15 September, 2020

Adapting to a changing world: Integrating Technology into Education during COVID-19

Tata Trusts’ ITE initiative, aims to empower students in rural geographies, and boost their confidence and enhance their competencies with project-based learning using technology

Students in Nalbari, Assam conducting survey to collect data on village population for their project on ‘My Village’
Students in Nalbari, Assam conducting survey to collect data on village population for their project on ‘My Village’
Students in Nalbari, Assam conducting survey to collect data on village population for their project on ‘My Village’
Students in Nalbari, Assam conducting survey to collect data on village population for their project on ‘My Village’

“Learning has become a joyful experience,” says Hiramani Deka, who teaches at the Pakabetbari Model School in Barpeta, Assam. She is talking about how the learning experience has changed for children after the rollout of the Integrated Approach to Technology in Education (ITE), the flagship programme of the Tata Trusts, and supported by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences.

ITE has made a signal difference in the education sector by boosting the competencies and confidence of students in the most marginalised settings across tribal, rural and urban ghettos, and madrasas where the Trusts work.

Initiated in 2012, ITE uses technology connected with curriculum in a project-based learning approach, using a uniform teaching methodology. This approach was unique in India’s education system as computers were considered an extra-curricular activity or were limited to CD-based programmes.

Empowering participatory learning

Since inception, ITE has allowed teachers and students to access, use, create and modify technology for knowledge construction connected to the curriculum and their socio-cultural contexts.

Amina Charania, an associate professor at CEIAR, Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), and the conceptualiser and lead ITE at Tata Trusts, says that over the years ITE has remained true to its promise of learners as producers of technology resources rather than consumers, and teachers as designers, instead of transmitters of information. According to her, ITE is the “pedagogy of the rich in the hands of the unreached”.

In order to make a systemic and sustainable impact in the education ecosystem, Tata Trusts ensures that ITE is integrated into the school routine. Through state trainings, leveraging existing schools’ infrastructure, and working closely with government bodies like Assam Sarva Siksha Abhiyan, Director of Madrasa West Bengal and Kolkota Sarav Sikhsa Abhiyan, ITE has adopted a largely constructivist pedagogical framework. It seeks to improve teaching and learning processes and fosters authentic and project-based learning in adolescents in some of the most underprivileged geographies in the country.

Developing core competencies

ITE offers a capacity-building course for upper primary and secondary teachers in government schools, focusing on their continuous professional development. The four-month course is blended with an online certificate course on ICT (Information and Communication Technology) and Education, developed and accredited by TISS’ academic council.

So far, ITE has reached 5,060 teachers, creating a cadre of teacher leaders in the constructive use of technology in two states. Simultaneously, ITE has touched the lives of over 491,000 adolescents, improving their learning and fostering 21st century skills including critical thinking, communication, creativity and collaboration.

“Designing activities for students that give them the scope to think critically, and use technology has helped deepen their knowledge,” says Ms Deka, of her teaching experiences in Assam. Sajid Hussain Ansari, a teacher at Khanna High School in Kolkata, West Bengal, says ICT has taught him to be a good planner. “Even the backbenchers are excited and respond to the lessons,” he says.

The unique advantage of ITE is its adaptability. Amidst the current global health crisis, ITE has transitioned smoothly to an online presence. In collaboration with teachers in Assam, an iGO blog, which hosts 24 online ITE instruction plans in the state language, has been created. A free course called ‘Technologies for Online Learning in School Education’ has been designed and released on the TISSx platform.

A webinar on ‘Harnessing Online Technologies for Distance Learning’, has helped deepen conceptual understanding. ITE teachers who have been actively implementing ITE activities have been able to transition smoothly to teaching their students online.

Web-Quests are being conducted at district and inter-state levels by school teachers supported by TISS. ITE Web-Quests are a series of online and offline events based on a common theme from the curriculum where students learn through completing a set of challenges in their local context using technology applications including coding. A series of online training programmes taught teachers from Assam, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh how to design and conduct ITE Web-Quests in their local languages. Over 450 teachers and 2,500 students from ITE schools participated in these WebQuests during the COVID period.

Winning eNabling North East’s 2019-2020 award for ‘Quality in Education and Learning’ Northeast’ is a well-deserved accolade for the ITE initiative. The whole-hearted acceptance of this initiative has already helped to improve the ITE infrastructure in rural schools.

The students’ increased confidence and core competencies have helped transform them into global communicators and increased their chances for aspiring careers in the 21st century knowledge economy.