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Special Content

Special article vol.31

Online Education is the Answer to India’s Education Challenges

Dr. Purvi Prakash

Rabindranath Tagore had once said, "Don't limit a child to your own learning, for he was born in another time." And how right he was! Indian education system has changed drastically since. We now have IITs, IIMs, law schools, and several other institutions of excellence. Scoring 90 per cent is now a norm among the students, and getting admission into colleges of their choice has increasingly become difficult. Yet, rote learning still plagues us. The aim of students has still not changed. As always, they study only to score more and more marks in school-level exams to IIT JEE, AIIMS or CLAT. It is time we realise that burning the parents' life savings or borrowed money on education does not guarantee one a career or employment of choice. Online teaching is the best and most cost-effective way to cater to different education needs, and introduce new education trends in the country.  Some of the ways in which online teaching is making a difference to Indian education system are:

Online Skill Training

Students belong to different categories, with very different study goals. Those who are studying to be able to get a good job and earn a good livelihood may benefit far more from 'skill training' rather than cramming information which they will hardly need or remember later.

With this in mind, the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship launched an online platform for imparting skills in July 2016. The web portal called indiaskillsonline.com is a part of Skill India campaign of the Indian government. It aims to train 1 crore workers in vocational skills in the next four years. Aspirants registered with the National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC) through various training partners will be able to access free online courses through the portal, and download them as mobile applications too.

Besides the hard skills included in the qualification pack of the courses, this portal will also offer courses that can enhance the employability of workers, such as languages, entrepreneurship, digital literacy, soft skills, orientation to regional cultures etc. NSDC has entered into partnership with the soft skills training provider Alison to be able to offer more than 750 online courses for free.

Alison CEO Mike Feerick said, "Last year, the NSDC has trained 27 million students - mostly offline. But the future scaling of the project will now happen online." He also shared that the site will also offer the Middle East cultural courses to workers who want to work in the Middle East. This is an important feature of the site as about 1 million workers go to the Middle East every year.

Tackling Shortage of Good Teachers

Recently, a very popular video on Face book showed teachers in rural schools and small schools in urban areas couldn’t answer basic questions like – the spelling of ‘eight’, or the name of the current Prime Minister or the Chief Minister of the state. Such incompetent teachers are bane to our Indian education system. Teaching job is widely regarded as a safe, risk-free, low-pressure, and a well-paying job. Teachers do not get incentives if they teach well and their students perform better. Such terrible teachers are only wasting their time, and the time of all the young children under their tutelage – every day.

Online teaching can be a good way to encourage ‘super’ teachers who are popular among students for they teach so well. Their lectures and teaching need not remain limited to a small classroom. With the power of the right technology infrastructure, they can now serve as ‘leaders’ or ‘entrepreneurs’ instead of being ‘salaried persons’. The opportunities to earn better money and recognition, and to reach out to more students – are the best way to encourage good teachers and inspire their peers to do better.

Making Education Accessible to Everyone

In remote areas with no schools or colleges and where good teachers do not want to stay for various reasons, online teaching can increase the students’ accessibility to world-class education. Instead of focusing on building brick-and-mortar colleges and university, we need to focus on creating educational delivery mechanisms which are most cost-effective and can actually help the masses to learn more. A high-speed internet connection and gadgets like cheap computers, tablets and smartphones can change the world of education forever. Since online education scales up, reservation loses its relevance. Everyone from anywhere can opt for various courses from top universities worldwide, and attend live classes too.

Statistics show that India is home to the second largest audience for MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) after the US. These MOOCs provide free online courses with top university-level content to learners worldwide. In 2014, Indian government announced 'SWAYAM' (Study Webs of Active-learning for Young Aspiring Minds) to provide quality and affordable education to all Indian students. The site is expected to be launched soon with more than 2,000 courses that targets to cater to about 3 crore students in the first phase. Concurrently, about 10 lakh users will be able to access it anytime, anywhere. The preparations for the ambitious project are in full swing.

The SWAYAM platform will host school-level courses for classes 9 to 12, as well as undergraduate and postgraduate level courses in all disciplines. Professors of centrally-funded institutions in India such as Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs), and central universities will offer online courses through this platform. It will be the world's biggest repository of interactive electronic learning resource under a single window. The UGC has already announced that under the UGC (credit framework for online learning courses through SWAYAM) Regulation 2016, transfer of credits earned through the online courses will be accrued into the academic record of the student in the parent institution. SWAYAM was supposed to be an Indian open source platform based on Open edX, which is the same platform that hosts edx.org. Local Indian universities could deploy a version of SWAYAM and use it to run blended classrooms.

Personalizing the Education

Since the colonial days, the Indian education system has been designed to produce babus and clerks. This is the reason that even though India has the highest number of engineering graduates in the world, we have failed to become a leading force in ‘innovations’. With online education, we can help each kid realise his or her true potential by offering education solutions that fit. We know that kids can be visual learners, auditory learners, or experiential learners. In a traditional classroom setup, it is not possible to attend to each and every student’s need and use a method of instruction that may come naturally to one of them.

The use of multimedia and interactive technology available today empowers online teaching to take the education system to the next level. New and innovative courses can be geared towards various niches of learners. With availability of choices, students are likely to learn better.

Offering Ultimate Flexibility

*Online Teaching offers Ultimate Flexibility: Right now, our education system is ridden with a lot of challenges, such as:

*Many of us are victims of our testing and marking system which rewards memorizing above originality, innovation, common sense, creativity, problem solving skills, valuable research work, and the ability to take risks.

*Moreover, teaching in traditional classrooms is oriented towards ‘average’ students of the class. It does not or cannot accommodate slow learners or ‘gifted’ children. It means that those who are more intelligent may find themselves getting bored in the class and become disinterested in studies, while those who are not able to move on with ‘average’ students of the class keep trailing behind because they have not been able to understand one concept – which becomes the basis of another concept which will be taught in another class.

*For someone who has dropped out of school for some reason, or is forced to work for survival, getting enrolled in a class and learning something remains a dream.

Teaching online allows us to overcome all these challenges at once. The live interactions between teachers and students are possible through satellite systems. Lectures can be recorded, viewed, and re-visited anytime and from anywhere – as per students’ individual requirements, allowing students to control their pace of learning, and studying whatever they want whenever they have time.

The very nature of online teaching is modernistic and encourages students to research more about a topic, and take the responsibility of their learning. Technology also empowers us to create interactive courses today that use ‘gaming’ patterns to keep students engaged and motivated. Educational games and apps can be created which the users can take as and when required.

Some of the things SWAYAM initiative of the government aims to achieve are:

*allow sharing of content between different platforms,

*incorporate marks or grades in assignments and assessments done locally in MOOCs and vice-versa,

*integrate with AADHAR number,

*offer proctored online exams,

*permit the offering of blended MOOCs with classroom teaching, and

*Teach students in their native languages.

The credits earned in these online courses will be transferable to different schools and universities.

Other Initiatives to Promote Online Courses

Besides SWAYAM and the Skill India program, Indian government is taking many other initiatives to promote online learning and teaching. These include:

*Aakash Educational Portal conducts workshops for teachers. It uses technology and innovative pedagogy to help teachers become more relevant in today’s society.

*Amrita e-Learning Research Lab bas developed A-VIEW multi-modal and multi-media e-learning platform which allowed National Mission on Education through Information and Communication Technology to launch the ‘Talk to Teacher’ initiative which is like a real classroom experience.

*Consortium for Educational Communication (CEC) offers online courses in Art, Culture, Literature, Language, Social Sciences, Management & other Professional Courses, Natural & Applied Sciences, and Engineering & Medical Sciences. It also organises annual competitions like a film festival on environment, human rights & development called Prakriti, and Video Competition meant to nurture media centres and other educational institutes in India.

*E-Kalpa is sponsored by the MHRD as part of the National Mission in Education through ICT to create digital learning environment for designing students. Here, one can find courses on animation, photography, ergonomics and other designing courses.

*E-Yantra initiative aims to incorporate Robotics into engineering education, and engage students with exciting hands-on application of math, computer science, and engineering principles.

*Indian Sign Language Education & Recognition System (ISLERS) is a platform that is being developed for Indian students with hearing-impairment. It is proposed to be extended to 14 Indian languages, and will have extensive interactive features in the audio-visual mode.

*NPTEL offers e-learning programs under which online web and video courses are offered in Engineering, Science and Humanities streams.

*Pedagogy Project is an experimental project to developer learner-centric curricula for 4-year degree programmes in six major engineering disciplines.

*Project OSCAR has been envisioned as a huge repository of web-based interactive animations and simulations for school and college level Maths and Science subjects. These animations will help students to understand scientific concepts more easily.

*The ‘Spoken Tutorial’ project is a part of ‘Talk to Teacher’ initiative and aims to promote software development. Here the courses are about FOSS (Free and Open Source Software) like Linux, Scilab, LaTeX, PHP & MySQL, Java, C/C++, LibreOffice etc.

*Virtual Labs is an MHRD initiative to provide remote access to Science and Engineering labs to undergraduate and postgraduate students as well as research scholars.

*Virtual Learning Environment is an initiative of the Institute of Life-Long Learning, University of Delhi. It contains e-resources for several disciplines taught at ug and pg level.


(The author is a coulmnist. Email: poorviprakash@gmail .com)