By Prateek Singh, Detail Talk
Almost everyone… every major player in the Indian education sector was here. The big exhibition had on show every modern, high tech trappings of a digital classroom on display! As numerous as the stall were, so were the sessions in the digital learning track at eIndia 2010. Now, I went to Hyderabad with certain excitement and urge to explore what the private companies in the education space have to offer to the schools and institutions of our country.
My interest isn’t as that of an information hungry person, but that of someone who has his startup company designing and developing products for the same space. And this can make the post a bit critical on the ideas, products and services presented at eIndia 2010. It has been a little over 2 years since my partners and I are running a company which is into designing scientific instruments and educational aids to improve the general quality of learning (and I do not mean teaching!) in the classrooms across our schools in India.
In our journey till now, we have seen run down single room schools in distant villages, their multi grade classroom and how a teacher teaches (or manages to engage kids) in such a setup. We have also seen and pitched our services to middle rung urban schools the ones to which most of the middle class India sends its kids to learn. Schools which have a strength of 700-1000 students and have been in existence for more than two decades. And then colleges which aren’t much different from the schools in their general state of infrastructure but obviously different in their level of teaching and learning.
Added to this is my own experience of growing up and attending a school in the distant sands of Balotra in Rajasthan. We didn’t have much in terms of facilities and infrastructure to speak of but we all somehow did just as good (if not better) as the kids in today’s schools. Later on, I attended a private university in south Indian town of Vellore. This was a contrast to my modest education! The university had all that I had not seen, never touched and hardly known. The first was a computer, then the instruments about which I had read in books and then the teaching aids- power points, smart classrooms etc.
While many would find this comparison a bit stretched and inappropriate, I would argue that it is important if on assess the effectiveness of the modern ICT tools (of the sort that private companies today offer) compared to their costs. What did the old schools have which produced students who have done good on all levels and fields of endeavour. Here are some questions which my team has been trying to answer over the past two years in our start up:
- Has ICT based learning or teaching made such a tremendous impact on the quality of learning?
- How central is the role of ICT in the education at primary level?
- In an environment of constraints (skills, infrastructure, finance) how do we prioritize our approach to improving the quality of education in general?
- Should availability of basic learning aids and scientific instruments at primary and higher levels of education be prioritized with respect to ICT aids like smartboards, digitised and animated lesson plans etc.
- And lastly, just what kind of ICT tools does the Indian education landscape requires?
Back to eIndia, it was great to see such a wide interest in ‘digital learning’ track. There were Principals from government schools and a few from private schools. Then there were some education entrepreneurs running a chain of schools, school administrators and a good number of senior administrative services officers from the numerous state and central government ministries. Did I forget to mention the horde of private sector companies which were enthusiastically presenting their offerings (mainly smartboards, digitised curriculum of various grades and quantitative test solutions for student learning outcomes). Oh..and there was a big american MNC with its 3D offerings! This surely could have been better! I was expecting much more from the private sector and to the least expected them to pay attention to the needs of schools that were being outlined during the discussions. But they chose to market their products and little else.
Alternatively, it was quite shocking to see principals and school administrators considering smartboard options for their schools. Now these are principals from the multitude of association (called Sanghatans) run chain of schools which cater to a vast majority of middle class parents in tier 1& 2 cities. Now, typically these schools do not have such surplus funds to go for these relatively expensive ICT tools and it isn’t difficult to see that these costs would get pushed on to the parents.
What was noticeable was a lack of focus on a underlying framework for the role of ICT in learning. Here is what I find could have been discussed at a greater length:
– The notion that one size fits all in ICT could be a fallacy. Customization of content needs to be explored and talked about. This I believe can bring grater benefits for the companies and much clear advantage to the schools to adopt to it. The current practice of a single large repository of content being licensed to schools is seriously flawed.
– The current orientation of the ICT tools isn’t quite conducive to a grater teacher-student interaction. At times it has been found to create confusion among the teachers in how to integrate it with her lesson plans and teaching approach. I’d like to argue that the newer ICT tools need to put “teacher” as a major design consideration!
– The ICT market in education today looks much like the great Indian bazaar lacking form and function. The chaos needs to be resolved. It isn’t a surprise that most schools implement ICT programs involving significant budget and human resources without any clear plan and goals to pursue. A role that eIndia like conference can play is to be a platform to bring these aspects in focus and help evolve defined structures. It could greatly benefit the school administrators if they had a methodical approach to assess their school’s ICT requirements and assess appropriate solutions to these requirements.
Having observed the developments in the Indian education sector at the government level and in the private sector, I find that the attention to the details is preventing the people in the sector from seeing the bigger picture. For a long time now the focus has been on the notion that ICT can ‘transform’ the way Indian classrooms look. Well, it can do only that if the larger roles of these new technology tools are not questioned. Towards this, the conference has been quite effective. What we do require is to assess whether these tools are indispensable, relevant or effective in improving the quality of learning. And as the common perception stands that these are important for effective learning then how much do we pay for it?
Source : Detail Talk
About the Author
Prateek works at Baya Labs. A skilled programmer, he is experienced in working on Free and Open Source platforms. He has worked on application development projects in life sciences. He is passionate about graphic designing and coding on open source platforms. At Baya Labs he has been developing open hardware based laboratory instruments. Contact him on Facebook