 700 students at this one school—about 80% of whom are full-time boarding students who live here year round. The students are drawn from the surrounding area, and their parents pay a U.S. equivalent of $5,000/year to have their children educated here. It’s a big burden for most families and reinforced for us how much education is valued.
At every school we taught at, we were treated like visiting royalty. I now know what it’s like to be a movie star. I’m a geek, I always have been. In India though, it’s apparently good to be a geek—even more so when you visit schools in rural India, where kids are educated in private schools with large populations. Most of these kids have never seen an American, so the novelty of a white face makes you an instant celebrity, even more so if you can speak about physics and chemistry.
At the Kamaveer Bhaurao Patil University in Pandharpur they focus on teaching arts, commerce, and science. The students there hung on every word in our lectures—with the room full and every window full of faces listening outside the hall we presented in. It felt more like a science revival meeting than a lecture—which made it a lot of fun. But if the science was fun, the cultural program they presented for us was even more so—with student actors, singers and dancers putting on a show I will never forget.
Schools across India are looking to add an international dimension to their teaching programs, and the schools we visited had teachers from Europe and the United States to supplement their Indian counterparts. International teachers are valued, and all of the schools we visited provide room and board as part of their compensation packages.
Most international teachers spend 2-3 years in India and often “guest lecture” at nearby schools to help supplement their incomes. Most of the Indian teachers we met had advanced degrees from U.S. or European universities—giving their students a look at a future many have never imagined.
For us, it certainly looks as though schools could play a role in the deployment of our POC sensors. The students' and faculty’s understanding and acceptance of science could help them to view our new sensing technology as a technological advancement, instead of ‘voodoo’ science.
Further, diseases such as TB are commonly found in and can spread rapidly in large groups such as these schools. But, with a rapid and low-cost testing technology, we hope to catch cases early—before they can spread throughout the school’s population.
Lastly, they are anxious to play an active role in their communities and everyone we talked with was willing to discuss expanding that role—even if only to host visitors working in the area.
Stay tuned for the final installment in this 4-part series as we continue our research journey within India.
The nuviun industry network is intended to contribute to discussion and stimulate debate on important issues in global digital health. The views are solely those of the author.