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A classroom at the Nalanda Open University in Patna on a testing day at the end of a semester. Credit: Sarah Garland

At first blush, it might seem odd to consider what India could teach American schools about education technology.

In India, after all, school Internet access is estimated to be something like one percent, few schools have computers and the country has well-documented problems with infrastructure, inequity and extreme poverty.

“I think there is a lot to learn by looking at unexpected places like India,” said Keith R. Krueger, the CEO of the Consortium of School Networking (CoSN), a nonprofit membership organization for education technology professionals. Watching people create solutions by working with the limited technology they do have was instructive, he said.

CoSN led a delegation of education technology advocates to India for 11 days in November, to visit schools in a country that is transitioning to a digital future. A full report on the trip – and the lessons learned – is expected in late February or early March 2016. But we don’t have to wait that long to start to learn from it. A blog with insights from the people on the trip provides a sneak peek at where they went and what they saw. Krueger said next year’s report will provide detailed information that school leaders and teachers need to make the most of the delegation’s experiences.

One example Krueger mentioned is something called “snap homework.” The teachers don’t have fancy software programs to send digital notes to parents, and few households have access to computers anyway. So they take pictures of homework assignments with a smartphone. They send the pictures to parents’ smartphones. Violà.

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Teachers in India discovered a simple solution by using a technology that is common in low-income communities: smartphones. It gets the job done, and importantly, it uses technology that parents, students and teachers have on hand.

Creative solutions that aren’t fancy serve as reminder that we might make progress by making do with what we have – rather than doing nothing until conditions are perfect. And in India, Krueger said, he got the sense that many people say the country’s greatest priority is education.

“Certainly, there is an absolute belief that things can improve,” Krueger said. “That is something we can learn from.”

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