March 2016

Creating pathways for digital learning in Indian schools: Some policy imperatives

Creating conducive policy framework to incorporate technology into educational practices in the nation is the need of the hour

The rapidly evolving landscape of digital learning has the potential to change how education is transacted and how both teachers and learners engage and participate in the pedagogical processes. Over the past few years, the design and development of new technological affordances in the form of repositories of open educational resources, games, simulations and online learning platforms has been growing. However, one of the key challenges has been to integrate it organically within the school curriculum while simultaneously empowering the teachers to use these affordances as effective pedagogical tools. In the Indian context, large scale adoption and diffusion of such innovative educational practices can be facilitated only through a conducive policy framework that can inform the manner in which digital learning can be leveraged in schools with the teacher as a central driver of the innovation.

On the policy front, India is now awaiting the release of a draft proposal for a New Education Policy by the Ministry of Human Resources Development (MHRD). As a result, there is interest in understanding how the goal of making 'India a knowledge superpower by equipping its students with the necessary skills and knowledge and eliminating the shortage of manpower in science, technology, academics and industry' is intended to be achieved. The consultative processes undertaken by the MHRD during 2015 had structured inputs on two new themes viz. Promotion of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) systems in school for adult education, new knowledge, pedagogies and varied approaches for teaching of math, science and technology in schools to improve learning outcomes. The manner in which the MHRD delivers on these two themes will be of particular interest to the small yet emerging community of educationists in the country. It is expected that the new policy provisions will commit to leveraging technological affordances for enhancing classroom processes, strengthening the role of the teacher, and creating digital pathways of learning.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development adopted by the United Nations in September 2015 acknowledged that there is great scope in accelerating the human progress by eliminating digital gaps, which is only possible by educating the society on the spread of information and communications technology. This in turn will require facilitating exchange of thought at all levels between the learners, teachers and the larger ecosystem to build interconnectedness. In the Indian context, the existing inequities in educational opportunities are further exacerbated by a digital divide and there is a need to facilitate connectedness at all levels between the learners, teachers and the larger ecosystem. Technology enabled 'connected learning' has the potential to address geographical and social disparities, but there needs to be a policy imperative to ensure these are used with broader goals of equity and social inclusion. Furthermore, the possibility of "working at scale" provided by these tools can also become a key ingredient to foster connectedness.

While the MHRD continues to work on policy proposals that allow us to reap this potential, it would be useful to take on board the ideas and insights of educationists, researchers and education technology designers working towards demonstrating the efficiency of technology enabled learning experiences in transforming quality of secondary education in India.

First, there is a need to reformulate the vision of role of ICT in schools and education as a whole. The current vision for ICT (as reflected in the National Policy on ICT in School Education) is largely limited to provisioning of infrastructure and setting up of ICT labs. While availability of both core and enabling technology infrastructure is a prerequisite, there is a need to focus on curricular resources. There is a need to move away from pre-packaged ICT resources meant for passive uptake to providing access to tools and open resources which learners (both teachers and students) can actively engage with for their own learning.

Second, with respect to teachers, instead of using technology to teacher-proof the curriculum, there is a need to respect teacher agency and build her 'technology, pedagogical, content knowledge' so that technology actually empowers her by connecting her to curriculum specialists as well as peers. There is also a need to work with teachers and engage them actively in shaping the use of technological tools in the classrooms and labs.

Third, the government should ensure that students and teachers have increased access (before and after school hours) to computer labs backed by pedagogical resources to achieve purposeful integration of ICT in schools. Teachers need more time on the computers themselves to be able to integrate technology in their teaching. The government should also think of providing separate access to computers for the teachers, requiring that all faculty will have and use computing devices.

Fourth, there is a need for an integrated system of collaborative knowledge structures, strengthened by technology which works in tandem with what is being transacted through the structured curriculum. Such knowledge structures should be made available to schools in both English and regional/state language.

The much anticipated New Education Policy can draw from these field level experiences which show what learning resources can be created, curated and made available with the use of technology and what is required to be done at the systemic level to make such educational transformation possible.

Archana Mehendale is a professor at Centre for Education Innovation and Action Research at Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai. She is co-leading the Research Group of the Connected Learning Initiative (CLIx), an innovative initiative of Tata Trusts, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and TISS.

The article was featured in both Financial Express and Economic Times.