Schooling needs a digital age upgrade

Flipped classrooms, social learning, e-books, online proctoring are emerging educational tools, but it is only the teacher who can ensure their effectiveness.

Technology is just a tool. In terms of getting the kids working together and motivating them, the teacher is the most important.”
—Bill Gates

Technology has revolutionised the way the world networks, orders food, buys groceries and even absorbs knowledge. Its role in the life of a modern-day citizen is increasing by each passing hour. However, not all industries have been able to fully exploit the potential of technology yet. Learning and education is one of those industries wherein innovations in technology are still to make a significant impact. India, with over 500 million people below the age of 25, probably offers the maximum potential and opportunity for education technology to make a lasting impact.

State of digitisation

In India, the focus of the policy-makers has always been on developing and improving upon physical education infrastructure. With less than 4% of GDP being spent on education and complexity around private investment, the country lacks funds for building adequate infrastructure. In one of its reports, the National Knowledge Commission (NKC) estimated that India needs 1,500 universities to meet its gross enrolment ratio (GER) target of 30% in higher education, at an overall investment of $190 billion (National University of Educational Planning and Administration estimate). To put this in perspective, India currently has about 750 universities, with most of them built after Independence, and the annual central government expenditure on all forms of education is just about $12 billion.

Computer labs in operational condition are numbered in government institutions; though the situation is better in the case of private institutions. Further, even after the initial investment of setting up a lab, maintenance and upgrading of infrastructure is a major challenge. According to a World Economic Forum report titled The Global Information Technology Report 2014, ICT’s impact on access to basic services such as education, healthcare, etc, in most of the EU member nations, the US and countries such as Qatar, the UAE and Singapore, was reported to be higher as compared to India. The report observed higher internet accessibility in schools in the aforementioned countries as compared to India. The adoption of ICT by these countries has not only become a tool in their strategy, but has become a core strategy by itself.

Lack of a uniform ICT policy for educational institutions at any government level is the need of the hour. The government, to its credit, has received limited success with digital initiatives such as Aakash. A series of schemes have been announced to take this effort forward; however, an effective roadmap for implementation is still lacking.

Rebooting education

Currently valued at more than $150 billion, India’s education sector is growing at a healthy CAGR of 15% per annum. By 2020, it is expected that the country will be home to the world’s second-largest graduate talent pipeline and the largest tertiary-age population globally. If we count the youth residing in remote parts having no access to physical infrastructure, these numbers will become bigger. Given the numbers, India presents the optimal platform for technology to reap its benefits.

The era of blackboards and chalks is being actively replaced by digital classrooms and e-Bastas. Virtual classrooms, virtual labs and libraries, online courses, ERPs and cloud learning have slowly started to transform the way education is delivered and received. These tools likely provide the best solutions to address the issues of quality, equity and access. The investment, effort and time requirement is also a fraction of building physical infrastructure. Just the solution our country needs!

Key opportunities

Massive open online courses (MOOCs) are probably one of the largest segments for growth in India. It may be hard to believe but Indians constitute the second-largest registrants on Coursera’s MOOC platform after the US, even though over 95% of them do not complete the course and leave mid-term. The reasons for such behaviour can be analysed in detail, but certainly there is an inclination towards online learning. This disposition needs to be channelised effectively for the benefit of millions which could be in the form of better opportunities for employment, higher education or even literacy.

Real-time learning, flipped classrooms, social learning, e-books, online proctoring are some of the other growth avenues. It is pertinent to note the role of a teacher in ensuring the effectiveness of technological tools. In order to ensure proper use of learning software, efforts need to be made towards teacher training and certification. Investment is required for providing the right hardware and software to both the teachers and learners. This again offers an attractive business opportunity for private investors.

The probable future

According to a 2014 study by McKinsey Global Institute, technological applications are expected to result in an economic impact of $60 billion to $90 billion on global education and skills sector by 2025. It is expected to reach 100 million students with better learning outcomes and 100 million workers with better training and employment outcomes. India could be one of the biggest benefactors of this movement.

The process has already been initiated with a series of announcements by the government, the biggest one being the Digital India initiative. Its impact is likely to have a multiplier effect across sectors. With digital literacy in the country at a mere 6.5% and internet penetration at a measly 20.83%, the initiative is likely to activate real-time education and improve the quality of teachers through smart and virtual classrooms. To reap the benefits, the process of creation of supporting infrastructure in terms of fibre optics and brand connectivity needs to be hastened on a war footing.

Sekar is partner, Deloitte Haskins & Sells. Kapoor is senior manager, Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu India Pvt Ltd

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