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Bridging the Knowledge Gaps: Possibilities and Challenges for ICT-enabled Learning in India by Debal K SinghaRoy

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Contemporary India stands in the threshold of a vibrant knowledge society that is widely characterized by unprecedented flow of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs), enhanced local global connectivity, economic globalization and a high representation of young in the country’s population. Though India has a knowledge-based past, its traditional social arrangement is founded on a knowledge gap based on a caste hierarchy. As such, India needs to seek opportunities to fill this gap by providing access to quality education to all segments of society.

In view of the changing trajectory of the world economy, India can no longer remain isolated as a predominantly agrarian society due to this sector’s decline. With the emerging service sector playing a dominant role and ‘make it in India’ becoming a buzz word in contemporary political vocabulary, planners now look for alternative strategies for mass education opportunities and skills development in order to put India on the fast track of economic transition. However, these goals cannot be achieved unless India commits itself to providing much needed quality education and skills to its young population, with 65% of the population below 35 years old (91% of which fall under 19 years old). 

Although the World Development Report 2014 indicates that India has a 61% literacy rate among youth (15-24 years) and 63% among adults, the percentage of the population with secondary and higher levels of education is only 49% and 23% respectively, despite the fact that the number of universities increased from 103 to 664, and colleges from 3,604 to 33,023 between the years 1970 and 2012.  Furthermore, literacy rates for women, ethnic, and religious minority groups have always been substantially lower than the rest of the population’s. 

Although a substantial number of elite educational institutions has emerged, these alone are incapable of addressing emerging educational needs for the masses. The burden of illiteracy, low level of skills development, and lack of access to higher and professional education cannot be addressed solely by conventional educational arrangements and traditional methods. India needs alternative arrangements to promote quality education in order to break pre-existing barriers by becoming globally connected, locally relevant, and rising as a vibrant knowledge partner in the globalised world. Most significantly, this requires an integration of ICTs by digitizing the processes of imparting education and training in the country.

With India being one of the giant users of ICTs, people are now looking at using ICTs for education and skills development. ICT-enabled education has emerged to be the most viable solution not only due to its availability at a cost effective rate, but also due to the fact that an overwhelming proportion of knowledge-seeking youth and adults are born and socialized in the e-culture.

The state and civil societies in India are now providing e-platforms and various types of ICT to deliver academic programmes to the largest segments of the population.  The Government of India framed a National Mission of Education through ICTs (NMEICT) to leverage the potential of ICTs in providing high quality educational modules for learners. As part of this project, several hundred of programmes have already been made available online through the e-portal, SAKSHAT. For e-content, a Consortium for Educational Communication has been formed, involving a number of educational institutions. Virtual labs have been set up in schools with the help of the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT).  Special educational programmes have also been initiated, including Talk to Teacher, Spoken Tutorials, Free and Open Resources for Education, Direct to Home educational channels, e-Yantra robotics in higher education, and educational resource planning with selected IITs and Indian Universities. Many universities and industries have taken on leading roles in generating e-content and delivering online learning modules and MOOCs, teleconferencing, radio-conferencing, web-casting to improve access to education. 

However, ICT-based academic programmes in India are encountering issues of quality on the one hand, and recognition on the other. Many institutions provide e-learning programmes devoid of the quality concern, and without appropriate monitoring and evaluation mechanisms in place. Furthermore, in India, accumulated knowledge is once again put in hierarchical order, that is, education is perceived not always in terms of ‘what is learnt’, but rather ‘where it is learnt’ as well as ‘how it is learnt’.

In view of these challenges, state and civil society should play pro-active roles in demolishing this hierarchy by accepting ICTs as a medium not only for political and social campaigns, but also as a tool for mass education of ‘digital natives’ who look for opportunities to shape new India through creative engagement. India should take the opportunity to digitize the country in providing mass education and promoting equal opportunities, eventually bridging the knowledge gap.

Though India has put in place well established institutional mechanisms to monitor the progress and quality of education at all levels through multiple bodies, no institutional mechanism has been developed, as of yet, to centrally institutionalize ICT-enabled learning. Although it conventionally belongs to the domain of distance education, the Distance Education Bureau in its present form is incapable of handling the complexity of ICT-enabled learning in a globalised world. Hence, it is proposed that an autonomous national body, ‘National Council for ICT Enable Learning’, should be established with the mandate to:

  1. Promote innovation in ICT-enabled learning for generation e-content for the student enroll at all levels (certificate, diploma and degree)

  1. Look into the infrastructural arrangement as would be required for the propagation of ICT- enabled learning across the country

  1. Monitor academic content to suffice the standard/state of knowledge as would be required for the certification of specific level of learning

  1. Develop mechanisms for the standardization of evaluation of academic programs offered

  1. Develop linkages with all local and national level bodies for the promotion of ICT-enabled learning so as to ensure acceptable higher quality and standard

  1. Development parameter for accreditation of ICT-enabled learning

  1. Promote mechanisms for borderless learning

Such mechanism should come as a political commitment on the part of the state for mass production of knowledge through ICTs so that the products of these learning arrangements would own their degrees in their own right.



27.11.2014