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Monday, 18 May 2015

Google focuses on education, business sectors in India, launches new products

Google also launched new and affordable Chromebooks targeted at education sector.

"The Chromebook was launched in India a year ago. Now we are launching three new Chromebooks," Smita Hashim, global product manager, Chrome OS, said here.

Two Chromebooks, from Xolo and Nexian and priced at Rs.12,999, will be available from Amazon and Snapdeal and the pre-order booking will start from Friday.

The third one from ASUS will be available in a couple of months."There will be more Chromebooks in the coming months from ASUS and Samsung," she added.

The Chromebooks are targeted at schools. "Since launching Chromebooksin India, we've been working to ensure that Chromebooks work in an environment where connectivity can be spotty, and many people's first experiences with technology are through a phone rather than a laptop," Hashim said.

Improve education system, growth the poor

One of the most effective ways to uplift the poor is by improving education systems. According to the PISA assessment report (2009+), among 74 countries, including the developed ones, India ranks second to last, just above Kyrgyzstan.

This dismal scenario has forced parents to seek alternatives for better education. Parents are increasingly inclined towards private schools because of results and responsiveness. However, education has become costlier in private schools because of micro-economic factors like sustainability and macro-economic factors like inflation.

Private schools in India are mandated to be run as charitable institutions. This, in reality, is wishful thinking. Individuals creating alternatives for better education more often than not spend a lot of time and money in creating such systems. Such passionate entrepreneurs have ambitions and naturally look for returns. The ambition to grow in life for an education entrepreneur and a need to comply with regulations often conflict. One of the ways out of this morass is to allow schools to make profit and furnish all details including academic and financial performance in the public domain. In this way, the government can regulate the standards of education, safety, security and reporting in private schools instead of managing a system which has fundamental flaws.

The most effective solution to the challenge of providing better education, however, is to improve the quality of government schools. The challenges faced by government schools can be solved with political will. There was a time when most students studied in government and aided schools and their results were very good. With thorough research, sincere and persistent effort, Assam government schools can become the equivalent if not better than Kendriya Vidyalayas, which even now command the respect of the middle class in quality of education. One of our colleagues, half in jest, once suggested that maybe the government should order all its personnel to admit their children in only government aided and government schools.

Poor people need quality and affordable education for them to become productive members of society. Time runs out fast and we will lose future geniuses if we do not act fast.

"All the different school systems that have improved significantly have done so primarily because they have produced a system that is more effective in doing three things: getting more talented people to become teachers, developing these teachers into better instructors, and in ensuring that these instructors deliver consistently for every child in the system." (Page 40, How the world's best-performing school systems come out on top - September 2007, McKinsey & Company)

Saturday, 9 May 2015

Google Courts the World’s Teachers With Huge Web Conference

Google wants schools to use its products, but more than that, it wants to ensure they use them in the right way.

Which is why today, the search giant kicked off an international web conference called Education on Air, which will convene some 43,000 educators from 12 different countries over the course of the next two days. The conference, which is completely virtual, aims to help educators understand not just how to use Google’s devices and apps, but also how those devices and apps can be used to achieve specific educational goals.

The two-day event features sessions led by teachers, researchers, students, school system administrators, and even an appearance by LeVar Burton, former host of Reading Rainbow. The session topics range from how to use Google Docs to improve the writing process to how to visualize data with My Maps, and all 110 of them were suggested by teachers.

The goal, according to Google’s chief education evangelist Jaime Casap, is to ensure that educators see technology in the classroom as a means to an end and not the end itself. “Google would be involved education whether we liked it or not,” Casap says. “Part of our mission now is to do our best to make sure our tools are being utilized in the best way possible.”

Strange as it may seem, this is not always the first step that tech companies take when they begin engaging with schools. Too often, the conversation begins with a discussion about how many devices are needed and how much those devices will cost, rather than how those devices will be used. It’s that type of thinking that experts say played a big role in the failed rollout of iPads loaded with Pearson curriculum in Los Angeles public schools. Google, however, is trying a different approach.

“My impression is that since Google isn’t really a hardware company, when they come to your district, they’re talking a lot about the learning and what you’re trying to do with these tools and devices,” says Michael Horn, who studies education technology at the Clay Christensen Institute. “It’s a different starting point.”

And yet, that approach seems to have a positive impact on Google’s bottom line, nonetheless. According to research firm IDC, in 2014, Chromebooks were the best-selling devices in schools. But Casap insists that selling more Chromebooks isn’t the focus of the conference. In fact, he says it doesn’t much matter which devices schools use, because Google’s Apps for Education work with any device. “I like to think that a great student outcome is like a great architectural building,” he says. “When you look at a great building, you never ask what kind of wrenches they used to build it.”

Still, the fact that so many schools around the world are, in fact, using Google’s set of tools means that the company now has a serious responsibility to ensure those tools enhance, instead of inhibit, teachers’ ability to teach. By working closely with teachers and helping them connect with each other, Google is proving that it takes that responsibility seriously.

Pranab's Moscow visit to boost India-Russia education ties

The President has arrived in Moscow with Higher education honchos from IIT, DU and ISI to sign MoUs

President Pranab Mukherjee landed in Moscow on Thursday for a visit aimed at reaffirming old ties between Russian and Indian soldiers who fought together during the Second World War, but also at restoring education ties between the next generation of young Russians and Indians. At least eight MoUs will be signed between Indian institutes and Russian Universities on Friday, with a high- power delegation of higher education officials travelling with the President.

Among them are directors of IIT Delhi, Mumbai and Madras, the Indian Statistical Institute, the Institute of Engineers (India) as well as the Vice-Chancellor of Delhi University. “The purpose is to recognise Russia’s strength in scientific and technological research, and to build a network students and professors who can conduct joint research together,” Secretary in the Department of Higher Education Satyanarayan Mohanty told The Hindu onboard the President’s special aircraft.

Equally important, admit officials, will be finding new ways of attracting Indian students to Russia, after a sharp decline in numbers since the Soviet era when thousands used to study medicine and other high education degrees here. By 2001-2002, the number was down to 130 after the uncertainty caused by the disintegration of the Soviet Union. In contrast, the US attracts more than 1 lakh Indian students a year while, UK, Australia, New Zealand and Canada account for nearly all the rest of the students going abroad for higher studies.

“One reason is language difficulties in Russia, the other is that with the collapse of the Soviet Union, many of the scholarships for Indian students dried up,” explained Mr. Mohanty.

The MoUs will be signed on the historic Moscow State University campus that dates back to 1755, and Delhi University students can soon look forward to the option of studying some courses here as well. “There is the possibility in the near future of our students drawing credit from each of the two institutions, and I expect DU students to find Moscow an attractive destination, and likewise for MSU students to find Delhi University attractive too,” DU Vice-Chancellor Dinesh Singh told The Hindu.

Russian education officials say the key will also be to encourage students and universities to collaborate on research rather than only come as students, as both India and Russia are known for their high standard of innovation, particularly in the IITs. According to Edward Crawley, the president of the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology, along with the Tomsk University, one of the universities hoping to tie up with IITs, “Both the countries are interested in developing more indigenous economic capability. Reasons are different, but the outcome is same -- to become less reliant on products from the West or manufacturing from China.” SkolTech, as it is called, now offers courses with English as a language of instruction and hopes to attract at least 3-4 per cent of its student population from India after the MoUs are signed and 30-40 per cent in the future, according an interview Mr. Crawley gave to the Russia-India Report news agency.

Mr. Mukherjee is on a four-day visit to Moscow, primarily to attend the 70 commemoration of victory day for World War 2, and to meet with President Putin.

Monday, 4 May 2015

Funding your child's higher education

Access to higher education is easier now, with good colleges in India and foreign universities wooing students. But, parents must plan and start saving early to build a corpus for their children's higher studies. And, while it is an important financial goal, such saving should not be prioritised over other goals like saving for retirement.

"There has to be a balance between funding short-term and long-term goals. When we speak of long-term goals, families should put retirement as the first priority and then children's education. For, if children's education is partly unfunded, there are several options like scholarships or educational loans. But, if your retirement is unfunded, no institution will come forward to fund it. So, parents should not put the child's education at the mercy of their own retirement planning," says Abhinav Gulecha, founder, Soham Financial Planners.

There has to be clarity on where, which course and for how long the child plans to study, says Deepali Sen of Srujan Financial Advisors. For example, a two-year architecture course in Australia might cost Rs 30 lakh as course fees and another Rs 20 lakh for living expenses, in today's terms. A three-year hospitality undergraduate course in Canada might cost Rs 25 lakh in course fees and another Rs 16 lakh in staying costs. Besides, all this will need to be adjusted for inflation, depending on the number of years after which the child will start the course.

Invest systematically; account for inflation

Ideally, families should stick to simple and low-cost financial products, and invest systematically. Most parents are either unclear about how much to set aside as a target or make the mistake of investing in money-back insurance plans, which provide sub-standard returns, says Sen.

"Some parents also invest in land or property, hoping to sell this when a need arises. However, immovable assets might be illiquid. At the time of need, these might not fetch the amount of money one hopes for. It is risky to depend solely on these," she says.

"The most important factors to consider are safety of the corpus and the rate of return on your investment. The returns should outperform the rate of increase in the cost of education," says Amit Kukreja, founder of WealthBeing Advisors.

For goals some time away, say 10 years or more, parents can look at the Public Provident Fund (PPF), Sukanya Samriddhi Scheme and direct plans of equity mutual funds (MFs), instead of the high-cost child plans offered by insurance companies. For goals five years away, look at short-term debt funds through the direct route or bank fixed deposits (FDs).

"Given that education inflation is much higher than consumer inflation, we assume an inflation of 12 per cent for children's education. This means there has to be some allocation to a high risk/return asset class like equity, as per the family's comfort level and risk appetite," says Gulecha.

Invest based on time horizon

When the need is within the next two years, opt for short-term products like a liquid-plus fund, short-term debt mutual fund or bank FD. If the need is between two to four years, one can look at investing up to 25 per cent in equities and the balance in fixed income instruments. If the time is between four to seven years, one can invest 25-50 per cent in equities, through a diversified MF and the balance in fixed income (debt MF). If the requirement is more than seven years, one can invest the majority of funds (in excess of 75 per cent) in equity through a well-diversified MF.

When to take an education loan

While the first choice should always be to fund children's education from your own source, if there is a shortfall in the corpus, one can look at an education loan. "The cost of these can be high, anywhere between 10.5 and 13.5 per cent," says Sen.

An education loan can help in two ways. One, the parent gets tax savings under standard deduction in the income tax (I-T) rules. Two, when the student starts to repay the loan, it will make him/her financially responsible, says Kukreja. However, the flip side is, if the family is not able to repay, it might hurt the credit score of the borrower, in case of a default.

Parents have to be careful in taking just the right amount of loan that the child can fund after getting employed. To that extent, family members need to balance their expectations on the choice of country or college while deciding the amount. In the case of a foreign country, include living costs, too, since that forms a good portion of the total education cost, says Gulecha.

"Educational loans offer tax benefit u/s 80E of the I-T Act but that alone should not be the reason for taking the loan. While one should avail of the tax benefit, if possible the loan should be prepaid or closed in full, rather than running it for the full period," he adds.

Conditions with education loan

In most cases, it is the parent who is the guarantor and the guarantor will need to pay off the loan in case of default. "This means the guarantor might need to have investments which can be attached for the purpose of taking a loan," says Sen.

In case the student is unable to repay the loan, he/she can request for either deferment (postpone repayments) or seek to rework the equated monthly instalment, thereby increasing the tenure. However, remember that if tax exemptions are to be availed, the loan period cannot go beyond eight years

"Normally, cancellation or deferment of the student loan may be entertained under extreme conditions like death of the borrower, permanent or temporary disability, unemployment, economic hardship, etc," says Sen.


For studies abroad, the estimate received from the institution abroad or $100,000 per academic year, whichever is higher, may be availed. Students going abroad for studies are treated as Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) and are eligible for all the facilities available to NRIs under the Foreign Exchange Management Act, 1999. Educational and other loans availed of by students as residents in India can be allowed to continue.

A student holding an NRO (non-resident ordinary savings) account may withdraw and repatriate up to $1 million per financial year from his NRO account. The student may avail of an amount of $10,000 or its equivalent for incidental expenses, of which $3,000 or its equivalent may be carried in the form of foreign currency while going for study abroad.

Over 2.3 lakh students to take TS EAMCET exam on May 14

The Telangana State EAMCET 2015 convener Prof. N.V. Ramana Rao said that a total of 2,31,689 candidates will take the entrance test on May 14 for admission into Engineering, Medicine & Agriculture (EAMCET) courses in the ensuing academic year.

At a meeting with chief superintendents of Warangal Regional Centre convened at Kakatiya University, he said that the engineering entrance test would be held from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and Medicine Entrance test from 2.30 p.m. to 5.30 p.m. on May 14, 2015. Hall-ticket numbers and test centre details will be intimated to the students through SMS.

EAMCET co-convener Dr. Kasi Viswanadh also took part in the programme.

Monday, 27 April 2015

Special needs educators bring lessons from India to Trinity

Jean Kingery, co-founder of proVISION ASIA in Bangalore, India, asked her former colleague and award-winning author, radio host and international advocate for people with disabilities, Joni Eareckson Tada: “What is the best school for students with special needs?” She replied, “The Imago Dei School at Trinity Classical Academy, without question.”

Kingery and her colleague, Krupta Paulsen, manager at Mitra Special Needs School in Bangalore, India, were determined to find an exemplary school that serves students with special needs, integrating them successfully into the general education population on a daily basis.

They approached Megan Howell, the principal at Imago Dei School inside Trinity Classical Academy, to establish a relationship where the Mitra Special Needs School could learn how to model their school similarly, and successfully prepare their students for eventual independence through academics, educational therapy and integration.

“We opened the Mitra Special Needs School a couple of years ago and are now ready to form a partnership with a school, opening the door of communication to share strategies, concepts, therapies and interventions,” explained Kingery. “The Imago Dei School targets the students’ underlying causes of their learning disabilities, as opposed to treating behaviors. This type of learning environment gives us great excitement for our students’ future, vocationally and socially.”

Kingery and Paulsen were able to discover first-hand how the Imago Dei School’s techniques, curriculum and individualized therapies enhance the students’ overall intellectual, academic, spiritual, social, emotional and vocational skills.

Coming from a country that greatly lacks any programs for students with developmental and learning disabilities, partnering with Imago Dei will greatly benefit their students, enhance their curriculum and introduce them to techniques that could improve the overall wellbeing of their student body.

In 2011, Trinity Classical Academy launched The Imago Dei School – Latin for “image of God” – a unique kindergarten through 12th-grade school within a school for students with learning and developmental disabilities.

“Unlike most schools, the Imago Dei student benefits from academic instruction in small, specially designed classes with a low student-to-teacher ratio, an average of 3:1, while also being fully integrated into the vibrant Trinity mainstream student culture for their social and spiritual goals,” explained Howell. “Our skilled faculty and staff strive to assist each student to successfully access the rich variety of learning and social opportunities provided to them, as well as utilizing specific individualized therapies targeting their unique disabilities.”

Over the last 14 years, Trinity has grown from 28 students to more than 550 in transitional kindergarten through 12th grade, making it one of the largest classical schools in the country – and the perfect environment to integrate students with special needs into the school’s general education culture seamlessly.

Trinity’s mission has remained consistent: to offer a challenging education, grounded in the Christian faith and the classical tradition; to produce young men and women of virtue, wisdom, purpose and courage.

The Imago Dei School is committed to providing an environment that helps develop students academically, as well as socially. To help navigate the often challenging terrain of social situations, academic and community integration, Trinity Classical Academy developed the Noble Knights and Peer Mentor programs to provide Imago Dei students with support, friendship and guidance from other students at their grade-level, as opposed to the traditional aide or adult behaviorist.

In junior high and high school, Imago Dei students are academically mainstreamed where appropriate and thrive alongside their peers. The Imago Dei curriculum includes Bible, composition, science, literature, math, world history, geography and physical conditioning.

Imago Dei students participate in Group Education Therapy sessions, which focus on four key components: cognition, perception, academics and emotions, and include a variety of techniques designed to improve the student’s overall ability to think, reason and process information. These techniques emphasize basic skill areas such as reading, writing, spelling, and grammar with reasoning skills within each area.

Upper School Imago Dei students are fully integrated into the general education extracurricular activities like Trinity Knights junior varsity and varsity football, basketball, cheer, cross country, volleyball, softball, swim and soccer.

They also actively participate in Trinity’s general education Fine Arts programs including orchestra, band, and vocal ensembles, as well as perform in Trinity’s Rhetoric Theatre productions. The most recent production, “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare: The Comedy of the Bard!” was such a success that all the Imago Dei student’s will return to the stage for this spring’s “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.”

With students with both physical and intellectual disabilities ranging from 4 to 11 years-old, Mitra Special Needs School’s – Indonesian for friendship – mission is to inspire hope by providing an environment that fosters transformation through practical life-skills training, as well as provision of mobility aids, physiotherapy, job placements, education sponsorships, computer training, counseling and government advocacy.

Partnering with proVISION ASIA, they serve by offering a hand up, not a hand out, which encourages people with disabilities to recognize and utilize their own abilities, empowering them to make a significant contribution to society.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Why Repaying Education Loan is Important to Yours

Sachin Khare, a resident of Mumbai, recently saw an advertisement for a 3 BHK apartment in Mumbai's upcoming suburb.

The apartment was all Sachin had ever dreamt of, plush locality, modern amenities and close to his place of work and most importantly fitting his budget. Sachin an MBA with honors from a reputed management school was a topper of his class and got a job at one of the leading technology company in Mumbai.

Having started with humble beginnings from Satara in Maharashtra, a home in Mumbai was Sachin's dream come true.

However, despite his salary and job credentials, to Sachin's astonishment, his loan application got rejected basis his CIBIL report and low CIBIL TransUnion Score.

A distraught Sachin couldn't fathom the reasons behind the rejection and at first thought it could be a mistake due to his name being a common one.

On accessing his CIBIL TransUnion Score and report from CIBIL, Sachin realised that his score was low as he had not paid the EMI's on the education loan he had taken for completing his MBA course.

It then dawned on him that in his aim to own his dream house and save money for it, he had completely neglected paying his education loan, thereby costing him his home in Mumbai.

Like any other loan, it is vital to know that an education loan is a credit facility provided to help one pursue his/her higher education. Like any other form of credit, education loans have to be repaid once one completes his/ her course and gains employment. Also like any other loans and credit cards, education loans are also reported to the CIBIL and get reflected in the borrower's CIBIL report.

Repayment of an education loan generally starts within six months of the student taking up a job or one year after the course ends, whichever is prior.

An education loan default occurs when the borrower fails to repay the education loan EMIs. Defaults on repayments of education loans will reflect in the borrower's CIBIL report and negatively impact his/her CIBIL Transunion score and hence like in the case of Sachin, if one defaults on an education loan it could impact the chances of getting a loan for many more important milestones in the future like the dream home or the car he/she aspires.

Also, in more developed economies, an individual's CIBIL Report and CIBIL Transunion Score is critical reputational collateral and used for multiple purposes by various institutions. Employers review it before recruiting a new employee; landlords require it before renting out an accommodation and of course telecom providers check an applicant's credit history before assigning limits.

Duly paying your education loan installments on time, each month, is the best thing that could be done to maintain a good CIBIL Transunion Score. Nevertheless, if you find it difficult to re-pay your education loans, consider an option of negotiation. Banks are open to negotiation. Request the banker to increase your loan repayment term and settle for a lower EMI. This may help reduce your loan burden significantly.

It is never too early to start thinking about your financial future. All these tips will pay off, and definitely help you avoid hurting your CIBIL TransUnion Score and CIBIL Report and thus safeguarding your dreams.

Principals learn the tech way to education

Principals, heads of institutions and teachers from around 100 city schools attended a seminar on 'transforming education with technology and innovation' recently. The Times of India, in association with Think & Learn, held the Times NIE Principal's Seminar at the Galaxy, The Park. The three distinguished speakers who addressed the gathering were Kalyan Kar, co-founder and managing director, Inthink Knowledge Ventures; Rajib Basu, partner, KPMG and Kevin Nethercott, managing director, employer engagement, Knod.

"Technology is changing our lives like never before. Principals and heads of institutions have to understand that today's students are empowered and they have to adapt themselves to the changes," said Kar.

Rajib Basu said, "We are embracing everything that is global and the principal driver here is technology, which is breaking down barriers. Technology will change the core areas of education in days to come."

"Less than 50% employers feel that our learners are not fit to be employed. We need to bring the employers into the classroom," said Nethercott.

Principals and school representatives found the seminar enriching.

"Technology is part and parcel of today's world. We should understand that technology is not replacing anything. Rather it is facilitating the teachers by equipping them to teach the students better. Technology has also helped average and below average students to improve," said Bratati Bhattacharyya, secretary general, Shri Shikshayatan School.

Principals then turned into students and join Byju's Classes Challenge with Praveen Prakash, vice-president, marketing, Think & Learn, as their teacher.

The "students" had to take the Think & Learn Challenge, where they answered questions on Samsung Galaxy tabs.

For the next 20 minutes, principals counted lines, gave the approximate weight of the tab they were holding and solved screen puzzles. Joyita Majumdar, principal, Asian International School came first, winning a Samsung Galaxy Tab. Chandan Basu, principal, Mother International School Salt Lake, came second while Suchitra Bhattacharya, principal, Army Public School, came third. They were given gift vouchers.

Friday, 17 April 2015

A.P. to set up centres for Eamcet in Hyderabad

Andhra Pradesh government will set up 30 to 40 centres in Hyderabad for AP Eamcet to be held on May 6, said HRD Minister Ganta Srinivasa Rao.

The HRD Minister spoke to Telangana Chief Secretary and Education Minister and sought their approval for setting up AP Eamcet centres for the convenience of at least about 30,000 students, including girls residing in Hyderabad, without having to travel to Vijayawada. The students could choose their options on the web till April 21. The Eamcet results would be announced on May 26.

The HRD Minister, who held a review meeting with the Higher Education department officials here on Thursday, said grades would be given to engineering colleges in the State based on their performance and academic standards.

The department would take measures to check irregularities in engineering admissions under Category B and the government rejected above category seats in 14 engineering colleges for violation of rules, he said.

Disclosing that the Private Universities Bill will be introduced in the Assembly soon, he said a committee appointed for the purpose was studying all aspects of private universities and he inquired officials about the status of committee report.

The government would also bring amendments to the Andhra Pradesh Universities Act, 1991 to address the loopholes in the system to bring in more accountability and a conference would be held with the Vice-Chancellors on May 21 to discuss the proposed amendments.

Mr. Rao said that a special recruitment board on the lines of APPSC would be constituted to fill vacancies in universities without giving scope for corruption. About 75 per cent of vacancies in universities would be filled soon, he added.

Indicating plans to make Andhra Pradesh an Educational Hub, he said as a precursor, three education cities would be developed in Visakhapatnam, Vijayawada and Tirupati in an extent of 1,000 acres to 2,000 acres each to provide land to the private universities, institutions set up in Public Private Partnership mode to suit the requirements of industries being set up in the State.

Basic infrastructure facilities like road, medical facilities would be provided in these educational cities. At least one such educational city would be developed first, he added