How tech is Shaping Education: Technology can offer more flexibility and learning support than traditional formats
As I virtually addressed the Foundation Day programme of IIT-Jodhpur on the ‘Role of Technology in Shaping Education: the Future Vistas’, the topic for the day, in my view, was in sync with the way we were interacting. Coincidentally, the programme was organised using a technology platform, without all of us travelling to Jodhpur which would have meant more time, travels and other aspects of logistics.
Over the last few years, during my address at various convocations, I would often speak a few words on how technology was changing the way we live and work, and how “game changer” ideas such as smartphone revolution, artificial intelligence (AI), augmented reality (AR), robotics, blockchain technologies and Internet of Things would usher changes at a much faster pace than ever before. But, I never expected that the situation would be transformed so dramatically, so quickly. Role of technology has become predominant and its impact will be felt much more comprehensively in the field of education.
Tech enabled learning can not only bring in transformational change in online education experience, it can also enhance and supplement regular classroom based pedagogy. It could offer more flexibility and learning support than the traditional formats. Technology offers teachers the opportunity to become more collaborative and extend learning beyond classrooms. Educators could create learning communities comprising students, fellow educators and experts in various disciplines around the world.
Across the country, the Government of India is encouraging several e-learning projects under the National Mission on Education through ICT initiatives such as Swayam, Swayam-Prabha, National Digital Library, e-Yantra, Virtual Lab, that are helping students as well as teachers in upskilling as well as providing them quality resources. In addition, these efforts are leading to creation of knowledge tools which encourage creativity and innovation, particularly among young students.
The New Education Policy (NEP) 2020 was announced only last week. It replaces the earlier policy introduced 34 years ago, and envisages major reforms in the education system. It focusses a great deal on technology use and integration. NEP recognises that India is a global leader in information and communication tech and other cutting edge domains, such as space. The Digital India campaign is helping to transform the entire nation into a digitally empowered society and knowledge economy. While education will play a critical role in this transformation, technology itself will play an important role in the improvement of educational processes and outcomes; thus, the relationship between technology and education is bi-directional.
It is proposed to set up an autonomous body, the National Educational Technology Forum (NETF) to provide a platform for free exchange of ideas and use of technology to enhance learning, assessment, planning, administration and so on both for school and higher education. The government will also set up the National Research Foundation (NRF), to initiate and expand research efforts in technology. NRF will play an important role in advancing core AI research, developing and deploying application-based research and advancing international research efforts to address global challenges.
The Covid-19 crisis has resulted in a tectonic shift in our education system. Major universities and higher education institutions have partially or fully shifted to online mode of teaching and are reporting considerable success in their endeavours. Further, availability of world-class tech platforms have enabled them to smoothly transition to online delivery mode.
Our understanding of Covid-19 continues to evolve. The need of social distancing will continue to affect traditional learning processes. A “new normal” in education might emerge which will possibly have a lasting influence on pedagogy and assessment. Online education also has challenges. Conducting remotely proctored exams is perhaps the most important challenge. Replacing exams by project or take-home challenges can provide some viable and cost effective alternatives.
For conducting laboratory classes and hands-on exercises for remote students, there may be a need to design and deploy a toolbox of online, virtual and remote labs that can be used in different courses to bridge this gap. Another limitation is lack, or absence of, human touch. Blended learning, using a mix of online and on-campus resources could be an option.
In a multilingual country like ours, language barriers create complexities. Cutting edge research in text translation and machine learning aims to create deep-learning systems that can translate English lectures into a student’s native language. Similar technologies in voice recognition and text summarisation can transcribe an entire lecture and reduce paragraphs of text into relevant bullet points. Capacity building of teachers will be crucial to the success of use of technology in education.
I recently read, in a report by the World Economic Forum, that over a century ago, at the time of the Spanish Flu when people were isolating themselves, many (mostly Americans) turned to telephone to get in touch with friends and family. The Spanish Flu underscored how essential the technology of telecom was to modern society. Possibly we are at a similar inflection point in time today.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has given a clarion call for Atmanirbhar Bharat. It goes much beyond being a self-reliant nation; it envisages India’s leading role in the global arena as a leader in technology and global supply chain of goods and services. At the same time, it is also a social change paradigm where every individual is encouraged to strive for excellence in what she does. In this context, the role of education and higher educational institutions is extremely important. They pave the way for achieving excellence and realising national potential.