MUMBAI: The year 2020 has revolutionised the education sector across the globe. The pandemic shook the educators and student community alike, the unemployment rate stood at 27% in India- re-establishing the importance of skill development. The Indian education system is finally ready for its digital revival. Today, as the nation prepares to step into the ‘New Beginning’ of 2021, the ecosystem needs to step up to help overcome the enlisted challenges that await the education sector.
Lack of Learner Perspective
Covid-19 has played a crucial role in highlighting the digital divide in India. It is being feared that the lockdown will lead to an increase in dropout rates amongst students residing in the rural and semi-urban areas. Despite the rise in wireless users in recent years, semi-urban and predominantly rural India are miles apart in their online presence (27 subscribers to 100 people in rural areas, according to 75th National Sample Survey of India). This adds to the existing challenges of unbalanced access to basic education infrastructure in the form of teachers, classrooms, study material and the teaching pedagogies. Educated employment is another major problem faced by India which the National Education Policy 2020 (NEP) aims to address by focusing on skill development, entrepreneurship, critical thinking, problem-solving and industry-relevant knowledge. This problem arose as we have neglected developing career aspirations and restricted itself to assess the memory power of the students. NEP empowers educational institutions to act as the bridge between students who are potential employees and corporates, the potential employers.
Lack of teaching resources
As stated in a Niti Aayog report released earlier this year, a single teacher may handle 100+ students in rural areas as a result of the shortage of trained teachers. The state of Jharkhand faces a teacher shortage of ~40% as also other states like Rajasthan, Odisha and Madhya Pradesh. The deficit of trained teachers is another issue according to the 2015-16 Education Ministry data which revealed that 1.1 million of the 6.6 million teachers employed at the elementary level were untrained.
The pandemic highlighted some of the deep-rooted problems such as lack of exposure to necessary teaching tools, engaging learning strategies and industry-relevant curriculum that teachers across India face as they struggle to broaden the learning horizons of their pupils. And if that was not all, COVID-19 has further disrupted the teacher-learner way of interaction, from the four walls of a classroom to fit a 13-inch screen.
These challenges need a multi-stakeholder approach to be addressed efficiently and effectively. Digital platform players have a key role to enable transformation across 4 areas:
Building Digital Twins & Leveraging AI: Building experiential learning platforms that help increase the learner engagement that bears similarity to the physical platforms is the need of the hour. It will help create a familiar atmosphere for the learner as well as enable educators to maintain the necessary decorum (For Eg. multi-lingual virtual classroom platforms). This also includes building applications that offer alternate models for lab learning and vocational trades. The learning platforms can also be backed by AI for hyper-personalisation of learning. This will help in the overall transformation of learner engagement and experience- making learning more relevant, engaging and precise. Though investments are being made on the infrastructure for the same, emphasis needs to be laid on improving the accessibility, scale, standardisation and affordability. These platforms have an important role to play in reducing dropout rates amongst the under-privileged students residing across the country.
Aggregating Partner Ecosystem: Digital Technologies should act as a point of confluence bringing numerous stakeholders in the field of education, enacting different roles like infra providers, content providers, career guides, etc. These firms are playing a key role in offering an end-to-end service, ensuring that issues are addressed holistically with technology as an enabler. For. eg. One of the solutions for the digital divide could be the availability of low-cost education devices capable of working in a network-less scenario. Language is a major barrier when it comes to imparting quality education in rural areas.
Enable Educator Transformation through Educational Leadership: It’s time for the head educators to take the lead, comprehend the nuances of a digital school and step ahead as digital leaders. This is a change management program and will prepare heads of institutions to lead this change. We should then focus on transforming the educators- this would typically include innovation in the teaching space to promote effective learning outcomes. A comprehensive program should help the teachers and instructors reskill and learn new skills for the digital education. Policymakers can collaborate with deep tech platform providers to explore new forms of teaching, learning, and assessment to drive 21st century skills.
User experience with Service Delivery Integration: A unified, end learner experience is the result of the composition of educators, infrastructure, hardware and software services. It simultaneously results in the integration of various teaching-learning elements. This would require tech support to plug-in multiple pedagogical elements like games, assessments, hands-on components, seamlessly in one learning path. Typically, this also includes, providing industry-relevant certification courses. These courses play a key role in skill-development and should be leveraged as career guidance tools.
The pandemic has fueled the spark of digital platform ideas in India. The industry has the potential to rise on a global scale. Digital Platform players have a pivotal role to play in strengthening the Digital India Mission and go beyond. But this will only be possible if the obstacles in the education sector are transformed into opportunities and platform players act as a catalyst for social change in the Indian education scenario by bridging the digital divide.
(The writer heads the cloud education platform at Tata Consultancy Services)