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Vision 2020: ICTs Role in Education Reform

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DQI Bureau
New Update

From the use of radio to spearheading the green revolution; from satellite based one-way interactive television for rural development to distance learning models serving large populations; India has tried it all with varying degrees of success. One area though, where the most daunting challenge lies with the government is the school level education, where the basic foundations of learning are laid. The quality of elementary education in India has also been a major cause of worry. In fact, making elementary education in India accessible, universal and relevant has been a goal since the eighth 5-year-plan. However, thanks to the manifold positive effects of technology, fields of education and industry have undergone a major change and surely, they are changing for the better. ICT can help create an education system that is based on the principles of helping teachers to be effective in whatever they do and assist under-qualified teachers with professional education and training as they work; thus, improving the quality and relevance of classroom instruction and study materials, making quantifiable and measurable progress towards improving efficiency. However, all of this needs to be done with an understanding of the social, cultural, political, infrastructural and economic factors prevalent in the country.

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Determining Factors

The Government of India has announced 2010-20 as the decade of innovation. So, one can hope that affordable ICT tools and techniques will be integrated into classroom instructions right from the primary stage so as to enable students to develop their requisite skills. However, for this to become reality, certain basic requirements such as setting up a classroom equipped with LCD projector, a facility for computer mediated instructions, an interactive system, computers with UPS, etc, also need to be fulfilled. Education content mapped to curriculum topics covering all major subjects across all grades may be created gradually by teachers teaching the content.

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As a first step in this direction, all CBSE affiliated schools have been advised to set up at least 1 classroom in their schools equipped with technology to enable the usage of digital instruction materials. Teachers wishing to teach a topic with multimedia resources can take students to this classroom.

Meanwhile, Indias journey to become the next economic superpower has to start from the connected classrooms in villages, in which ICT will play a major role. Ten years from now, a kid in rural South India should have access to a qualified teacher in Chennai for any subject he wants to learn, says Ganesh Lakshminarayan, MD and president, Dell India, just the way Michael Dell can use technology to teach students in far away western Australia about management techniques sitting in the US.

Use Existing Potentials

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Though technology alone cannot solve a complex problem such as providing universal, high quality education to a country as large and diverse as India, but the approach advocated by some education entrepreneurs can form a cornerstone for a modern education system and can serve us well into this century. India has a great potential. But, 140 mn students still do not go to school in India. So, we have to first create capacity, and reasonably high quality capacity to cater to the needs of Indian citizens and the population of people who will want educational access and quality. Its only going to grow manifold in the coming decade, says Shantanu Prakash, chairman and MD, Educomp Solutions.

While 70% of men in India are considered to be literate, 52% of women still are illiterate. The governments strong commitment to primary education is characterized by its flagship program, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, which has more recently been replicated to boost the low rates of secondary enrolment. Rajendra Pawar, chairman, NIIT says, The countrys education system is changing dramatically because of the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan. Now call it a threat or an opportunity, very soon there will be a huge upsurge in the number of children coming out of these schools and therefore, we have to get ready to send them to colleges or vocational schools. The government has also recently initiated a stakeholder dialog on formulating a draft national policy for ICT in Education.

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Can it Become an Education Hub?:Besides catering to the needs of the country, India also has a great capacity of becoming an educational hub for the rest of the world. Singapore for instance, has kept an estimate of about 150,000 students moving in each year to study. India has a great opportunity to attract over a million students each year and earn an estimated $25 bn annually just from the educational field. But, to make that happen, the government needs to create an enabling environment for education, demarcate special educational zones, and free education from the shackles in which it currently lies, says Prakash.

The Human Capital Theory: The good thing about India is the fact that we have a good amount of human capital. We have been exporting not just students, but also professors and teaching faculty for several years now. Prakash says, Theres going to be a point in time when they will want to come back to India. And, that is a big opportunity for our country.

The Vibrant Private Sector: Be it IITs, IIMs, IIMCs or others, as far as higher education is concerned, today at least 6 of the top 10 institutes are publicly funded government institutions. Undoubtedly, these institutes had the advantage of being funded at a time when higher education was still at a very nascent stage. They had the pace, money, and the talent to become what they are today. However, the nation has realized the need of private sector involvement and slowly but surely, the private sector has evolved in the past few years. What the government really needs to do now is free up the private sector while regulating it. If we look at the way reform is being planned now, government intends to have many more non-government agencies involved to expand technical education.

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Another area where the private sector can lend a big helping hand to the government is at the grassroot level. Prakash says, Let the government direct its attention and money towards the poorest of the poor, the bottom of the pyramid; and the private sector is vibrant enough to take care of the rest. However, if the government takes active initiative in implementing the Right to Education Act, under which it plans to provide free and compulsory education to all children of age 6 to 14, it can create a very positive force and can potentially bring about a tsunami of change in the field of education in India.

Conclusion

The importance of using ICT for improving education has been emphasized in the policy framework for over a decade in India. Numerous initiatives have been started by both public and private entities. Broadly speaking, educators, policy makers and researchers all seem to agree on the potential of ICT to have a significant and positive impact on education. What is still being debated, however, is the precise role ICT should play in the education reform and to ensure that the potential is fulfilled in the coming decade.

Drishti D Manoah

drishtim@cybermedia.co.in

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