As 2020 takes a historically memorable turn, most students seem to have made necessary adjustments to carry on with their academic endeavours: buying bigger data packs, installing Google Classroom, and so forth. However, the disruption caused by COVID-19 cannot go unnoticed, and once again points at the weakness of the Indian education system. As a country that relies on public education for 71% of its learners, there’s a near-total split from schooling for a sizable section of school students in the wake of the pandemic. When they can resume their learning goes unanswered, simply because there’s no existing plan to facilitate eLearning.
The stark reality in current times is that India has a visible obsession with digitization in all spheres and the current government believes that the nation will soon play a role in defining the knowledge economy of this century. However, achieving the latter is increasingly unlikely, without the foundation of a more holistic education that introduces technology early on, and that is yet to occur.
At the same time, the union budget allocation for education has dipped from 4.14% in 2014-15 to 3.45% of the GDP in 2019-20. Raising the budgetary allowance to at least 6% of GDP share is a necessity for a nation having a demanding responsibility of educating 133.92 crore Indians.
So why, despite the cash-strapped economy, is education technology still worth introducing on a larger scale? Access to technology can provide more equalised learning to a greater number of students. It has been long ignored that when students are marginalized from the current system owing to gender, caste, and other social disadvantages; it is challenging for them to be motivated to learn skills in the classroom set-up. Learning apps, audio-visual resources and even educational games can help embed interest in schooling. Technology can better serve the linguistic needs of students across the nation as well. eBooks allow students to better access their curriculum, as many schools in rural areas report understocking of textbooks. In further pursuit of accessible education, the eLearning industry can offer several resources to accommodate students with different learning pace and also customize audio, visual and textual materials for students with a diverse range of disabilities.
The harder task at hand is identifying the best way, to begin with this introduction. Inaugural efforts were made by the NITI Aayog that launched Atal Innovation Mission to familiarise students with STEM technology, robotics, and so forth: after realising the importance of creating innovators. Interestingly, only schools with 1000 square ft. of built-up free space are considered eligible to apply and get an Atal Tinkering Lab under this mission. This is reminiscent of Green Revolution-style hopes and results: selective picking of institutions that are already better off in an ambitious programme that is not sustainable in the long run, while hoping that it will launch India into a new Digital Age. The Mission running from 2015-16 has not churned out any noticeable achievements, while each ATL enabled school continues to get Rs. 20 lakh of tax money.
The power of humbler beginnings: Starting smaller might minimise the wastage of funding and make outreach of technology more divergent. Simply put; introducing one PC, or teaching usage of few educational apps (India has 200 million+ rural smartphone users as per Kantar IMRB) and involving parents with lesser technical know-how in the same can yield better integration of technology in Indian education with lesser cost than monumental missions right now.
The introduction of equitable education using technology depends on improving policy formulation along with more realistic budgeting. After all, it is the Prime Minister who himself said, ‘The world is at an inflection point where technological advancement is transformational.’