We are on the brink of a fundamental shift in society – and in our journey towards the Networked Society, we are unlocking the full potential of learning and education. Learning has been transformed into an industry. In its report, Understanding Knowledge Societies, the United Nations describes “knowledge economies” as those societies in which information and the creation of knowledge have replaced industrial production as the main contributor to GDP. As part of this development, businesses and governments are integrating ICT into their core processes to increase efficiency, expand scope and improve productivity. One result of this development has been the rapid digitisation of information and knowledge. Technology improves educational opportunities by enabling personalised study, while enhancing the potential for learning through community-based education and access to educational resources, even in remote rural schools.

Culture shift

Today’s young, live in an interactive culture characterised by unlimited access to information and content, anytime, anywhere. They are empowered by technology, and turning established models on their heads while new skills and learning platforms are redefining our systems and institutions. A person with a smartphone has instantaneous access to millions of articles, books, essays, academic research, instructions and lectures on every imaginable subject.

This development has broken down the barriers that used to exist between knowledge and the schools and libraries that were the gatekeepers of this knowledge. Young people and their collaborative culture, are in stark contrast to how schools and the majority of school systems are organized today. It is a culture that relies on peer-to-peer interaction for information to legitimize opinions, actions and behavior. It is also a culture that is fiercely entrepreneurial.

Virtual learning

In the Networked Society, learning is no longer constrained by the four walls of a physical classroom. The internet is their experimental workshop where user-driven trial and error teaches entrepreneurial skills and helps the best ideas rise to the top. It is a collaborative style of learning that is defined by openness and sharing. A flexible curriculum, individualized learning and a global course offering means education can be adapted to individual needs. A connected world means that the majority of parents will be able to transparently follow, and be more involved in, the learning process of their children. This change is on the same magnitude as the Industrial Revolution – but this time the shift revolves around the role of ICT and how it is transforming our society.

India is poised to leverage ICT towards empowered learning. The tools for learning are changing as students bring their own personalized devices. Progressive schools are working with 1:1 programs, where every student and teacher gets a laptop or tablet. Interactive whiteboards are also tools for collaborative work. Network connectivity and solutions for content management, communication and interactivity have become critical infrastructure for schools. Mobile phones, tablets and laptops are making the traditional school desk obsolete. Project-based learning is teaching students how to divide and take responsibility for different parts of their project, getting the opportunity to work both individually and in groups.

More importantly, education can significantly reduce poverty and ensure a productive and better valued life for people in India. With today’s technology, young people can have the opportunity to learn. Mobile broadband technology offers the opportunity to connect even the most remote village classrooms so that they can benefit from a 21st century education. Our initiative, Connect To Learn is a public-private partnership that involves the use of ICT solutions to promote universal access to a quality secondary education, with an emphasis on schooling for girls. However, there are considerable challenges in introducing modern broadband technology to schools in rural India. Among them are: logistical difficulties of bringing connectivity; access to electricity; security; low levels of IT knowledge among teachers; and the lack of a strong business model to ensure efforts are sustainable. Connect To Learn is helping meet many of these challenges by demonstrating the business opportunities to operators and governments to include ICT in national education policies and budgets.

The way ahead

As we approach the Networked Society, empowered communities will drive change towards new ways of governing, innovating, learning and educating - unlocking the full potential of learning. Teachers are, and will be, a vital part of education – but their role is changing from being a “sage on the stage” to a “guide by the side.”

The shift is happening while you read this article. It took 100 years to connect 1 billion places and only 25 years to connect 5 billion people – now Ericsson predicts that in less than 10 years fifty billion devices will be connected. This is what we mean when we talk about the Networked Society – a world where everything that can benefit from a connection will be connected.

(The writer is Vice President, Corporate Affairs, Ericsson Region India)

(This article was published on September 20, 2013)
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