Education, General

On Digitally Enabled Education: Issues and Concerns-Dr. Subhash Chandra Pandey

Recently, I had the pleasure and privilege of sharing my experiences, perspectives and suggestions on the whole ecosystem of digitally delivered education and training in a faculty development programme organised by Delhi School of Public Policy and Governance.

Digital education is not just an outcome of the pandemic but also part of a longer term agenda to expand access to education. Here is a recap of some points for my FB friends.

Education does not stop at college and increasingly most of us need and crave for continuing education. Professionals in every field are realising that the world has changed a lot and changing as we speak. What they learnt as students is getting outdated.

Technology is creating new jobs and decimating old jobs. So continuing education and reskilling beyond traditional student life is important to stay engaged.

Last few centuries have been some amazing technology transformations like the invention of the printing press, steam engine driven industrial revolution, internet and now we are into the world of artificial intelligence, robotics, blockchains, machine learning etc.

There are active discussions as to how a number of jobs requiring routine, repetitive tasks are under threat of extinction, particularly in countries where demography favors such transition.

A few decades back, many jobs got shifted to lower-cost economies transferring the burden of pollution to developing countries. Now the developed world has a chance to take back some of it.

Industry 4.0 can help replace large mass-production manufacturing with decentralised manufacturing of consumer items with customised designs, custom made, made to order for each individual customer.

Today, specifically in the Indian context, we have to think of issues of managing a knowledge economy, education, skill development. Improving employability in an integrated manner as the competition for jobs will intensify over time.

So what are our achievements and future goals? Miles travelled, miles to go.

United Nations Sustainable Developments Goals include 10 targets for education. SDG Goal 4 expect countries to achieve by 2030 free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and effective learning outcomes.

This implies 12 years of free, publicly-funded, inclusive, equitable, quality primary and secondary education – of which at least nine years are compulsory education.

SDG target also include at least one year of free and compulsory quality pre-primary education and equal access to affordable and quality technical, vocational and higher education.

We have about 16 lakh schools, 40,000 Colleges and 11000 Stand Alone Institutions and 1000 Universities covering about 33 crore students. There were 3.22 crore out of school children in the age group of 6 to 17 as per the 75th round household survey by NSSO in 2017-18.

Our Gross Enrollment Ratio is about 91% for classes 6-8; 80% for classes 9-10; 57% for Classes 11-12 and 26% for higher education.

When we say higher education GER is 26%, it means 26% of persons in the age group 18-23 are enrolled in higher education institutions.

National Education Policy 2020 (NEP2020) is a major reset of the educational system after the first policy of 1968 and second policy of 1986/1992.

NEP targets 100% GER upto Class 12 by 2030 and 50% for higher education by 2035. So our target is that all children in the age group 6-17 years have minimum education upto Class 12 by 2030 and at least half in the age group 18-23 years have access to higher education by 2035.

This is a very ambitious goal.

Under the Directive Principles of State Policy contained in the original Art.45 of the Constitution, the framers of the Constitution expected free and compulsory education for age group 6 to 14 by 1960.

The Constitution 86th Amendment 2002 brought into force from 1-4-2010 introduced a new Fundamental Right under Art.21A. Right to free and compulsory elementary education upto age 14 became a Fundamental Right under Art.21A. Original Art.45 was changed to a new mandate: Provision for early childhood care and education to children below the age of six years.

NEP2020 goes beyond these expectations and coming from the country with the largest student population, it is a matter for the global community to cheer.

All those born after 1986/1992 are in majority now and who stand to be directly affected by this revamp in the education system. They look forward to an education that prepares them for the life ahead in an increasingly VUCA world (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous).

NEP2020 implementation is a major challenge. How are NEP2020 objectives going to be achieved to expand access to education (enhance GER) without affecting quality?

NEP2020 aims at
• liberalising norms for opening new schools, provision of evening classes etc.
• allowing existing narrow-band educational institutions to offer almost any new course
• adopting cluster approach to enable sharing of amenities and infrastructure
• introducing education credit system to facilitate getting education from multiple sources and completing the education with some breaks (allow exit and re-entry)
• involving civil society, community, alumni
• inviting top-rated foreign universities to open their campuses

and last but not the least
• by expanding Open and Distance Learning through a blend of online and offline classes – Mass Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and digital resource repositories

Digitally enabled education is essential component of the strategy to improve access and quality, to substantially improve Gross Enrollment Ratios. Given the geographical dispersal of student population and the baffling diversity of subjects and topics to be covered, it is impossible to create well-resourced colleges and universities everywhere. There is bound to be some local mismatch between demand and supply. Online course can fill this need to some extent.

While some traditional jobs may face attrition, many new jobs would emerge. With targeted GER of 50% in higher education by 2035, competition will increase for some jobs but newer job opportunities would also arise, both at home and abroad.

Popularity of online courses is increasing. Many EdTech companies are rapidly expanding their turnover. Free provision of ‘Mass Online Open Courses’ is an important initiative of the government. I would urge those interested in this area to explore the SWAYAM platform developed by Ministry of Education and NPTEL, IIT Madras with the help of Google Inc. and Persistent Systems Ltd. .

There are 9 national coordinators for different categories of MOOCs.
1. AICTE (All India Council for Technical Education) for self-paced and international courses
2. NPTEL (National Programme on Technology Enhanced Learning) for Engineering
3. UGC (University Grants Commission) for non technical post-graduation education
4. CEC (Consortium for Educational Communication) for under-graduate education
5. NCERT (National Council of Educational Research and Training) for school education
6. NIOS (National Institute of Open Schooling) for school education
7. IGNOU (Indira Gandhi National Open University) for out-of-school students
8. IIMB (Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore) for management studies
9. NITTTR (National Institute of Technical Teachers Training and Research) for Teacher Training programme

If you just want to update your knowledge, you can go through over 2000 free online courses. If you want a certificate to add to your CV, then you can pay a small fee (about Rs.1000) and take an examination conducted by National Test Agency.

Another rich resource is National Digital Library of India (NDLI) developed by IIT, Kharagpur under the National Mission on Education through Information and Communication Technology (NMEICT)

During the Programme, we discussed issues of effective pedagogy, generation of quality content, its regular updating and indexing according to university syllabus and training of teachers. For example, the presentations need not be a simple transfer of bookish content sliced into slides and bullets. Need to include more real life case studies was emphasised.

Competition on actual and perceived quality of paid online courses offered by private entities and free MOOCs by the 9 public entities was also noted as an issue.

We also need to have educational resources available in DAISY (Digital Accessible Information SYstem) for differently abled students such as audiobooks, books in Braille script etc.

Emerging use of Virtual Reality technology offers vast scope of immersive learning in which students can experience through multi-media things that cannot be drawn by chalk on blackboard.

Of course, digital divide in access to hardware/software needs to be bridged for which IT sector is already getting ready.

All this is pretty exciting scenario about delivery of educational services but the content and pedagogy also needs review.

True education liberates and critical thinking is our cherished cultural heritage. We need an educational system that whets up curiosity; that develops critical thinking ability; that imparts ability to discern good from bad, true from false; that imparts life skills and basic occupational skills. We need an educational system that yields empowered, aware and confident individuals.

So our curriculum and pedagogy need a big revamp to whet students’ curiosity and critical thinking.

It is deeply satisfying to remain connected with this ecosystem of video lectures, presentations, discussion forums, Multiple Choice Questions. It allows me to remain connected with Youngistan and understand their issues and concerns. On their aspirations and efforts rests the future of our country. We cannot afford to fail them.