Aakash will revolutionise education at all levels
By S Vaidhyasubramaniam | Published: 18th November 2012 12:00 AM |
Let me begin with the good news first. According to the Annual Status of Education Report 2011 (ASER 2011), 96.7% of all 6-14 year-olds in rural India are enrolled in school. Some states like Bihar, Rajasthan, etc. that had dismal enrolment in the 11 to 14 years girls segment in 2006 have shown considerable progress. There is also substantial increase in enrolment in higher education. This, however, is only a good start and there is a pressing need to address the bad news. Children’s attendance in rural primary schools has declined from a national average of 74% in 2007 to 70% in 2011. Schools in Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, etc. have been responsible for pulling down this attendance average. This is an important statistic because good educational outcome needs encouraging school attendance. Not only student attendance, teacher absenteeism is yet another growing concern. With lack of adequate human resources for various government duties during elections, disaster relief, voter ID camps, etc. teachers become the ‘instant multi-tasking specialists’. According to ASER, the percentage of teachers present during the day of ASER’s study decreased from 73.7% in 2007 to 63.4% in 2010. One of the main reasons for deplorable learning outcomes, especially in rural primary schools, is the absent of over 1 million teachers on any given day. The ‘no teacher’ problem in the school education system is manifestly abundant in the form of ‘poor/no teacher’ syndrome in higher education, including the IITs.
Technology can’t replace teachers but it can be a good substitute for a bad or no teacher. If you agree to this, here is another good news—MHRD’s Aakash provides a ray of hope to revolutionise education at all levels, leveraging the emerging technological prowess of India.
On National Education Day (November 11, 2012) the President of India launched Aakash -2, a low-cost tablet computer. Available for students at a subsidised price of `1,130, Aakash holds a lot of promise and has come at an appropriate time when the government programmes like NKN, NMEICT, NOFN, etc. are creating information highways and proliferating broadband access. The bursting opportunities in cloud computing and growing popularity of open-source educational resources are symbols of coherent synergy in Indian education. The time has come to design and deliver an educational package that transgresses traditional boundaries breaking antiquated barriers.
Among various issues that confront Indian education at all levels—primary to PhD—the issue of the lack of quality teacher resources is fatally concerning. This is unfortunate, especially at a time when India boasts of its super-rich demographic dividend. It is also unfortunate that the profession of teaching has also reached abysmal levels, with a majority of them choosing it as a last option. Inaction cannot be a solution, however. There is a massive task of educating future India and it lies in the hands of premier educational institutions. Instead of choosing commercially available educational resources, which is an avoidable drain on financial resources, existing free initiatives like the Khan Academy, edX Universities, NPTEL, etc. can be integrated by developing Aakash-based applications that address diverse requirements of various stakeholders. Many IITs, C-DAC, and thanks to IIT-Bombay’s collaborative research agenda, many private institutions also have started developing Aakash-based applications. While congratulating MHRD for its Aakash launch, we must also realise that its productive usage shall make all forms of education accessible, affordable and inclusive. Let us all welcome Aakash with open arms and integrate it with mainstream education. Long live Aakash and best wishes to the new HRD minister.
The writer is Dean, Planning & Development, SASTRA University