Digital Education Must Be Accessible To All To Boost Literacy

“Education in India is all set to witness this revolutionary change. Digital Education is appearing as the panacea for all kinds of problems that ail the education sector.”

Although, India has moved from 12% literacy at the time of independence to 74% as per 2011 census, it still lags behind the world average of 84%. Targeted programs at primary and secondary education like SSA (Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan) have definitely proved beneficial to some extent but a lot needs to be done to truly educate India.

In this gloomy picture of education in India, the ICT (Information & Communication Technology) revolution is like the light at the end of the tunnel. We need to move towards it.

Internet is being viewed as the Great enabler. It has an ability to make quality education accessible to one and all.

Education in India is all set to witness this revolutionary change. Digital Education is appearing as the panacea for all kinds of problems that ail the education sector, in particular of access and affordability. With wise coverage all over the country, it could become the basis of a sea change in levels and quality of education including in the remotest rural areas.

Digital Education started in the US and other developed countries in the 90s and gradually started penetrating the globe. It has been realised that there are significant cost benefits of going digital and more and more universities, professors and students are going digital.

In developing societies like ours there are major challenges related to internet connectivity and outreach. The questions that one must address are: how can this be executed, can this digital education become accessible to one and all? What are the logistics involved? How can we provide end-to-end digital infrastructure at schools and colleges?

The Indian IT sector basically has enough capacity and character to provide excellent digital content and support platforms. Several corporate giants like TATA, BSNL & RELIANCE are already involved in digital education. This sector is gearing up for some quality movement.

However, to make it a truly successful venture, different stakeholders like Government, Content experts, Technology firms, Users, Teaching community have to come together to work out suitable technologies and methods for meaningful growth in the sector.

While you can build the coolest and smartest software, usage levels are going to be frustratingly low if students and teachers are swamped with existing problems such as connectivity and accessibility issues. Only by coming together can the Government and private players successfully bridge these issues.

One positive factor is that mobile penetration is nearing a billion people in our country with over 200 million connected to the internet, and this is expected to reach 550 million by 2018. So the potential to reach the masses digitally seems very rich.

In the past few years alone there has been a considerable rise in Digital and Live Virtual Classrooms at different levels of learning. With evolution of technologies such as cloud, data centers and virtualization there is a huge potential for the digitalisation to be integrated with the Education sector.

When the cost and accessibility points are covered digital education becomes a win-win for all. Education institutions see more enrollment and therefore more revenue. Students get a flexible option allowing them to study as per their time and pace. Teachers too find it convenient to prepare their learning plans well aided by technology. Teaching becomes a smoother and more gratifying experience with animations, gamification and elaborate audio-visual effects. Digital education makes learning more practical, applicable and fun.

Yet, there is a long way to go before we can realize the dream of Digital Education for one and all in India. Some of the main drawbacks are little or no knowledge of computers and lack of basic infrastructure in backward and rural areas. The majority of the Indian population still does not have the required internet connections and many are illiterate in computer devices and terminology. So how are we to cross these hurdles?

Considering that the Indian market is huge and that costs in satellite technology have reduced it is now upto business ventures to see this as a high potential business opportunity. EdTech companies like Magic Software can add to the growing repository of Digital learning Objects (DLOs) and platforms available to learning.

Government initiatives like the Digital India Programme can prepare India for a knowledge future and can transform India into a digitally empowered society and knowledge economy.

Digital India is an ambitious programme of Government of India projected at Rs 1,13,000 crores. This program also aims to impact education.

The Digital India programme will empower citizens and will pay emphasis on universal digital literacy and availability of digital resources/services in Indian languages. The manifesto believes IT is a great enabler for empowerment, equity and efficiency.

The program will be implemented in phases from 2014 till 2018. Infrastructure will be provided as a utility to every citizen. High speed internet shall be made available in all gram panchayats. The program aims to make every household digitally literate with a goal to make India the Global Knowledge hub, with IT being a major driver and engine of growth.

Digital infrastructure will focus on providing high speed secure Internet. Broadband highways are to be created. Project NOFN (National Optical Fiber Network) to connect 5 lac villages via broadband till 2017, 25 cities by Wi-Fi by the end of 2018, is a significant step in this direction.

digital education
(Credits-Thepowerofus.org)

But a lot more needs to be done in mobile wireless internet and setting up skill centers especially in rural areas. The government should also make efforts to include all stakeholders in this initiative to make it “inclusive & sustainable” for all.

Almost 85% of the Indian population does not speak or write English. Creation of a Hindi and regional language network can prove to be a key element to penetrate deeper into the country in all quarters. Affordable computers, and internet access, can play a significant role in enhancing the overall reach of digital education.

The manifesto also proposes universal mobile access in around 44,000 uncovered villages in the country and government is taking steps to ensure that all villages are covered through mobile connectivity by 2018. The focus is also on electronic manufacturing, especially of set tob boxes, VSAT, mobiles and consumer electronics.

The government is also planning to train one crore students from small towns and villages for IT sector. Active campaigning, information sessions, technical workshops in villages are also needed to bring about Digital awareness and change trends like Distance Education to Digital Education. Many NGOs are already involved in bringing about these much needed changes.

An example of how things can be done for digital empowerment for rural India is the Internet Society and Digital Empowerment Foundation (DEF) sponsored Wireless For Communities (W4C) project across rural India.

This “barefoot wireless network” in Baran, is maintained by members of the local community who train themselves and go on to become multipliers, training many others. This project is directly impacting over 50,000 lives that are now connected to the Internet.

Then in Kota, the first network tower has been built accompanied by solar panels to generate the needed electricity to run the network. Locals are trained so that they can learn how to maintain the network.

In some villages kids can take advantage of e-learning opportunities with computers and become trained and educated. They then move on to continue to spread their Internet knowledge and are considered the local “Internet Activist”. They can then teach others on how to use the net.

Centres with wireless network offer online education opportunities to those that visit. Many stop in for a few weeks sort of like “camp” like to get exposed to using a computer, learn Hindi online and how to use Google and other tools for online educational purposes.

Google’s “Internet Saathi” program is another such initiative to reach digital education to rural women.

Dedication like this will not only help each and everyone to get access to digital education, but will changes thousands of lives in the process through holistic community development.

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