Digital education picked up pace with platforms like SWAYAM and PM eVidya. But when the time has come to test its effectiveness on a grand scale, it is surprising to see governments, schools and parents alike refusing to accept screen-based education.
Both the Centre and states have divided views on online education. This conundrum needs to be handled effectively as online education is likely to be the norm. Digital education picked up pace with platforms like SWAYAM and PM eVidya. But when the time has come to test its effectiveness on a grand scale, it is surprising to see governments, schools and parents alike refusing to accept screen-based education.
Online interactive: Instead of completely banning online education for kids in the lower classes, we need innovative means to impart some form of education. While everyone hopes kids will be back in schools in full strength in the next few months, the risk of virus infection is alarming and parents would do well to support the government in supporting screen-based teaching.
India is faced with two challenges in terms of internet connectivity—quality of the internet and the digital divide. On quality, India ranks low in the global speed index (71st among 139 countries); while on broadband India is ranked 31st (of 174 countries), it is an urban phenomenon. India has made abysmal progress in getting the rural broadband infra with BharatNet. A report states that the target was to connect 2.5 lakh villages, but Wi-Fi is available only in about 23,000 gram panchayats.
So, mobile internet seems to be the only way out in the near future. With over 10GB data usage per month per person, India is among the top nations on mobile internet usage. With 5G not happening anytime soon, we need to live with poor internet speeds. The bigger issue is the gap in internet penetration in urban and rural areas—urban penetration is 100%, rural is less than 30%.
For addressing the have-nots, the government should consider giving tablets (something like Aakash tablets that gained popularity a decade ago). The euphoria around Aakash died too soon. The government must consider some form of ‘tablet and internet yojana’ for addressing underprivileged kids. The tablets can be controlled solely for education purposes. CSR funds from corporates can be put to good use for procuring and distributing tablets.
It’s time to ponder why India cannot have its own Zoom-like app exclusively for education. Can’t the government task top tech institutions to create a scalable app?
TV as a medium: Data shows that TV ownership in households in much higher than smartphones. In south India, for example, 95% homes have TVs. While it is lower in other parts, the government can revive TV-based learning. Do you remember UGC education programmes in early 1990s? Each state can have its own DD Gyan Darshan channel. Even better, the government could incentivise free-to-air TV channels for carrying classroom sessions. TV-based delivery will not be interactive, so schools can enable regular touch-time between parents and kids to monitor progress and provide guidance.
Multimode delivery: The government can enhance the draft National Education Policy (NEP) and formulate a long-term strategy for standardising education through a mix of online interactive, online one-way delivery (recorded sessions) and on-premises (regular classrooms) methods.
The draft NEP has the 5-3-3-4 design comprising of five years of foundational stage (three years of pre-primary school and classes one and two), three years of preparatory stage (classes three to five), three years of middle stage (classes six to eight), and four years of secondary (classes nine to 12). Perhaps a graded multimode delivery from, say, 100% on-premises method for foundational stage to 60% on-premises for secondary students can be considered. For students pursuing UG/PG, the online portion can be 70-75%—in-person interactions cannot be ignored and hence 25-30% of the time students will have to be present on-premises. Such a model could go global as well.
Indian students planning for higher education in foreign countries will have to spend much lesser money in earning their degrees as their need to be physically present on-premises will become considerably lesser.
The pandemic has provided us a great opportunity to implement multimode education delivery; now we need the right framework.
An ICT professional and a columnist based in Bengaluru. Views are personal