Will technology be able to transform the learning landscape of our country?
India is technology-savvy to some extent. The onslaught of technology has hit every sphere in our life—we book food, cabs and plumbers through applications. There are applications for finding a date, checking into flights before you reach an airport, reading the news, budgeting your income and everything else.
Glance into a typical middle-school classroom in a non-metro city in India, and chances are that you will encounter a bunch of kids reading aloud, and a visibly harassed teacher conducting the choir.
In the senior classes in city schools, a few of the students might sneak a glance at their smartphones between classes, and that is not the ideal way for classrooms to embrace technology.
There have been initiatives to introduce technology into the realm of education, but those have been sporadic and unrelated. For example ‘Learn with Vodafone’ is an initiative that provides information regarding key scholarships for school and college students in seven regional Indian languages. It doesn’t bring screens into classrooms.
The urban population in India is expected to grow faster than its overall population by 2030, according to a report in the Hindustan Times. This will put considerable pressure on the economy and education system. Our education system currently faces a few challenges, like the sheer capacity to deliver education to all sections of our society, and the quality of existing institutions.
Indians love using technology to learn. According to the report “India E-Learning Market Outlook to FY2018—Increasing Technology Adoption to Drive Future Growth”, the Indian e-learning market will grow to USD 1.2 billion by the end of next year.
Among the recent technological forays into the realm of education, IT major TCS’s iON model, the digital assessment business arm, has 300-plus clients like IIMs, IITs, AIIMs, Advanced JEEs, GATE, B-Schools, banking, law, government and rail recruitment boards.
In June, Andhra University deployed the TCS iON Platform, allowing complete digitalisation of functions and services offered. The platform allegedly helps in building smarter university campuses with comprehensive solutions that simplify teaching and learning, as well as supporting processes to aid educational excellence. From admission to graduation, the student has a digital interface to interact with the college.
Recently, according to an article in the Times of India, iON revealed plans to reach out to schools now. Rajesh Gopinathan, the Managing Director and Chief Executive of the ITES major said that the real opportunity lies at school-level exams as no board or school chain can introduce such advanced infrastructure to conduct large-scale high-stake exams.
According to an article in News18, private publishers are investing in curating content for textbooks. Adding critical thinking, fun games, pictures and charts, they encourage kids to think deeper. The same report states that quality educational content can be accessed through various technological offerings like tablets and laptops.
Does this mean one day we might cut the umbilical cord to textbooks? And thereby dispose of the habit of learning-by-rote?
There is a distinct gap in the education landscape. Frost & Sullivan reports that the quality of higher education is top notch in tier-1 universities, but not in tier-3 schools. The IIT has introduced the National Programme on Technology Enhanced Learning, a government-funded initiative to help students across the world learn concepts, and provide free access to videos on YouTube.
Primary and secondary schools in the country engage students through learning methods that utilise digital tools like smart-boards, LCD screens, videos, etc, to teach them different concepts. Says Mrs Vijayalakshmi, Principal of the MCTM Chidambaram Chettyar School in Chennai,
“We’ve been conducting ‘Smart Classes’ for the last six years for 6-12th standard and teachers have been trained with the software to use it for main subjects (Maths, Science, History, Geography). The teachers are using it extensively in all the classes; and they plan ahead. They go by what they have to relate to using the software and add it to their powerpoint presentation (if needed). If it is a biology/math class, everything would be shown in the software while the teacher explains. For a 40 minute class, we use Pearson with IBM.”
Thus it is quite clear, that the introduction of technology is happening, but slowly and only in certain places.
Says Professor Dinesh Nair, Mumbai University, “Schools and Colleges have to get used to the availability of technology. Moreover, there has to be a government policy in place and in institutions of higher learning, technology should be readily available.”, adding “There is very unrealistic teacher-student ratio. The University Grants Commission (UGC) should release funds to implement these digital services. With the ever increasing teacher student ratio, it becomes very unrealistic for a teacher to give complete attention to his students. For example, to teach the subject of ‘Commerce’, sometimes, there is one teacher who is probably teaching nearly 400 students in a year. Monitoring this kind of exchange will be very difficult and all colleges and schools should upgrade their technology”
A digital infusion in education can be very helpful, because:-
It allows for personalised learning, because students can use digital devices. The academic potential, strengths and weaknesses and learning pace of every student can be catered to.
It opens up communication channels, allowing students to get more attention as well as enabling them to track their coursework progress and identify areas of improvement. Student feedback can in turn help improvise the system.
Device-based learning will get rid of textbook constraints. Students can use a digital surface anywhere.
Video recordings of lectures allows students to re-capture what they think they’ve missed.
Virtual Reality can be used to help student use e-learning platforms on mobile devices to interact directly with study material, and Augmented Reality can help teachers and trainers in performing tasks.
We are in the age of the Internet of Everything (IoE), thanks to network, Wi-Fi, IT Security, cloud surveillance and software applications for learning. These help save costs and provide a connected learning experience. In the new educational environment, several institutes are migrating from campus-based learning to learning on mobile devices over a secure connection.
The infusion of technology into education needs to happen at a grass-root level.
There are hundreds and thousands of schools and colleges that are yet to see what a projector looks like. Bringing technology into these institutions will breathe life into the existing courses, enthusing students to learn in a more interesting manner.
Teachers and authorities are skeptical with regards to the role of technology in education, as some feel that it may replace the teacher all-together. That notion is wrong. The material may be digitised, but a student will always need something conveyed and explained to them. If anything, technology might make a teacher’s job easier, as they have more than a blackboard and a textbook, to teach students.
A 2016 Annual States of Education Report (ASER) survey carried out among 5,60,000 children aged 3-16, in 589 districts in India showed that attendance in primary schools in Uttar Pradesh were as low as 56%, and attendance in upper primary schools in Bihar was 52%. These figures are a far cry from the national average.
The high dropout rates and low attendance rates are alarming. Could disinterest in the curriculum, amongst others be a reason for dropping out? Will technology help in making the study-matter more interesting and engaging to restless students?
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Education opens doors, and creates opportunities. It can help someone claw their way out of poverty, provided the child applies himself/herself. It can make the difference between a life spent in darkness and one spent continuously learning.
Given that the majority of India’s population lives in rural and semi-urban areas, it only makes sense if the infusion of technology into education is done on a larger scale, and at the grass-root level.