Opinion

Virtues of digital education

Shantanu Prakash | Updated on March 12, 2018

State governments, NGOs and private organisations are taking steps to ensure that digital classrooms become affordable.

Efforts are underway to digitised learning in rural India.



About 70 per cent of India’s population resides in rural areas. The development of the rural sector, like any other sector, relies a lot upon the quality of education in the area. And when we talk about education today, technology can’t be too far behind. Over the past few years, technology has played a crucial role in the spread of education, and in making learning more interesting and fast-paced.

Technology in schools saw a swift evolution from the times when computers were introduced to simplify the administrative workflow, to when computer labs were created to impart computer skills, and later for the purpose of learning other subjects, to the present times when technology has moved into the classroom.

These changes were observed mainly in the urban areas, but rural schools have remained far behind, creating a digital disparity between urban and rural schools.

India has about a million schools, of which about 90 per cent are run by State governments, while less than 10 per cent are either privately-managed government-aided schools, or private schools.

The single largest category, however, is government schools that lack proper facilities and quality education. Today, though almost every private school of the country has a computer lab, only about 6 per cent of government schools have computer labs for their students.

So, a big challenge ahead is how to take technology to rural schools, as well as to government-run schools in both rural and urban areas.

Today, technology in schools has moved out of computer labs into the classrooms, but setting up digital classrooms in rural schools is fraught with challenges like lack of infrastructure, high investment costs and the preparation of teachers.

Infrastructure

Infrastructure is a daunting challenge in rural India. Most rural schools don’t even have basic facilities like drinking water, telephone lines and electricity.

Currently, only 36 per cent of the rural schools have electricity connections. Before attempting to bring technology to rural classrooms, it is essential for the government to bring the basic amenities.

Developing digital content in regional languages for our multi-lingual nation is also a challenge. In rural areas, the teaching staff has limited skills and exposure to technology.

These teachers are apprehensive of new modes of teaching. They lack the confidence to impart knowledge to their students using the newly-learnt skills.

So, the challenge here is to remove the fear of technology, and make technology exciting to teachers. And this is where private organisations and NGOs can make a difference, along with the government. Collectively, they have to bring in training programmes and come up with low-cost options.

Training and infrastructure development are huge costs which have to be covered by State governments with the support of private organisations and NGOs.

BOT Solutions

The good news is the process has started. Various State governments, NGOs and private educational organisations have taken measures to introduce digital classrooms in rural schools, through tie-ups with digital content providers.

Introduced in 2003 by Educomp, Smartclass was a pioneering concept of teaching that converted regular, mundane classrooms into interactive, digital classrooms.

In this model, the digital content repository is stacked on a server which is given to the school. This server is connected to all the classrooms through an intranet, so it’s a doable configuration even in rural schools which don’t have broadband connectivity.

In order to make virtual education a reality for rural students, some low-budget models are now being employed in government schools. Rural schools don’t have access to good-quality content and teachers.

These models help to fill in these gaps. Computer-aided content delivery makes teachers more productive and lectures more value-creating.

Teacher training programmes mould the conventional chalk-board mindset of teachers by preparing them through live demonstrations and intensive hands-on training sessions. These programmes are spread over a period of time.

Rural outreach

Digital classroom solution providers have given a new dimension to education. Not only in the metros, big cities and towns, digital classrooms have also made an entry in schools located in the remotest and little-known places like Bherunda (Rajasthan), Barot (Himachal Pradesh) and Samba (Jammu & Kashmir).

Considering the importance of digital education in rural areas and related challenges, not only state governments, many NGOs and private sector companies are also taking serious initiatives to raise funds to introduce digital classrooms in rural schools.

The model is to fund both hardware and software required, and offer solutions that work on a build-operate-transfer mode so that digital classrooms become affordable.

The schools acquire the solution over a 3- or 5-year contract period on a monthly-payment-basis, which covers the updation of software as per the syllabi changes. This usually is in the range of Rs 100 to 150 per student per month.

Educomp has partnered with 14 state governments like Assam, Tripura, Orissa, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Haryana, Jharkhand, Rajasthan, Punjab, Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh to provide digital classrooms to schools.

In agreement with the Axom Sarba Siksha Abhijan Mission, Government of Assam, Educomp is providing computer-aided learning solutions in 2,199 middle-schools of the state.

Schools that have converted to digital classrooms are located in Tier 2, 3 and 4 cities and remote rural regions.

Digital classrooms create a fundamental transformation in the way knowledge is imparted. Even weaker students learn better in digital classrooms and the number of school dropouts is reduced. As students engage in better conceptual understanding with visual learning strategies, they are also trained on a global level with exposure to modern technology.

(The author is CMD, Educomp Solutions.)

Published on June 18, 2012

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