A few years back, a campaign by Idea Cellular themed ‘Education for All’ had created a positive buzz. The advertisement featured Abhishek Bachchan as an institution’s head, who feels challenged by the capacity of physically bound classrooms to provide admissions to more children who are in need of education. He then decides to use mobile phones as a means to spread quality education and make it accessible to students in the remotest corners of the country.
The advertisement perfectly puts in context how IT can fulfil the vision of providing quality education to the bottom of the pyramid. For a country like India, which is plagued by the issues of abysmal student-teacher ratio, poor accessibility in rural areas, and lack of quality teachers, technology can, no doubt, prove to be a wonder drug.
To get a clear picture of challenges ahead for Indian educational institutions, let’s consider some statistics: By 2030, India will be amongst the youngest nations in the world, with nearly 140 mn people in the college-going age group, according to a report by Ernst & Young. The report asserts that by 2030, the already existing challenges for Indian higher education—access, equity, and quality—will only be greatly exacerbated unless we significantly transform our education model. And this goes without saying that technology will be at the center of this transformation. Given this scenario, the sector’s investment in IT has been on the rise. According to Gartner, the sector’s IT spending will grow at a CAGR of 12.3% between 2010 to 2015. Increased thrust by the government on technology-led transformation in the education sector is also driving IT spending. The focus can be gauged from the fact that in budget 2015, the Government of India allocated $23.6 bn for the education sector. Since FY07-08, the allocation for education has almost doubled.
MOVING TOWARDS A DIGITAL FUTURE
The growing penetration of high-speed broadband and the proliferation of low-cost computing devices are spurring the growth in digital learning. According to industry
reports, Indian e-learning market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 17.4% from FY13-18.
With digitization, education is moving out of campus- based learning model to learning and assessment through online tools and collaboration over video. A very interesting example is of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), which have revolutionized the field of distant education as they not only provide traditional course material such as videos and lectures, but also include collaborative discussion on forums, online quizzes, etc. Most importantly, anybody can complete the courses available
online for free.
Premier institutions like IITs and IIMs have taken the lead to push the bar for quality online education in the country. IIT Bombay and IIM Bangalore have already launched MOOCs with an aim to provide equal opportunity to deserving talent. Further, IIT Kanpur is developing its own platform for MOOCs called MOOKIT. Couple this with research findings that Indians are among the most aggressive users of MOOCs and we know that this can prove path breaking in reaching out to the largest possible number of learners.
Another noteworthy initiative by IIT Bombay is Spoken Tutorial, which is a 10-minute audio-video tutorial on IT topics, such as basic IT literacy, Tux Typing, KTurtle, C++, Java, PHP, Linux, etc. Aimed at improving employment potential, Spoken Tutorial videos are dubbed in 22 Indian languages and can be downloaded free of cost. The massive reach of the project can be gauged from the fact that IIT Bombay has already trained 4 lakh students using the Spoken Tutorials program.
Huge strides in the start-up environment in the online learning space is further aiding the education sector. For instance, take the case of Coursera, an education platform that partners with top universities and organizations worldwide to offer courses, which anyone can take for free. “Traditional models of education are not sufficient to address the needs of a vast country like India where large number of people graduate each year and there aren’t enough colleges or universities to provide them with quality higher education. Online platforms like MOOCs can play a key role here given the rise in adoption of Internet in the country and the proliferation of smartphones,” says Kabir Chadha, India Country Manager, Coursera. The company is seeing an overwhelming demand for its technical and business courses.
Likewise, Bengaluru-based Vedantu, an online tutoring platform is leveraging technology to transform the traditional coaching space. “On Vedantu, a student can browse through a list of teachers based on ratings/reviews; communicate with them (chat/talk); schedule the sessions; and learn live 1-to-1 with them,” informs Vamsi Krishna, CEO, Vedantu.
Technology is central to the Vedantu’s model, which aims to provide a more personalized and democratized platform for learning. It uses data analytics and algorithms to connect the most relevant teachers to the students as per their requirements. “We also have a click-tocall feature integrated to our system that facilitates quick and seamless connection between tutors and students. Our technology additionally allows session monitoring and calculates the student-teacher engagement level of each session. With our technology and unique model, we are changing the entire perception of home tutoring and curbing the last mile problems to make tuitions more economical and safe,” says Krishna.
FROM PHYSICAL TO VIRTUAL CLASSROOMS
The challenge that confronts the education system in India is shortage of trained teachers. According to a Technopak Education Outlook report, “India will require 6 mn more teachers by 2020 to attain the world average in terms ofstudent-teacher ratio. This would mean a requirement totrain 0.75 mn teachers per annum, as against this the total capacity of all B.Ed colleges currently, which is only 0.25 mn per annum.”
In this context, the usage of UC and telepresence is proving to be revolutionary for imparting quality education across the spectrum and breaking the physical barriers in learning. A perfect example is a multi-million dollar cross-campus technology initiative named BITSConnect 2.0, undertaken by BITS Pilani along with its global alumni association. This initiative uses Cisco TelePresence video conferencing and Cisco WebEx technologies to connect four geographically distributed campuses of BITS Pilani.
The telepresence system provides avenues for research collaboration and knowledge sharing among BITS’ faculty and students, and for face-to-face communication between
members of BITS’ leadership. The institute is also able to make available elective courses to thousands of students across its campuses for which lectures can be delivered by professors working from any of its campuses. Further, students from all the BITS campuses can interact with experts from across the world for guest lectures, workshops, and other academic pursuits in real time. Likewise, Amity Group leverages UC to achieve its goal of providing uniform education to its student base spread across numerous campuses. With the help of live classroom transmission on a unified Intranet, the group has addressed the issue of the scarcity of good faculty, and the difficulty of making them available at the right place, at the right time.
The project helped remove physical barriers as a single lecture delivered by a faculty or a visiting top CEO can now be transmitted on Amity MPLS and thus be listened by multiple
Amity locations with a complete two-way interactivity. B-School Prin. LN Welingkar Institute of Management Research & Development (WeSchool) is also providing
virtual classroom sessions, where students can attend live lecture sessions from the campus studio and interact with professors.
“In case a student is not able to attend virtual classroom lectures, he can still refer to We Lecture, where video lectures are uploaded on all subjects,” says Dr Uday Salunkhe, Group Director, WeSchool.
THE POWER OF MOBILE
According to a research by Cisco, India will have 651 mn smartphones and 18.7 mn tablets by 2019. Thus, there is an immense opportunity in using mobile devices to disseminate
education. “With mobile traffic on the Internet expected to surpass the desktop traffic in less than a year, mobile learning is the next big thing waiting to happen. Educational apps
are the second most downloaded in iTunes of all categories,” agrees Dr Salunkhe.
Several initiatives are already underway to cash in on the mobile opportunity in education. Classle is one such organization that is leveraging mobility solutions on cloud to transform the education space. One of its product, Classle Slate, is a highly interactive and engaging app that works on any Android device. The app gives access to education materials and other valuable resources available on the website. Further, this innovative app lets the learner access website content offline too.
Similarly, Tata Interactive Systems is providing a number of solutions in the m-learning space. It recently launched QuizBiz, a mobile social learning tool, which features a game app. It allows educational institutes to edit question and games, besides letting them view analytics.
CLOUD BURST IN EDUCATION
From cloud-enabled virtual classrooms and online courses reaching far-flung areas in the country to cloud-based online platforms facilitating collaboration among students
and teachers, cloud computing is at the heart of the transformation happening in the Indian education space. According to a report by Crisil, cloud will have a larger share
of total IT spending in the future.
The growth will be driven by government initiatives as it has announced spending of `100 crore on virtual classrooms. A major player looking to tap the opportunity is Microsoft, which recently launched its cloud computing-based offering Edu-Cloud, to enhance digital learning and teaching in schools and higher education institutions in India. The company expects Edu-Cloud to benefit 1 mn teachers and 6 mn students in 1,500 institutions in India
over the next 18 months.
Cisco’s cloud-based solution, Cisco Education Enabled Development (CEED 2700) is a collaborative, video interaction solution aimed at enabling efficient delivery of education and skills development courses across the country. The Government of Karnataka is using the CEED platform to provide supplementary education to government schools in the state.
THE WAY AHEAD
As we look ahead, education solutions are expected to hugely benefit from SMAC (Social, Mobile, Analytics, and Cloud) technologies. “While social connectivity would help form informal learning and information sharing communities on demand, mobility support shall ensure continuity of access to live as well as asynchronous learning resources irrespective of the location of an individual learner and his/her personal constraints. Similarly, data analytics would enable teachers and administrators to better understand what works and what does not and the ever-growing ubiquitous cloud services would help keep all these resources, data and services unified and accessible from any connected device, anywhere required,” Dr Rahul Banerjee, Professor and the Head of the Department of Computer Science & Information Systems Engineering at BITS Pilani puts it aptly.
Apart from SMAC, there is huge potential for 3D printing and gamification in the sector to make learning fun and interactive. Also, there is significant scope of adoption of wearable technology and usage of Bluetooth within the campus for connecting with teachers and peers. While there have been significant steps in the direction of technology adoption in the sector, it is just the tip of the iceberg—potential for technology-enabled transformation
in the education sector is huge and far-reaching. However, to unlock the full potential of technology in education, India needs to address concerns related to lack of