Opinion

Pushing ahead with inclusive education

Rustom Kerawalla | Updated on February 03, 2021

As technology-aided education gathers steam, the Centre and State governments need to engage with teachers from tier-II and tier-III cities to increase inclusivity and also provide a fillip to the employability quotient in the education domain

The academic and professional standards of teachers constitute a critical component of the essential learning conditions for achieving the educational goals of any nation. In the past few years, the focus of teacher preparation and performance has shifted from training to education if it has to make a positive influence on the quality of curriculum transaction in classrooms and thereby pupil learning and the larger transformation in society.

To add to it, the Covid-19 pandemic presented the next level of challenge whereby the entire education fraternity had to get themselves updated for conducting online remote learning. The education realm had to adapt to this rapid change in a compressed time frame to ensure that students do not lose out on their learning experience.

The digital gap

While metros and tier-I cities experienced a massive engagement in online education and live streaming classes, the gap in digital education was evident in tier-II and tier-III cities, which often remain deprived of right infrastructure and technology. To add to the issue, most of the teachers were found to be lacking in the relevant skills to promote digital education.

It is, therefore, expected that the Centre and State governments need to put in place several initiatives — through digital and non-digital platforms — to ensure that teachers remain suitably updated in tier-II and tier-III cities as well. Be it easy access to study material, online classes, adaptive learning, or gamification, all efforts need to be made to initiate quality education.

It has been proven that these features influence a student’s learning curve dramatically. The issue of digital divide, therefore, needs to be addressed suitably. A major challenge for remote learning was found to be rampant inequality in access to technology. For instance, the UNICEF report mentions that just 24 per cent of households have the Internet connections to access e-education.

The reach of digital content is far and wide and it can be distributed across multiple delivery channels. And in order to reach all children at scale, education systems initiated by the government must prepare multi-faceted responses leveraging all available technologies — print, radio, television, mobile, online, and print utilising a combination of these mediums to ensure students are engaged and learning.

While India’s state-run public broadcasters — Doordarshan and AIR (All India Radio) — are broadcasting curriculum-based classes for primary, middle and high school level students, there is scope for more when it comes to delivery of quality education.

Blended learning

Even if schools or educational institutions are reopened, blended learning remains the way forward. Teachers will need to adapt to this format sooner or later. So, in order for a mixed mode delivery to become the new normal to reach all students, the stark inequalities in access to the Internet and devices must be addressed suitably.

In this regard, private funding will be essential to support infrastructure development, creating skill-sets and training teachers, increasing digital intensity in education in rural areas. Also, the spending on education needs to be ramped up as India spends only 3 per cent of its GDP and ranks 62nd in total public expenditure on education per student.

Further, by establishing a hub-and-spoke model with preschools and schools at the district or taluka levels acting as the hub and connecting with nearby villages, education delivery to students at the last mile can be suitably established through multimedia channels.

It is anticipated that the collaboration between government, school management service providers, EdTech companies and public and private enablers will help address the issue of quality education while creating the requisite infrastructure and inclusivity of education delivery.

Technology-aided education

Technology is playing an essential role to deliver education to the student outside of school. This has pushed the demand for remote teaching, which has grown significantly. Currently, information and communication technologies (ICTs) are shaping up education while assisting students to learn more effectively by providing teachers with access to a wide range of new pedagogy.

Online and technology-aided education remains the way forward. Tech-infused teaching with tablets, laptops, and interactive online courses has democratised the education domain making it more flexible and accessible.

The fact that several EdTech players have emerged in the field stands testimony to the huge potential of the industry. This has also opened newer job avenues for qualified teachers and scholars while helping them to reach out to a wider audience of students.

Tutoring students online remains a lucrative business proposition provided there is access to essential requirements such as seamless Internet connectivity, well-operating electronic gadgets or computer, and online education tools.

If statistics are anything to go by then, India's unemployment rate rose sharply to 9.1 per cent in December 2020, as per the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE). Also, data from the Annual Report, based on the Employment and Unemployment Survey, highlights that only three in five Indians looking for a job through the year are able to find it. It can be inferred that 40 per cent of India’s workforce is unable to find work all through the year.

Moreover, the availability of good jobs for engineers, MBAs and other post-graduate degree holders is not as prominent as it was a decade ago.

In such a scenario, a huge requirement for online teachers and domain experts is anticipated as more colleges and schools look forward to embracing blended learning while adopting online and technology-aided learning in a big way. It won’t be an overstatement to say that teaching could soon emerge as one of the biggest employment providers in the country.

The writer is Chairman, Ampersand Group

Published on February 03, 2021

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