19 December, 2019

Technology in Education

Technology can be a significant enabler for achieving quality education with the attendant objectives of access, quality and equity. For this to happen, substantial investment will need to be made across the spectrum of education, including infrastructure and maintenance, teacher education, and content and curriculum.

In the past decade, several sectors have been disrupted by the advent and spread of new technologies. In education too, technology is making its way at different levels, from targeting administrative efficiency, to enhancing learning among students. However, the true scope of Technology in Education (EdTech) is under-utilised, given existing challenges with infrastructure and resources in India.  

21st century technologies like learning applications, platforms and games are driven by users

The recently released Draft National Education Policy (2019) acknowledges the important role that technology plays in improving class room instruction, building teacher capacity, enabling educational access for students in remote areas, and improving the overall education system through better planning and management. However, technological innovation in education remains sub-scale given existing challenges with infrastructure and resources in India.

While governments are trying to improve digital infrastructure by earmarking budget, and engaging Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), the gap between what is required, and that which is available, stays wide.  A study1 commissioned by Tata Trusts estimated that the annual initial investment for the country would be INR 104,500 crore and the recurring costs (year-on-year) would be INR 32,250 crore. While the Union government might find it difficult to allocate this entire amount in one year, it might be necessary to phase it, but, with clearly-established milestones.

Low-cost personal devices have the potential to support technology-based educational interventions

Despite these challenges, EdTech’s promise stems from the fact that technology operates differently today, compared to even ten years ago. While 20th century technologies in education were centralized and driven by producers – e.g. radio, film and television – 21st century technologies are decentralized, and driven by users – learning applications, platforms, and games.

This shift can be seen in policy documents as well. The National Information and Communication Technology (ICT) policy (2012) talked of states provisioning infrastructure, and schools imparting “ICT literacy”. The Draft NEP (2019) in contrast mentions the role of personal devices, and the ability of students to learn on their own. Today, low-cost personal devices provide data communication, computation and multimedia on a single platform, and students generally learn to operate them quickly and effectively. Hence, personal devices have the potential to support technology-based educational interventions.

Keeping pace with the enthusiasm for technology-enabled learning, the Ministry of Human Resources and Development (MHRD) has launched various initiatives designed to promote digital learning -e-Pathshala, DIKSHA, National Repository of Open Educational Resource (NROER), National Programme on Technology Enhanced Learning (NPTEL), e-pgpathshala SWAYAM and, SWAYAM-Prabha DTH Channels. These interventions have been introduced with the aim to raise the standards of teaching irrespective of the location of the schools and institutes. Further, states like Kerala2 and Andhra Pradesh are setting up state digital corporations to streamline procurement, maintenance and functioning of digital infrastructure, so that more schools can have digital class rooms.

Technology should empower the teacher and help narrow the digital divide

CHALLENGES

These developments are welcome from a provisioning and investment point of view. However, they do little to resolve the ground level challenges that impede the effective adoption and use of technology as a tool for learning.

First, there is a wide gap between the physical and financial resources required to integrate technology in education, and that which is available. While year-on-year, digital penetration is increasing – especially via mobile phones or tablets procured by individuals –an inclusive policy requires the state to provide equitable access, and fast. To make this happen, incremental changes in policy need to be supplanted with a step-jump – a one-time catch up – that meets field requirements with corresponding outlays. 

Second, many EdTech initiatives – private or government – do not adequately engage with pre and in-service teacher education. While the ICT policy clearly talks of enabling teachers, many technology enabled products are designed as a replacement for poor teaching, instead of an amplification of good teaching. In this vein, knowing when and how teaching and learning is amplified (with the help of technology) is important. It is well known that technology can only assist where or when human capacity is high. Where human capacity is low or compromised, technology also amplifies the inefficiencies and inadequacies of the system3. This note of caution should be sounded regularly when talking about implementation of such programmes.

Third, learning is a complex, non-linear process, with several factors affecting how people learn. More sectoral dialogue is required to understand how digital science can complement learning science to yield EdTech products that actually deliver lasting learning. As a side note, but equally important, is the need to keep one eye on the larger administrative reform required to enable the teachers as creators and designers of educational technology versus just passive participants or consumers.

E-learning solutions must be tested for efficacy

KEY RECOMMENDATIONS

Within the discourse of reform in education, the articulation and interpretation of technology as an enabler is fundamental. To begin with, the term ICT needs updating, since education technology is no longer just a means of “information” and“communication. Instead, education policy must look at technology as something that enables co-creation, interaction, personalisation and adaptation. School curriculum and teacher capacity building initiatives must also reflect this reality. Technology must not clip the teacher; it should serve to empower the teacher. Equally important is to ensure that technology does not widen the already existing digital divide. Hence, systemic changes that enable the use of technology for improved access and quality of education are required.

I.  Updating and integrating ICT Policy and National Curriculum Framework (NCF)
It is critical that recent trends in technology be reflected in an updated ICT policy. Moreover, digital learning platforms or solutions must reflect the principles of the NCF in terms of helping learners connect knowledge with the outside world, discourage learning by rote, and promote creativity in children. In line with the principles of the NCF 2005, digital content should be treated in the same way as other curriculum content, with robust and defined processes for content development. Commercially available and produced digital content should be critically evaluated before being used in schools. Moreover, ICT based activities must be recognised as a formal part of school curriculum and assessment. Finally, in line with the three-language policy, relevant multi-lingual digital content should be developed and made available locally.

II.  Infrastructure
Only 14% of schools in 2016-17 reported having a computer in working condition, and 40% reported having no electricity 4. These numbers are national aggregates and mask the greater shortfalls in some states versus others. In order to establish and maintain adequate ICT infrastructure in schools and in educational institutions, much investment is needed. Moreover, the Government of India should allow flexibility to the state governments to decide the kinds of devices that are better suited for learning needs of children in the state and also within the approved norms and budget. Policies and systems must be strengthened to clearly outline provisioning and maintenance of devices, management of assets, and monitoring of ICT infrastructure. This should be achieved by giving more autonomy to the school administration in management of ICT infrastructure and by providing a dedicated budget for maintenance and periodic upgradation of infrastructure.

III. Implementation processes
For technology to drive learning, e-learning solutions must be constantly tested for their efficacy. Not all digital products are designed to promote creativity and learning. Some research has also shown the negative impact of technology on learning. Most research on the impact of technology on learning has been conducted by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) members or developed countries, and a similar research process should accompany the roll out of EdTech interventions in India. Implementation teams at the Connected Learning Initiatives (CLIx) - where e-learning curriculum is designed and iterated in consultation with academics and practitioners - maintain a strong link with research teams. One of the research findings from CLIx has been around optimal student device ratios, with anything more than 1:3 rendering the educational aspect ineffective. This has informed programme design for subsequent scale-up.

IV. Teacher professional development
While the results are mixed when technology directly interfaces with the child, impact on student learning is usually favorable when teachers are enabled or empowered through technology. From the launch of ambitious programmes like the National Initiative for School Heads’ Teachers’ Holistic Advancement (NISHTHA), DIKSHA – a one-stop digital platform serving all the needs of teachers – to the announcement of Operation Digital Board (ODB), there is a clear trend of the gradual shift from using media tools for educational and information purposes, to promoting computer literacy, to a more comprehensive approach towards integrating technology school education system.

It is recommended that the pre-service curriculum interacts with ICT platforms like DIKSHA so that teachers are life-long oriented on using technology for their professional development needs. At the school level, time-tabling to ensure at least 30% of the teaching time per subject is allotted for computer-aided education is recommended.

V. Strong data policies
The National Repository of Education Data (NRED) as proposed by the Draft NEP (2019) is a good proposal to maintain all records related to teachers, institutions, and students in digital form, and improving governance and management of the sector. However, there must be a check on excessive centralisation and data gathering. One key suggestion is to focus on federated data, as well as community data (as discussed in Srikrishna Committee report), and reduce dependence on centralised data repositories.

Additionally, data has emerged as a commodity in the modern economy and any data collected from educational spaces must remain in the public domain. A clear data policy needs to be spelt out giving states direction on who needs to own data that is collected from schools/students. Data does not belong simply to students or schools - it belongs to the community as well. Institutions beyond the school should not be able to access data. If data needs to be shared, proper measures must be taken to anonymise the data. 

Note

1Tata Trusts commissioned IT for Change to conduct a research to understand the gaps in budgetary allocations for quality provisioning towards technology in education.
2KITE (Kerala Infrastructure and Technology for Education) is a Government of Kerala establishment set up as a section 8 company to promote and implement modernisation of educational institutions in the State.
3 Tomaya, K. (2015), Geek Heresy: Rescuing Social Change from the Cult of Technology
4Elementary Education in India: Progress towards EEE, Flash Statistics-2015-16, NUEPA, MHRD 2017

This is a Policy Brief based on a research commissioned by Tata Trusts.