January 2016

Modernising Indian education systems

Overhauling education in India can be brought about through a combination of digital technology and conventional pedagogical methods

Technology continuously proves itself to be indispensable to our lives, to an extent where it holds a degree of influence over us. In India, the prevalent usage of mobile phones, ATMs and the Internet, in spite of vast differences in terms of incomes, ethnicities and rural-urban divides, has proved that most individuals have effectively adapted to technological innovations and are able to incorporate it seamlessly into their lives. 

However, the one space where technology has surprisingly missed its mark is the Indian education sector, which needs a serious overhaul to make it relevant to the technological advancements of the current age. 

While most students are savvy in using technology for recreational purposes, they are not introduced to the benefits of technology as an enabling tool. Teachers, administrators, and policy makers who constitute a fundamental part of the Indian education ecosystem have not adopted technology as an integral (and not peripheral) tool for teaching and learning processes. Only a few private schools have seen the introduction of smart boards, media clips, and tablets in classrooms, but these are additives rather than elemental tools of learning. Further, many education tools and applications, in the market today, claim to be able to replace teachers or address teacher shortage. While this may sound like a noble cause, the need of the hour is to replace the existing methodology of teaching, not the teachers. This mismatch exists partly due to the reason that most of these applications are designed by companies which target only the students as their primary customers, instead of considering the teacher and the administrators who needs to be enabled to integrate technology effectively. Hence, the existing applications are yet to dent the education system significantly. 

Moreover, when one does a thorough examination, it becomes clear that majority of the applications and demonstrations are meant for students in elementary school. There are very few tools aimed to ease the learning of high school students, the level at which conceptual understanding is complex and harnessing the 21st century skills to enter the higher education of vocational space would be most beneficial. 

Therefore, many educationists and experts have agreed an intervention is warranted, wherein the focus of the Indian education system ought to harness ‘blended learning’- a combination of the physical and digital tools which integrate Face to Face pedagogical methods with innovative connected learning- to deliver quality education at scale to Indian students. These are interactive, innovative, and authentic and are able to provide learning experiences which are technology enabled which engages with the students, and also supports the teaching efforts by the teachers, leading to a connected and authentic learning. 

There is scope for local relevance of the content being taught in local languages, which enables effective learning experience even in rural parts of India. Students in these non-urban centres present a unique opportunity to address the persisting problem of limited access to quality education—a problem that this blended learning can address, if scaled in a proper manner. 

Fortunately, the very nature of these technologically advanced tools can reassure this effective scalability across India, as they comprise tools which connect with the global and open educational resources, and harness distance and flexible learning. The likelihood of these innovative tools succeeding in addressing the problems that plague our system is high, as they have been created by the same educationists who understand the reality which persists in the education sector. 

Amina Charania is Manager, Education Portfolio at Tata Trusts and Adjunct Associate Professor, CEIAR  at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences