February 2010

Education for All: Role of ICT

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Education and literacy is an absolute must for any economy, especially developing and/or near-developed economy. Yes, here we are talking of India. An honest, committed and focused approach to ‘Education for All’ can make greatest difference in addressing issues like unemployment, bridging the urban-rural divide, minimising the need and  role of subsidies and  exhaustive socio-economic benefit programmes, and managing in a better manner the ever growing rich-poor gap.

Under ‘Education for All’, the focus needs to be on employable education. It is essential to provide international and state-of-the-art exposure to people living in rural areas. ‘Education for All’ can help in achieving urbanisation of rural. The theme needs to be employable education and ease of learning the difficult and complex subjects and concepts.

Though it is a dire need of yesteryears, there have been many programmes and schemes by Government of India backed by multi-crores of rupees for the financial support; huge amount of funds are planned, released, and consumed, but  ground reality is very different and far from expectations. Reasons are many and unfortunately till date, it [Education for All] is still like a dream.

This has been the slogan for quite a while by entire leadership teams across political parties throughout the country. However, here is some good news, in recent times even selected industry leaders like Bharti group are catching up with education as a subject matter in their focus areas though in a small and a  selected way. Yet another ray of hope, even present government is showing lot of focus on education as a subject. There seems to be tremendous focus on education reforms as government has certainly started talking.

Role of ICT in Education

Information and Communication Technology (ICT) is one great tool in conceptualising, building and implementing reforms across sectors. Large corporate houses and some of the sectors (Banking, Aviation, Telecom) have adopted this quite a while back.

Department of Information and Technology (DIT) under Ministry of Communication and Information and Technology (MCIT) has conceptualised and launched innovative Mission Mode Projects (MMP) under National e-Governance Plan (NeGP). The objective of MMP under NeGP is to create an overall framework to facilitate line Ministries and departments to initiate their major ICT-enabled administrative reforms and initiatives (more details available under e-Governance on dit.gov.in). This is an attempt to enhance  Government to Citizen (G2C), Government to Business (G2B), Government to Employee (G2E), Government to Government (G2G), Government to Stakeholder (G2S) respectively) experience in terms of enhanced efficiency, effectiveness, accountability, transparency, agility, evolutionary development and gradual adoption. This has a unique built-in mechanism to bring industry players on board right from conceptualisation through execution.

It might be an interesting idea to include ‘Education for All’ as one of the MMP  under NeGP. Ministry of Human Resource and Development (MoHRD) would certainly need to own and drive this; however DIT and/or Planning Commission can be the facilitator. By bringing in under NeGP, it can help MoHRD by providing an institutionalised mechanism from the perspective of conceptualisation of initiatives around a framework, develop thought leadership, develop the solution, manage challenges like sustainenance; possibly one of the biggest advantage is to bring industry on board logically and  meaningfully through Public- Private Partnership (PPP) model. Education is a huge subject with various facet and  stakeholders attached to it like primary/ secondary/ higher education, professional education, administrative bodies, schools/ colleges/ institutions, etc. In the current NeGP MMP, there is a small cover for education through initiatives like CSC’s (Common Services Centers); however it requires a very different platform and focus to drive such a Dream. e-Governance (basically ICT) has certain non-functional natural benefits (but very important and  critical in success) like replicability, expandability and  scalability, availability, repeatability, reaching the masses. One of the biggest feature of ICT is to help in conceptualising the concept/ initiative in evolutionary manner and gradual adoption.

Education and ICT – MADE FOR EACH OTHER

1. There are series of challenges attached to education in today’s context, some of them can be articulated as
2. Lack of teachers in right quality and quantity at right place anytime, especially challenges in rural areas (reach the un-reach)
3. Lack of education facilities/ institutions/infrastructure in sync with population spread
4. Maintaining, sustaining, and enhancing the education standards and quality
5. Need to revisit and revise the syllabi and contents in line with ever changing times on continuous basis
6. Ever growing commercialisation of education as a subject matter and opportunities

One of the biggest challenges in Education is the content, and the still higher challenge is maintaining and sustaining the content updated especially in today’s ever-changing times. In education, even sky is not the limit. Even the bigger challenge in education is the availability of constant consistent and updated multi-lingual content.

Yet another equally bigger challenge in education is practical means and ways  of education. This gets further compounded by acute shortage of required/desired education infrastructure and facilities in terms of laboratories, equipments, MIS, and other material.

‘Taare Zameen Par’ and ‘3 Idiots’ are dot on nail. There is a huge message and an eye opener in teaching and learning process. How practical way of teaching can make learning easy and interesting. How profi ling of content in line with the target learner can make the difference? The contents shall remain same for all, but innovative means of teaching and content articulation can be a single most differentiator.

Truly, in majority of cases, education process lacks this absolutely as all students in a particular class/ session are pretty much treated at par; while that is not the truth. In today’s context across the board, there is practically no concept of profi ling the content and/or delivery mechanism of content in line with profi le of the target receiver. Profi ling may not be possible at individual level to start with, but certainly in selected manner. Even matching the pace of learning with pupil, in a small way, is quite important and critical. Some of the selected kindergarten has started to adopt innovative learning process, but they can be counted on fi nger tips and affordability is the key aspect; however the requirement is toinstitutionalise this across the board, across disciplines (like Mathematics, Science, Social Science, etc ), across standard (primary, secondary, higher, graduation, post-graduation). When the entire world talks about employable education, possibly nurturing the education in desired and right manner tops the priority. e-Governance initiatives in the country too have set of challenges like sustainability and replicating the success, hence it is quite signifi cant to institutionalise such a sensitive initiative.

ICT has a huge role play because of its certain distinctive characteristics for initiative like Education. Some of these can be named as innovative means and ways of teaching (digital content, animation, games and puzzle), virtual labs, extensive online support material for faculty, virtualisation of teaching community, online self assessment, online evaluation, diagnosis and pattern analysis, organisation-wide extensive and comprehensive management tools for people across levels (vertically and horizontally).

Education primarily has three broad components/ dimensions, i.e. content in required and desired template/ format in ever-evolutionary manner, optimal availability of academic infrastructure in line with geographical spread, and selfpaced learning with assessment and selfassessment. One small smart tool can be stakeholder dashboard. Stakeholders are many like parents, students, subject matter teachers, school administration, government administrative authorities, institution management, NGO(s) and other national and worldwide bodies, research community, industry, fi nancing institutions, and others.

In a country like India, it is not viable and sustainable to create laboratories for people living till last mile in all respect; however virtual laboratories could be an answer to it. Here, education shall include all academic and professional education with exhaustive focus on workmanship related courses like carpenter, plumber, electrician, auto repairer, and the list is huge. Among the biggest advantage of concepts like virtual laboratories could be once done-made for all, content, concept, and articulation be evolutionary in nature, self-paced learning, making exposure to state-of-the-art tools and technology to potential workforce, affordability, managing the shortage of teaching community, sharing the expertise and experience of specialists and experts in  selected manner. There is no question of replacing and/or eliminating the physical class room, faculty/ teachers, expert’s experience sharing; but this can be an attempt to manage the huge demand supply gap in the given scenario.

Having launched, the entire process can become evolutionary for subject like education. Among other characteristics, ICT can help implementing version control in the entire journey process. Once the platform is established, it is quite convenient and effi cient to keep adding and enhancing various components in the entire supply-chain. Adding new streams and/or expanding the reach can be achieved relatively effortlessly. ICT has the power to make the entire education and learning scenario interesting and global. This could provide a genuine opportunity to the whole lot of people to pay back to their native place and people irrespective of wherever they are today for whatever the reasons. This is a platform to achieve ‘reach the un-reach (unreachable)’. It  is an effort to open dialogue, discussions, and deliberation on ‘role of ICT in  Education for ALL’.

SUDHIR AGGARWAL

SUDHIR AGGARWAL is Senior Vice President and Head – Government initiatives for Enterprise Division at Sify Technologies  Limited. He is responsible for strategic business development in Government and Defense segment. Sudhir Aggarwal joined Sify in January 2008, as Senior Vice President and Head – Government initiatives. He is responsible to particularly focusing in creating very large opportunities in the Government and Defense segments Prior to his tenure at Sify, he held General Manager, Government (Business Development) at Oracle.

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