Technology in Education

With an increased exposure to various gadgets in the market, there is a big hue and cry for introduction of technology in our education system from certain quarters. I too am in this bandwagon and hence I am taking an anticipatory bail of a biased view right at the start.

Whenever we talk of India, we say that it is a land of diversity, which is quite true. Though in the case of educational systems for the poor, this saying has not hold good. There may be exceptions, but for me, the state of education for the ‘Aam-Aadmi’ is the same across the states. The link between education and backwardness has been identified, explained and discussed a lot in the academic circles also.

The immediate inspiration in jotting down these thoughts is the TED book review of Sugata Mitra’s Beyond Hole in the Wall: Discover the Power of Self Organized Learning. Being a strong critic of Victorian education system prevalent in our country, Mitra’s pedagogy was like a sugar cube for me. But when I started thinking more seriously on taking it as a research agenda for Indian context many things came to my mind. Two major concerns are being shared in this blog.

First and foremost idea that comes to mind is that Mitra’s philosophy talks about unsupervised learning, which to me under the present social conditions, seem highly inappropriate. Agreed that he has tested it out among the “ordinary”, but how well can it suit a place like Gadchiroli or Nandurbarg or any other remote tribal location, where access becomes paramount. Second question is a more common one that has been asked by even experts- Is India ready for technology intervention in education?

I had attempted to look at an explanation of the situation across India using Educational Development Index during my first stage project. My answer to the first question is emerging out of this work. The core understanding that I got from that study was that at primary and upper primary levels of elementary education the problems of infrastructure and teachers are much more prominent than access. The states which were lower in terms of access were the ones like Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Himachal and Manipur which seemed quite contrary to my imagination. [Again, states being a larger aggregation of the reality, hides the much more finer details]. Even then, to me, it meant that some sort of school is available for students in general across the country. So if we try to introduce technology in terms of computers and internet in a minimally invasive way, won’t that be perfect for the issue related to teachers? And moving on to the specific question regarding tribal areas with minimal access, what will be the best possible solution for these places? I believe that this is going to be a major research question for me when I start my journey into the world of research.

The second question that is India ready for embracing technology is a multifaceted one. On the one hand we have a greater fraction living in desperate circumstances and on the other we are trying to march forward in the use of technology for development. So where exactly is the fine balance going to come? Personally I believe that the power of technology has to be harnessed by every individual. When you start relying on foreign/domestic aids/subsidy it does not go well with the general agenda of empowerment and development. If you look at regions which are trying to use technology in education we can see that there is representation of developed world (UK, Finland, Australia etc.) and developing world (Tanzania, Vietnam, Malaysia etc). The improved output is observed in the developed world, as expected, but the the very fact that developing world is not far behind gives us hope in attempting for the intervention. With the power of IT arena of our country, this will mean that manpower will be available in plenty for kicking off this revolution.

The next major point of concern will be quality of the virtual learning environment that will be provided. I will start the exploration towards this and discuss the results in my future posts.