With a focus on the use and potential of ICT in education and training, the first Digital Learning conference, highlighted various ICT and education initiatives across the India and from abroad. Organised by the Centre for Science, Development and Media Studies (CSDMS) and supported by Department of Information Technology, Government of India and UNDP, the conference featured the work of 50 speakers including keynote speakers, presenters and chairpersons. With a participation of over 150 delegates, the conference programme brought together many of the leading exponents of technology enhanced learning, leading advocates of e-learning, ICT in education professionals and practitioners.
In order to create the best possible mix, the conference program was created through a selection process involving both a public call for papers and invited speakers and representatives, identified through a thorough review of the national e-learning sector.
Commencing with a welcome speech by Dr M P Narayanan, President, CSDMS, the opening Keynote speakers on 18 October included Susanne Ornager, Advisor for Communication and Information in Asia and Pacific, UNESCO, Amitabha Pande, Principal Resident Commissioner, Government of Punjab, Punjab, Keshav Desiraju, Jt Secretary, Ministry of Human Resource Department, Government of India, Aruna Sundararajan, Country Programme Facilitator, GeSCI and Dr Amiya Baran Saha, Executive Director, Cdac, West Bengal.
Susanne Ornegar gave an overview on the Distance Learning Resource Network as an effective process of e-education and opportunity for those who would otherwise have no access to new knowledge. She pointed out that an ontological standardization is required for standardizing course content, a necessary for distance learning. She discussed that there is a need for proper coordination between the teachers and students to avoid isolation of the students. Since technology is the only conduit through which information and communication flow, students and teachers needs to familiarize themselves with the technical delivery system to maintain adequate communication. She quoted several initiatives of UNESCO and explained how collaboration among distance learning institutions and recognizing and addressing cultural diversity in content and curriculum development can be effective methods to overcome some of the challenges faced in distance learning programmes.
Lighting the lamp of knowledge
Amitabha Pande emphasised on the need for a paradigm shift in education, with more focus on the learners as knowledge creators than on the instructor. He pointed out that the present education system does not add value to a child's development.
Mr Pande described the 'Mapping the Neighbourhood' Project, which initiated a learning process outside the formal school system. Initiated as a process outside the curriculum, the projects involved students who joined voluntarily to learn and generate knowledge. The process initiated the learners to design their own learning and learn through the process of knowledge creation. Quoting the example of the National Curriculum Framework, Mr Pande insisted that learning should be learners centric and knowledge created within the learners.
Keshav Desiraju highlighted the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (education for all) initiative of the Ministry of Human Resource Development to reach and keep students in schools. Mr Desiraju pointed out that the initiative has been successful in the primary level, however, the secondary education level still requires serious attention. In this respect ICTs can act as an effective shortcut to fill the gaps in education delivery process, lower the dropout rates and retain the students in schools. The Human Resource Development department along with the Department of Information Technology has developed a report on technology in education. The report has identified four issues in integrating technology in education in government schools, namely, ICT infrastructure, quality content that is locally relevant, teachers training, and education delivery through public-private partnerships. Mr Desiraju pointed out that these four interdependent issues needs to be addressed if technology has to be integrated to formal education to improve the quality of education in government schools.
Aruna Sundarajan drew from her experiences in ICT projects that impact community lives and pointed out that there is a strong similarity in the debate that persists in e-governance and e-education. She elaborated that instead of disputing the merits of ICT in Education, focus should be on how best the education challenges are addressed and education objectives achieved through the infusion of technology in education. ICTs, primarily computers, are incentivising children to be back to schools; similarly ICT can be used to address several other traditional problems of education. She also stated that there is a need to facilitate a paradigm shift in education. She pointed out that conference like this help to bring stakeholders together to share their products and knowledge and an opportunity to learn and use such knowledge for bettering the education process.
Dr Amiya Kumar Saha represented the industry sector and spoke on the need for quality content that is interactive, to identification of the users of this content and associated training required by the user, be it a teacher or a student to use the same. He highlighted CDAC's, Kolkata's initiative in providing ICT training to local community to create local information management system, and manage their information system. He also discussed the need for local education content in local language and alternate learning materials for effective education through ICTs that can affect education anytime and anywhere.
The keynotes was followed by the three thematic sessions pertaining to Tools of learning through ICT, Challenges and Practices of e-learning and Technology options in education.
Tools for learning vary between CDs and DVDs, multimedia, PDA, Internet, mobile devices etc. The aim of the session was to showcase and discuss the potential of various tools in formal and informal education. Akira Hattori of Kanagawa Institute of Technology, Japan, demonstrated how digital map