India: Education and technology

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India is a land of diversity and the best way to describe India’s diversity is to understand that whatever one knows of India the opposite is also true! It is a land of contradictions and paradigm shifts. In this wonderful world, we have the abundance of educational experiential learning’s to narrate.  Among the vast ocean of knowledge and experience that we live in there is one field that has evaded all our lives and impacted it in a manner that some of us are either unaware of its impact or too swept by it. And this field is technology. We all know the impact it has had in our personal lives but it is worth seeing the evolution, growth, and impact it has had in the educational scenario in our country.

In this diverse land of ours, technology has gone through different phenomenal paradigm phases and for all of us living in the last decade or so, are amazed to witness all these phases at one time! Each phase has been unique and has been influenced by the socio-economic and/or political ideology of the individual States. India has witnessed five distinct phases and is still witnessing all at the same time. While one state could be at phase five another could be at the first phase.

India has witnessed and is witnessing five phases. These are:

  1. IT literacy
  2. Basic It Literacy
  3. IT integration
  4. I:I learning
  5. Global e.learning

A brief journey of each is elucidated below:

IT Literacy (Technology meets Education)

Early in the 80’s came this wonderful device called a computer. It was alien to education. Education meant a classroom, controlled by the teacher, using a blackboard and books and some desk and chairs. There was no place for a computer in a classroom. Then someone came along and impressed upon the government that the need to update the future generation on technology was a must and computers entered school through our Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan  (SSA) programme.

Methodology:

A computer lab shared by a number of students.

But these computers were expensive and therefore the need to keep them protected and shared among the many was felt. This was a stage when Mr. Technology met Ms Education. (the intention here is not to hurt anyone’s sensibilities by putting a gender to them…please change the gender mentally as long as you bear the analogy in mind!) Both were alien to each other and both fumbled and stared at each other wondering how and what to expect from each other. Of course there was the sense of power control and struggle and each looked at each other suspiciously and wanted to not let go of their complete control and mastery of their area. Therefore, the computer class consisted of teaching how to operate the system effectively within certain prescribed hours; while the educators spent the rest of the sessions with their chalk and board. Each felt that they knew more than the other and would impact their target audience much more through their style of teaching. So what was the impact of such a relationship on the target group, the children?

Outcome:

Strengths: Children became eager learners, were excited to visit the computer labs, for many it was a status symbol to know how to operate a computer, group-collaboration began since children had to share computers and general awareness grew among the children.

Challenges: Teachers were reluctant to operate the ‘alien’ device, felt it did not map with their work, no qualitative changes were seen through this system yet the children asked for more from this exciting device. The gap between the educator and the learner grew as both their needs did not meet.

Questions:

Yet the IT literacy phase or the “Technology meets Education” phase threw up interesting questions to the world of education and technology. Would it not benefit both to become friends? Could the two try and make the twain meet?

Could technology understand education and education use technology as a tool to make learning effective? Could the learning objectives be met through technology? Could the two as a combined force lead to better learning outcomes?

These and many more such questions led to the evolution of the next stage of this exciting journey.

Basic IT-literacy (The courtship period between Education and Technology)

The above questions led to teachers being trained to use technology and the technocrats became sensitive enough to look for innovative ways to merge technology with content. Hence began the journey of training, innovative ways of presenting content through digital formats and the government pushed for more IT literacy labs in the country. Even todayIndiahas a large number of such Labs operating in the country and for the majority of the students this is the only exposure to technology that they have in their schools or local communities.

The efficacy of such a system highlighted:

Outcome:

Strengths: Teachers started accepting technology and looked at it more openly. Student found the idea exciting that their content could be ‘seen’ instead of being only ‘heard’ from the teachers. And simple project work on the computer became the ‘in’ thing.

Challenges: The more aware the teachers became of technology she/he demanded the need to match educational objectives with technology. Yet she/he also feared that technology would replace him/her and thus the reluctance to push it further.

Questions:

The challenges led to question the belief that education could happen in a classroom with only a blackboard and chalk. Could the content not be linked to technology? Why can’t it be used in every subject, everyday?  Yet the resistance to change too much in the classroom came from the teacher who felt that her/his power over the children would erode and hence the question, could technology find the balance between maintaining the power of the teacher in the class and also using technology to teach a concept?

Technology meanwhile was moving at a faster pace and it was making a concerted effort to woo the educationist. Hence the need to move to the next phase was felt by those who had experienced phase two.

IT Integration ( Formal engagement between Technology and Education)

Like all engagements are a beautiful period this phase too was a period of innovation and the best efforts both forward by both sides to integrate and understand each other and to merge into one.

The government realized the success of SSA had enhanced their image. The need to update and move to the next phase was critical and hence technology was wooed if it brought content into the classroom for every subject and if the teacher did not feel threatened. Hence, content and teaching methodology as used by Educomp Smart_class system proved to be a major success. 2D and 3D content was now within the reach of every child or if not they were available in digital libraries.

Outcomes in the schools that adopted this system proved to be an exciting story.

Outcome:

Strengths: Technology was demystified, came to be regarded as a learning tool, Children’s retention, recall improved. Grades in different subjects showed a major improvement and learning became fun instead of being tedious and boring. Facilitators now realized that he/she had control of the class and was able to teach more.

Challenges: While technology was moving at a speed the educational world was researching newer and innovative ways to understand the needs of the learners and was finding innovative strategies to reach out to each and every learner. Theories based on Multiple intelligences, different types of learners and cognitive and neurological research were entering the classroom. The facilitator had to now cope with trying to teach each child based on their learning style. It was a challenging task keeping the large numbers in our government schools and therefore a new demand on technology was made.

Questions:

Could technology cater to each and every child’s learning needs?

This was a critical question which technology needed to find the answer too quickly if this formal engagement had to translate to a marriage. And knowing the pace at which technology moves it was sure to come to some solution.

1:1 (one on one) learning (The newly wed-Education and Technology)

This is a recent marriage or development and if we can prudently say still at the honeymoon stage in India! Both Education and Technology is still trying to understand each other and is exploring what to maximize from each other.

Yet this has opened newer frontiers for many and it has revolutionized what we believe a typical school should be or how education should take place. 1:1 learning involves that each child is given a laptop and each learns at his/her own pace and in his her own learning style.

Observing daily usage of one on one laptops in certain schools have shown some interesting case studies and anecdotes.  Here are two simple case studies:

  • Arvind is a grade V student at a government school in Faridabad, a small district in Haryana.  Arvind showed no interest in his work, scored below average grades and interrupted the class everyday. Arvind used the laptop for six months. Today Arvind tops the class in his grades, is the leader among his peers and wants to become a software engineer.
  • Maya was a Grade V student in Chennai who was shy and introvert. She enjoyed net surfing and found certain programmes which talked about personality development on U-tube fascinating and began copying their style. Six months later she began taking part in debates and uses her laptop to write articles for the local newspaper on social issues.
Outcome:

These are only two from the many examples we have. Yet we see the wind of change happening here in India. Those who have used this for a couple of months have seen its strengths and are challenging this learning process.

Strengths: Needs of the students are being met. Concept clarity is improving, Teacher’s feel in control. Innovative content is being created and learning levels are improving, collaborative work and projects are being given an impetus.

Challenges: Demand for learning at ones own time and space, Emotional Quotient or the need to understand the mood of every learner  and how to teach accordingly is being demanded from both the educationist and the technocrats.

Questions:

How can technology be used to teach at one’s own pace and time and how does this fit into the school schedule of time limit to complete the school syllabus? If the learner learns the way they want to learn when they want to learn and choose whom they want to learn from and decide how much they want to learn then can our educational system cater to this change and allow for more flexibility in the education structure and policies?

This is an evolving phase and like all new marriages this is going to lead to newer demands and expectation from each other.

Global e.learning  (the demands of marriage begin!)

The future will demand more and more of this in India. India today has to plan her education budget effectively and instead of spending more on school infrastructure it must invest in good quality teaching-learning processes. Already there are many who believe that virtual schools will be the next thing to work on. So how would a virtual school work?

Methodology:

The child learns whenever he/she wants from any facilitator he/she chooses from and has the option of choosing his or her own content. While still in the experimentation stage it has led to understanding a few facets of this fascinating way of learning.

Outcome:

Strengths: The student has access to any learning from anywhere and is self motivated to learn.

Challenges: The role of the facilitator has changed here and there is hesitancy on the part of the facilitator to teach because of lack of knowledge on various dimensions on content creation and how to present it online.

We, in India are part of a fascinating journey. This is a roller coaster ride and it is fasicnating to see how technology and education are challenging each other to improve qualitatively. At the speed we are moving and experimenting we wonder ‘next is what?’

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India: Education and technology