Digital tools gain acceptance in primary and secondary schools, but yet to pick up in colleges and universities. Improvements in infrastructure, electricity and bandwidth access along with funding will be required to drive growth in the long term.
Digital technology in India has been evolving over the last few years, changing the way students learn concepts in school. The traditional chalk and talk method has paved the way for more interactive teaching methods as schools are increasingly adopting digital solutions to keep themselves abreast with the technological changes. As the current generation of students is well-versed with laptops, i-pads, and smartphones, these innovative methods of teaching guarantee more participation from students. To cater to the school students’ needs, education providers such as Educomp, Tata Class Edge, Pearson, and TeachNext have been coming up with interactive software to aid teachers in classroom teaching. However, usage of digital technologies in institutes of higher education is still in its nascent stages and efforts are being made to fine-tune these technologies to adapt to the needs of University students. In short, content development is yet to mature in colleges and universities across India.
India’s vibrant economy with a burgeoning middle class and more than 200 million Internet users has made the country the third largest online market after China and the United States. With this kind of far-reaching impact, there is hope for an increase in the use of digital technologies in the education field. However, lack of infrastructure, poor electricity access and low Internet penetration in the semi-urban and rural areas have held back development of digital services in schools. Needless to say, this calls for government participation to to address these challenges and develop a sound ecosystem that can boost the usage of digital technologies.
Despite the aforementioned challenges, India’s booming urban areas provide an excellent opportunity for digitalization of educational services. To increase the quality of education with the latest digital technological know-how, majority of the schools and universities are trying to keep pace with the digital changes by implementing them. Thus, by empowering educators, digital technology holds the key to India’s educational challenges.
Digital Education in the Indian Universities
The quality of higher education is top-notch in the tier-one universities such as the Indian Institute of Technologies (IIT), Birla Institute of Technological Sciences, and the National Institute of Technologies. The same quality of education is not maintained in tier-3 schools and universities in both rural and urban areas. For this reason, IIT has introduced the National Programme on Technology Enhanced Learning (NPTEL), a government funded initiative, to help students across the world learn concepts providing free access to videos on YouTube.com “Professors record lectures and upload them online for the benefit of students in the rural and urban areas. In this way, students have access to quality educational videos free of cost,” says an Assistant Professor at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Madras.). “Our goal is to make sure that people have access to the latest curriculum being offered at the IIT and this is where NPTEL is used effectively and about 60% of our viewers are from the North-Eastern states and other states.”
Based on astudy done by Frost & Sullivan, digital technology adoption is unequal across different universities and schools.
For instance, among colleges affiliated to the Mumbai University,digital Technologies are being used in a few colleges, whereas in many others it has still not been implemented . Moreover, there are many reasons for the irregular use of digital mode of education. Dinesh Nair, a Professor from Mumbai University, explains “We are in the process of digitalization. The main problem in the state of Maharashtra is lack of funds. Hence, certain colleges are able to digitalize their teaching and a few others are not able to do so. The Mumbai University’s distance education modules have access to all the learning material through the digital medium. However, most of the regular colleges follow the traditional learning methods.” However, he admits that there are attempts in, but a few colleges to adopt digital tools. “We are in the process of recording lectures and uploading them online for students to view the videos at their convenience as well as engage in a discussion during the class.”
Digital Tools Used and Impact of Learning Outcomes in the Indian Schools
In contrast, primary and secondary schools across the country appear to be more advanced in the adoption of technology.
Schools across the country are using technology seamlessly to engage with students and achieve desired results through well-planned learning methods. Most schools utilize digital tools such as smartboards, LCD screens, audio-visual videos, digital recordings of older lectures and so on to teach children difficult as well as easy concepts. Moreover, the role of a teacher has always been to impart knowledge to students and become facilitators using digital tools. However, many school heads concur that these technologies will never replace the physical presence of a teacher, instead complement the entire teaching process. Teachers in primary schools use smartboards and LCD screens to teach concepts in Mathematics, Science, and English Grammar.
Mrs. Vijayalakshmi, Principal, MCTM Chidambaram Chettyar School (MCTM), Chennai, says “We’ve been conducting ‘Smart Classes’ for the last six years for 6-12th standard and teachers have been trained with the software to use it for main subjects (Maths, Science, History, Geography). The teachers are using it extensively in all the classes; and they plan ahead. They go by what they have to relate to using the software and add it to their power point presentation (if needed). If it is a biology/math class, everything would be shown in the software while the teacher explains. For a 40 minute class, we use Pearson with IBM.” The school now plans to also introduce digital tools in its primary classes from kindergarten to 5th standard.
The school will soon be a place where the students will learn to study on their own with the help of computers while the teacher being a mere facilitator. This concept of blended learning where teachers oversee students’ participation while watching online lectures is proving to be effective. Revati Srinivasan, Principal, Sulochana Devi Singhania School, adds “We always try innovative things in our pedagogy and do not rely on textbook knowledge. We give them a hands-on experience to use mouse and the basic technical know-how. For kids in primary schools, we follow a blended learning concept and we also experiment to see if that particular method can be adopted. A fun work-sheet assignment goes online where little ones’ paint online or participate in a short quiz. For instance, teachers were asked to choose the tools through i-pad, but somehow this didn’t work as teachers felt they’ve lost the rapport with the students.”
In stark contrast, professors in universities have a different approach to teaching as not many digital tools are utilized for teaching. For example, when asked an Assistant Professor of IIT Madras, he confirms, “I haven’t used much of e-tools and e-education in my classes but whatever little I’ve used, it has been helpful. I give students printed notes in class and the same are uploaded on my personal blog for the students to view later. Some professors live record their lectures on a few important topics. But generally, most of us prefer the traditional method of teaching as certain concepts that are not possible to be taught through the digital medium need to be taught in class through the traditional method. And very basic courses such as Circuit theory and Network & Systems in undergraduation are being taught through the digital medium. Advanced courses need traditional teaching for the concepts to be explained to students. And in the end it entirely depends on the faculty on the amount of material to be covered.”
Training The Teachers for Digital Teaching
Frost & Sullivan found through its conversations with school heads and professors that there are varying degrees of comfort among educators with respect to use of technology. Leveraging such tools requires specific training and orientation in not just the application of curriculum in digital formats, but also other related tasks, such as evaluation, peer feedback, group project work, and so on.
For instance, the Principal of MCTM School, Chennai, explains, “For the last few years, we have teachers being trained on the curriculum and also MS Office. The teachers were trained every Saturday and Edurite(Pearson) used to send their trainers. We divide them into small groups subject-wise and train them accordingly.” She explains that teaching with digital tools requires requisite planning. It is not a 100 percent substitution for in-person class coaching. “The teachers work on lesson planners. In the planner, the teacher explains what needs to be taken from the software and all concepts are taught accordingly through PowerPoint presentation as well as the digital software.”
College professors, on the other hand, have been more reticent towards using digital tools for conducting classes. Some professors feel that a lot of information is explained to the students at one go through the digital medium and that even some of the best professors after using digital tools, prefer chalk and blackboard traditional teaching methods.
Among those who use tools such as PowerPoint presentations, most are ill-equipped with knowledge to use the format and hence get rated poorly by students. Digital Tools for Evaluation of Students
Education providers that provide digital software solutions to schools have built-in software assessing students’ performance over the years. The data give teachers an insight into a student’s performance for evaluation of classroom lessons and conceptual understanding of subjects taught through the digital medium. Looking at it another way, the data help teachers analyze a student’s performance from first grade to tenth grade by observing his or her strengths as well as shortcomings and guiding him or her accordingly. These facilities are not available in the Indian Universities though.
Revati Srinivasan, Principal, Sulochana Devi Singhania school, elaborates, “Any data that reconnects must be for making a comparative reference for the child’s own performance rather than data point to compare with other children. For example, when I look at my student’s performance in the 3rd term, I see the line graph that reflects a child’s substantial improvement. Also, it gives you a chance as a teacher to introspect on a student’s performance. Supposing we have to track a child’s performance, we go back to grade 4 when the child has reached grade 7 and start analysing his learning pattern combined with classroom performance. And in case, he is lagging behind in any course, and then we need to start working on his basics. So, that is how one uses analytical data. We have to use them with the standard deviation to know how much we have deviated from what is necessary.”
With a lot of data getting generated and analyzed with built-in software, there is scope in future for predictive analysis of the data. Anil Mammen, Tata Class Edge, Workforce Education Provider adds, “We are currently measuring the usage metrics of teachers and moving towards the Predictive side of analytics in 6 to 8 months. For example, how many teachers have logged in and are using the software concerned with “KNEWTON”- (the world’s largest adaptive learning platform company). It would ultimately move to predictive and descriptive analytics in a few schools.”
Challenges Preventing Higher Penetration:-
There is a long way to go for digital education to gain momentum in India, as the majority of India lacks the required digital bandwidth. A few of the roadblocks faced are infrastructure issues and digital literacy. Moreover, the course content is fragmented, as it is taught in many languages and not available on any single vendor platform.
The government has promised availability of funds for technology implementation; however, lack of proper infrastructure is impeding digital growth.
Professor Dinesh Nair, Mumbai University, explains “Schools and Colleges have to get used to the availability of technology. Moreover, there has to be a government policy in place and in institutions of higher learning, technology should be readily available. “
However he contends that there are other on-the ground challenges that universities have to deal with. “There is very unrealistic teacher-student ratio. The University Grants Commission (UGC) should release funds to implement these digital services. With the ever increasing teacher student ratio, it becomes very unrealistic for a teacher to give complete attention to his students. For example, to teach the subject of ‘Commerce’, sometimes, there is one teacher who is probably teaching nearly 400 students in a year. Monitoring this kind of exchange will be very difficult and all colleges and schools should upgrade their technology.”
Another problem is of reluctance on the teacher’s part to get trained and adopt digital technologies. The primary teachers have been forthcoming in using these tools, but a few senior teachers from high school are of the impression that these disruptive technologies are out to replace them permanently. Added to this is the frequent problem of power cuts and voltage fluctuations causing network issues.
Consistent evangelization of the benefits of digital tools, and increased customization of these tools to suit different class strengths and fragmented curricula will be required to drive the penetration of digital education in India.