At the 65th Central Advisory Board of Education (CABE) meet held earlier this year, the Union HRD minister Prakash Javadekar declared the launch of ‘Operation Digital Board’ in all schools within five years. This reminds us of a similar effort in 1987 when ‘Operation Blackboard’ sought to provide minimum, essential facilities to improve the quality of primary schooling. Unfortunately, 30 years later, the larger political discourse for improving learning continues to prioritise infrastructure enhancement. Such initiatives indicate that teaching-learning is seen as a largely teacher-directed process, focusing on transmission of information to students. Seymour Papert, the famous MIT professor of media technology and once lonely evangelist for personal computers in classrooms, had said: “Nothing could be more absurd than an experiment in which computers are placed in a classroom where nothing else is changed”.
Technology has the power to disrupt the traditional classroom space by giving students more agency and pushing teachers to reconsider their roles as experts.
Recognising this, the Connected Learning Initiative (CLIx), a technology programme for high school students, was seed-funded by Tata Trusts in early 2015, and it is being delivered through a collaboration with MIT Boston and Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) Mumbai. CLIx aims to demonstrate effective and sustainable changes in classroom learning, using ICT to both improve student learning and create effective models of teacher professional development.
An ecosystem of collaborators has spearheaded the design, development and implementation of CLIx, including Eklavya, Homi Bhabha Centre for Science Education, and a number of strategic national partners and the state governments of Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Mizoram and Telangana, to impact 478 government schools, 2,130 teachers and 32,437 students as a ‘proof of concept’. CLIx also recently won the UNESCO King Hamad Bin Isa Al Khalifa Prize for the use of ICT in education.
CLIx reaffirms the vision of the National Curriculum Framework (2005) to provide opportunities to students to be “producers” rather than “consumers” of information through “hands-on” time with computers to learn digital skills, as well as develop deeper understanding of the subject matter.
CLIx modules aim to improve digital skills, conceptual understanding in maths and science, communicative english and values for the 21st century for high school students. To support use of CLIx student modules, professional development courses for teachers are made available in the massive open online course (MOOC) format and can be accessed via smartphones. The teacher courses are hosted on a platform called TISSx, which is modelled on the lines of Open edX platform.
What we need today is not smart board technology that will make teaching easier, but dynamic technology tools that give students opportunities to think and create. ICT, when used to its full potential, can change the learning culture from an authoritative teacher-led one to a student-led one. It’s not too late to reimagine the Operation Digital Board.
Jennifer Thomas & Ruchi S Kumar are assistant professors at the Centre for Education Innovation and Action Research (CEIAR) at TISS, Mumbai. Views are personal