We our ability to provide education to the

We
have been hearing the good news – 2020 will see India emerge as the world’s
youngest nation, with a median age of less than 29. Compare that with China
which at the same time will be at 37 or Japan at 48. A younger working
population will have a beneficial impact on the economy. With 64 per cent of
its population in the working age group, this demographic potential offers
India’s growing economy an unprecedented edge that economists believe could add
a significant 2 per cent to the GDP growth rate. Can the country turn this potential
to an actual dividend for itself? It surely can, but along with handling
serious issues of malnutrition and health, much depends on our ability to
provide education to the youth consistently and competitively, in a
cost-effective way, at this large scale, and empower them.

 

The
government has laid out a clear focus on skill development. Expect greater push around that in Union Budget
2018, and then in the new National Policy on Education (NEP) to be unveiled
soon.

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Role of
technology in improving the quality of education

In a fascinating talk at the Shiv Nadar
University, I recently heard Dr. B.N. Suresh, who was the Director of
Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre during 2003-07, recounting the glorious launch of India’s first
full-fledged educational satellite EDUSAT in 2004. Much earlier in 1975, the Satellite
Instructional Television Experiment (SITE), designed jointly by NASA and the
Indian Space Research Organization had highlighted the role technology could
play in improving the quality of education in India. SITE was a collaborative,
interdisciplinary program banking on engineers, scientists, sociologists,
anthropologists and content developers and a host of national and international
agencies like UNESCO involved in its execution. Looking to address the various
issues including shortage of qualified teachers both at school and higher
education levels, to supplement curriculum-based education, and also to provide effective teacher training,
India took its next big step towards integrated technology-based massive learning
with the launch of the dedicated EDUSAT.

 

Satellite communication technology using
EDUSAT became a strong tool for the development of distance education, and was
envisioned to deliver quality educational services in rural, remote and
far-flung corners with interactive learning using two-way audio and video
communication channels. It consisted of a hub and studio facility in State
capitals (to act as teaching ends), satellite interactive terminals in
universities and colleges and receive-only terminals in schools (as learning
ends) supported by satellite.

 

Even as the government attributed large
funds, the scope of success from the EDUSAT initiative remained limited due to several
challenges, and only a few educational institutions could benefit from the
signals that the satellite was beaming down. The Comptroller and Auditor
General of India in its
report a few years back noted the underutilisation of EDUSAT because of
implementation deficiencies such as delay in establishment of ground network,
idling of network connectivity, disparities in the allocation and idling of
satellite bandwidth, inadequate content generation and deficiencies in
monitoring and evaluation.

 

 

Need for reviving
EDUSAT

But that was the past. For India, EDUSAT
was clearly a bit ahead of its time. Given the current realization at the
policy level, and effective mobilization of all stakeholders, e-learning has
been placed at the center stage to address the country’s educational challenges.
EDUSAT
no doubt has the potential to bridge the learning gap, and enable access to
quality education for students across the country. But for this to be a
reality, we will need to take care of the hardware and management deficiencies
as well as address some deeper blockades in the successful implementation of
this new mode of education in the country.

 

The
States will need a big push to revive their interest in EDUSAT. With a linkage
to the Skills India Mission, agencies such as UNESCO can incentivize the States
in their use of EDUSAT in skill building and development for learners of all
ages. We have to move away from
one-way satellite transmission to dedicated two-way interactivity, giving the
learners opportunity to interact with the instructor, which is crucial for
effective education and training. Even in the remotest corners of the country,
educational institutions need to replace their old receive-only terminals, get
ready to tackle irregular power supply, and not complain of difficulties in
fitting the ‘lectures’ into timetables. There is a lot of scope for indigenous innovation
in this sector if a budding entrepreneur is listening!

 

In
this new version of education, the NEP needs to recognize the potential of satellite-enabled
e-learning, and allow its entry into the mainstream. The EDUSAT can be integrated with the indigenously
developed MOOC (massive online open course) platform SWAYAM, launched last year.
We
need to ensure creation and availability of ‘standardized’ content in sync with
the offline curriculum and the NEP, utilizing the attractive multimedia
technology for facilitating the teaching-learning process, without any
compromise on academic rigor. We cannot merely imitate existing
modes of instruction. Also, technology alone will not enable,
since it functions in our social system – we need to address serious social
challenges along with the obvious technological challenges.
This will be a difficult task, and awards may be instituted for the innovative
and effective teachers on the digital platform.

 

Not only does the potential of EDUSAT remains undiminished
today, it can be made more relevant in addressing key challenges of the new-age
education, and enhancing & sustaining employability for India’s millions. There
is definite optimism.

 

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