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In the next decade, the education sector is where the IT industry has the potential to make the largest social and economic impact

Traditionally, education has been at the core of the Indian cultural and social fabric. The ‘guru-shishya parampara’ is, even today, intrinsic to the way Indians perceive education. The teacher still holds the chalk that makes clear the complexities of classroom learning.

But the entry of com­puters in India saw a change in this traditionalist way of education. The early 1990s saw Indian schools quickly include computer education in their curricula — and groups of students hunched over PCs in school computer labs became a familiar sight. As cyber cafes sprung up in every neighbourhood, India soon learnt how information could be accessed at the click of a button. This computer literate young population, emerging from the world’s third largest education system, soon entered the workforce paving way for India’s IT boom in the late ’90s.

Over the last decade, education in India has undergone a tremendous change with technology at the heart of it all. Today, as millions of young parents dream of a better future for their children, there is little doubt that technology plays a pivotal role in the development of ‘young’ India—a country that by 2020, will be the youngest in the world with 29 as its median age, as per an IRIS Knowledge Foundation-UN HABITAT report.

It looks amply clear that in the next decade, the education sector is where the IT industry has the potential to make the largest social and economic impact.

Digital class and ICT

Rapidly changing our traditional ways of teaching and learning, technology can no longer be kept out of the classroom. The conventional blackboard manner of teaching is fast graduating to the digital class – innovative, effective methods that teachers employ to engage students. Digital classes have replaced traditional blackboards and textbooks with digital boards, audio-visual rooms and interactive sessions.

Today, a growing number of educational institutions are adopting information and communication technology (ICT)-enabled learning tools to make the education process more fun, exciting and in turn, far more informative. Tech-savvy classes now use tools like the digital board - an interactive whiteboard that uses touch detection inputs – facilitating involvement and transforming passive classrooms into active learning environments.

This transformation, seen widely in the private sector, is gradually extending to government and public schools as well. Many state governments are funding ICT projects to build IT infrastructure capacities at government K-12 (kindergarten to class XII) schools across their states–giving their students an opportunity to easily access and benefit from technology-enabled learning as well.

The tablet age

With rising popularity of devices like tablets and smartphones, several schools and higher education institutions are graduating to tablet-enabled teaching. Tablets allow students and teachers to access preloaded digital content from the prescribed syllabus with thousands of ebooks, hyperlinks to external information and audio-visuals — all facilitating interactive learning with the overarching concept of education on demand, anytime, anywhere.

Tablets are portable, light and can condense immense amounts of information into a small device. With good quality tablets available for less than $200, using them effectively shrinks the need to cart heavy textbooks. Although children are now extremely familiar with these devices, tablets needn’t be used merely to replace textbook bulk — they can be used very effectively in a variety of ways to enhance education tools and processes…

Ebooks

The most basic is to store textbooks in digital formats and reduce the burden of heavy school bags. Apps: Educational ebook store Attano, whose eBook Reader lets users bookmark, highlight, and add notes and comments on PCs, tablets, and smartphones.

Assessment tools

Quizzes and tests can be built in, assignments can be sent out via email, students can engage in collaborative projects, scoring can be automated and performances tracked and updated — tasks that teachers usually do manually, leaving them little time to focus on actual teaching. Apps: Pearson’s MXTouch programme can be used by students, teachers and parents to track, monitor and automate progress, attendance as well as sync teacher-students tablets in class.

Study supplements

Tablets can be used to reinforce concepts visually and access study material to supplement class lessons. Class notes can also be accessed over email, eliminating the need to write copious pages of study notes in class instead of focussing on what the teacher in saying. Apps: Evernote makes classroom note taking easier. The Kindle app, with its massive library, helps students access vast amounts of supplementary reading material.

Regular syllabus updates

Traditional textbook updates and reprints are infrequent, inadequate, expensive and never error-free. However with etextbooks, content can be revised and updated continuously giving students accurate information topped with the latest examples and case studies.

Remote education

Since education content can be pre-loaded, use of tablets can also encourage distance learning models in India. With interactive tools, tablets can be used to support education for rural children. Videos, online tests and automated performance tracking have put new, exciting tools in the hands of educators and students alike allowing learning to take place outside the classroom. Apps: Magic Pencil by Enable Mobile Technologies is a tablet-based solution targeted at India’s $10 billion higher education and distance learning market.

Opportunities

Although the increasing use of tablets as educational devices is seen mostly in the private education segment, the Indian government’s low-cost Aakash 2 tablet ensures that poorer students have equal access to technology-enabled learning. State governments are also introducing PC distribution schemes for students in government schools. Just recently, over 15,000 students in Goa were given free PCs as part of the state government’s scheme to promote digital learning.

With increasing acceptance and usage of tablet PCs in the education and enterprise sectors, global research firm TechSci Research expects the Indian tablet PC market to cross a $2 billion in revenues this year.

However, there is still a long way to go before we can put a tablet in the hands of every student in the country. There are approximately over 257 million students in India, but very few actually have access to, and are able to use ICT-based learning tools.

The stumbling blocks are many: Low PC penetration across the country; lack of connectivity in remote areas; lack of qualified teachers, and awareness on how to implement novel technology-aided learning; lack of appropriate IT infrastructure; cultural barriers, like where the teacher is considered the subject expert; and financial constraints compounded with the lack of family awareness.

However, as per the planning commission, India will spend upwards of Rs 4.13 trillion on higher education alone in the next five years. With this increased government focus on education, the market is poised to grow further. Also, the National IT policy, which envisions making at least one member from every family e-literate, will also push up the demand for computing devices.

Clearly, technology has induced a crucial change in the Indian education system and has the potential to innovate in a way that will better the future of millions of students.

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