By Saurav Mohanty and Addala Prem Sagar Raju
The last few decades have seen tremendous advances and innovations in technology and those leveraging these advances have seen paradigm shifts, be it in communications, computing, manufacturing, entertainment or media. Technology is a significant enabler for delivering quality education at scale. Integrating technological advances in education will not only equip children for active citizenship in the 21st century but also develop conceptual understanding. Technology does not replace the teacher – it allows for teaching and learning to be enriched with new pedagogies that will inculcate 21st century skills in the present generation of learners. Converting passive classrooms to centres of high-energy active learning is what technology can achieve. Endeavour should be to invest in education, including infrastructure and maintenance, teacher education and capacity building, and curriculum along with its delivery.
The ICT@Schools is the key national level scheme that supports integration of technology-enabled learning in high schools. Launched in December 2004, and merged with Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan in 2014, it provides infrastructure to build computer labs in schools so that students have opportunities to learn ICT skills and get exposed to computer-aided learning. The scheme is a major catalyst bridging the digital divide by overcoming socio- economic and geographical barriers.
ICT@Schools is a foundational input that has brought computers into schools and broken the access barrier for children residing in rural areas. However, to enable deeper conceptual learning along with building digital skills, we need to revisit the scheme’s basic principles and design parameters.
In most states, the scheme is implemented through the Build Own Operate & Transfer (BOOT) model wherein a private agency contracts with the government to provide ICT infrastructure and maintenance support for five years. Thereafter, the infrastructure is handed over to the government. School principals and teachers rarely have a sense of ownership with the computer labs. When the equipment is eventually transferred to the school, maintenance of the labs and its use for educational activities receives little attention as capacities in the school system and teachers have not been built in the BOOT model.
The scheme provides 10 PCs or one server with 10 terminals to schools in addition to other devices like printer, projector, scanner, modem, generator, UPS, etc. The infrastructure is the same across schools irrespective of their student enrolment. Thus, schools with more students find it challenging to provide hands-on time to students and use computer labs effectively. Also, the configuration of the infrastructure has limited capability with respect to applications that promote active engagement. Often the available infrastructure remains underutilised because teachers are not adequately trained to integrate technology into classrooms. Most rural schools have limited or non-functional connectivity. If available, internet is primarily used for filling online administrative forms and rarely for interactive teaching. State governments are unwilling to provide new infrastructure until the value created from such use is demonstrated and schools find it difficult to show immediate results.
Pedagogy poses a huge challenge. The existing approach neither encourages nor prepares teachers to view technology as a tool that can improve their teaching, effectively transact conceptual understanding, develop problem solving abilities, application skills, foster creativity, and provide a connected learning experience. It limits their understanding of ICT as a separate subject that is taught by a private part-time instructor.
In a digital age, schools should prepare students through innovative technological affordances. We need to equip schools to move towards a system where teachers and students use digital devices to produce content and share knowledge along with hands on experiments. The ICT@Schools scheme has to go beyond its existing design; the architects of the scheme and their intended beneficiaries would be better served if schools become spaces where technology enables shared imaginations of teachers and students to take form across classrooms. Enabling access to carefully curated, pedagogically-robust open source content in regional languages and teacher professional development would facilitate meaningful use of technology for deeper learning in our classrooms.
The authors work with the Connected Learning Initiative and are actively engaged with the ICT@School scheme in Chhattisgarh and Telangana respectively. Connected Learning Initiative is an initiative by Tata Trusts, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai and Massachusetts Institute Technology, USA.