We need to identify and nurture talent right from the early stage

Written by Uma Ganesh | Updated: Nov 4 2013, 15:41pm hrs
The Indian ICT market in education is estimated to be Rs 2,85,000 crore and is slated to grow to Rs 5,70,000 crore in 2014. Almost 70,000 plus private schools have made investment in some form of digital infrastructure. The 11th Plan has set aside nearly Rs 6,000 crore for National Mission on Education through ICT for primary and secondary education. As a result of this thrust on introducing ICT in school education, there has been a considerable attention on training the teachers in the use of various tools and software. After the initial resistance, teachers are now coming around to accepting the use of ICT in education and the administrators have started considering ICT as an essential investment.

Parents take huge satisfaction with the fact that their children are exposed to ICT from the early days of schooling and unlike many of their generation who lack digital literacy; their children would not have this disadvantage. However, the big question to be asked is whether all this investment is aimed at creating digital literacy and making schools better or enabling the children to become better citizens of tomorrow. The reason for this concern is on

account of the focus of ICT today which is seen as a tool mostly aimed at supplementing their functioning and in some cases aiding in their education delivery process. The investment being made warrants careful attention as it has a significantly higher potential for transformational outcomes with the education process. Such a transformational

impact can be realised only when there is a fundamental rethink on the pedagogy being followed in our schools.

The traditional pedagogy at schools is instructivism which makes the teacher central to all learning and the teacher is expected to provide information and instruct students on how and what to learn. All processes and conditions for success are determined by the education policy planners and the administrators and teachers by and large adhere to them with the belief that standardisation of content, delivery methods and assessment will lead to predictable output. Of late, proponents of ICT in technology have been advocating constructivism and many schools are attempting to deploy this approach in their schools.

The constructivist approach enables the students to build their own learning pathways by being paired with peers with the view to co construct knowledge and experience according to their needs. Students are encouraged to share their ideas and understanding with one another and thus discover new facets of a subject. In this approach, the teacher and the students actively participate in the knowledge creation and sharing process. Thus the role of teacher becomes that of a facilitator and the intervention of the teacher ensures effective interactions of the students and their sharing of experiences.

Constructivism is now being remodeled as connectivism with the recognition that the primary source of learning could be through any of the networks inside or outside of the school and the teacher does not necessarily determine these sources of learning. This recognition that learning could happen through formal and informal means is very important to how school education objectives are determined and implemented with the learning plan. Connectivism is an extension of constructivism as relationships and networks are important in both but they are no longer supplemental but become central to learning.

While schools may be planning their curriculum and assessment processes based on the ICT resources made available at the school, the fact remains that students have access to a whole lot of other networks and resources through devices such as mobile phones, tablets and home PCs outside of the school system and this makes it feasible to create their own choice of learning path and learning outcomes unfettered by the learning boundaries outlined by the schools. Students derive their own knowledge through patterns they observe in the process of their interactions, interpretations through idea exchanges and lateral inferences from a variety of objects hitherto not available within the constraints of physical space, limited learning resources and boundaries of time for learning.

By recognising the coexistence of learning through formal and informal mechanisms through networks accessed by students, learning can be customised and personalised to individual needs and aspirations. The critical success factor of ICT in education would be to drive home this change with the teachers, helping them to assimilate the dramatic shift that is taking place and encouraging the connectivist approach to learning.

The recognition that learning through multiple networks is beneficial to the learners and has the potential to impact on achieving proficiency in the chosen subjects and the time frames for achieving these outcomes, will bring about a sea change in several aspects of the current schooling system. For instance, present levels of learning are assumed to be achieved based on minimum time that has to be spent in each class and all students in the class are expected to achieve predictable levels of proficiency at the end of this period based on standard assessments followed. With the new approach, students would have individual learning paths within the larger gamut of learning objectives and will achieve varying degrees of proficiency. This would mean there would be a need to redefine the duration, the levels and the type of assessments at every stage.

Sri Aurobindo Ashrams International School in Pondicherry merits a reference here as this school has been a forerunner of sorts in defining stages of learning and leaving the choice of subjects to students,customising the learning process based on individual student needs and facilitating access to the right experts, thus creating enthusiasm in the schooling process. This model has been in practice for several decades now, well before ICT became mainstream in schools. It would be worthwhile to study such successful models and the pedagogy at the heart of such models to examine how such pedagogy could be imported for mass education and supported by ICT inside and outside of classrooms could provide opportunity to young students and teachers to take advantage of their true potential.

For our country to be able to take advantage of the demographic dividend, we need a mechanism to identify and nurture talent right from the early stage through the right exposure which is feasible now through ICT. Hence the need to focus on ICT not as a mere digital literacy tool but as an opportunity to revisit the pedagogy that would help sharpen the talent and skills and create avenues for distinctive capabilities as our youth enter into the workforce.

The writer is CEO, Global Talent Track, a corporate training solutions company