The government expenditure on education, of overall spending, has increased from 10% in FY08 to 12% in FY13, even though the learning levels across the country have declined, according to the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER).
Educational effectiveness can be improved through the use of ICT. The benefits of ICT intervention in education are already evident in parts of India. For instance, ICT intervention in government-run schools in the Delhi region resulted in 8% reduction in dropout rate and 17% increase in enrolment in secondary students. However, the challenge is to be able to equitably replicate this on a national scale.
The government has taken a commendable step by commissioning the National Fibre Optic Network (NFON) with an investment of R21,000 crore. NFON will connect 2.5 lakh gram panchayats with a maximum speed of 100 Mbps. This will have a positive impact on the education scenario. Today, in many states, the teacher-to-pupil ratio in government-run rural schools is lower than the RTE mandated 1:40. What is more alarming is the quality of education imparted; only 32% of Standard 3 students in government schools can read Standard 1 text. Broadband connectivity to these villages and schools will enable remote tuitions, vocational training courses delivered online, access to quality education and skilled teachers based in urban centres and skill development & placement assistance for rural youth.
The National Knowledge Network (NKN) is another such initiative that will revolutionise the education sector. Under it, more than 3,000 universities will be connected. Interconnected universities, R&D institutions and other educational facilities including libraries will facilitate the transfer of knowledge and aid in imparting quality education. Even dedicated satellite systems for delivering education will play a significant role in transforming education.
Premier IITs have already set up dedicated state-of-the-art fibre networks on their campuses that enable connectivity. The ultimate aim for them will be to impart teaching through online classrooms. Videos of the lectures can be stored in a centralised repository and retrieved by students and faculty at any time. The connected education of the future system will connect universities and institutions the world over to facilitate seamless interaction not just between students but also faculty members and administrators.
Another challenge that can be solved through connectivity is to enable a consistent and uniform grading system. HRD ministry has conducted meetings with several universities to explore a uniform grading system. Through this, student and school performances can be monitored and required interventions can be put in place, if needed.
The unique identification system provides education a spectacular opportunity to reach out to vast tracts of the population. Right from the time a child is eligible to enrol into school; her progress can be tracked using UID. Not only can authorities keep track of the performance of the child but also of the school and faculty members. The system can be expanded to keep track of delivery of education, attendance and dropout rates for a particular region. It can also ease the process of granting education loans, scholarships and grants by tracking deserving students and making sure the funds are disbursed to the correct account. By incorporating robust evaluation mechanisms in the system, the incidences of fraud and misappropriation of funds can also be minimised.
A connected education system is something that can be achieved by 2020. Given the efforts already in place, it is only a matter of bringing together different technologies and stakeholders. Private sector is already putting in place an extensive 4G network and thus models like PPP can become viable. The onus is not just on the government but also on the private sector to contribute in transforming education through connectivity.
By KK Shetty
The author is director, India & SAARC Network Solutions, TE Connectivity India