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‘Digital India Opportunity For Tech In Schools’

A committee headed by T S R Subramanian, entrusted with preparing new education policy, recently travelled across the country to see the state of schools, including technology penetration therein

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T S R Subramanian

A committee headed by T S R Subramanian, entrusted with preparing new education policy, recently travelled across the country to see the state of schools, including technology penetration therein. He talked about tech in schools in a conversation with BW Businessworld’s Suman K. Jha.

Excerpts:

You visited many schools, across the country. What percentage of them had new-age classrooms?

Our focus was more on the rural schools, and compliance with infrastructure norms as envisaged in RTE. Wherever the Committee saw the school in rural areas, there was hardly any technology back-up of any sort. Nearly every school that we visited was not even connected digitally, through an IT network. The science laboratories were mostly closed. Even the computer system available in the couple of schools we visited was not in working condition.

In your experience, what percentage of teachers were / are technologically well-equipped?
We didn’t estimate the percentage number of teachers who were technologically well equipped. The obvious answer is that this number will be a minuscule percentage, probably more in high-end urban schools. Nearly in the entire government system all over the country, as also in the so called low cost (indeed also equally low quality private schools), the situation is no different.

What needs to be done to provide new-age classrooms to the entire country – not only in higher education but schools as well?

I am unable to envisage a dramatic reversal in rural conditions in this respect in the immediate future. This issue requires focused attention.

What should be the scope for private sector participation in making the Indian classroom new-age and futuristic?
Indeed in Indian conditions, looking at the critical importance of the education sector, the outlay should be far higher than 6 per cent of GDP (as opposed to the present levels of about 3.4 per cent). Political will is required to reassess the criticality of this area and focus more attention.

There is big scope for private sector participation in funding all elements of the education sector. Policies conducive to attract suitable investments (not necessarily with a profit motive, but with a sharp relation to quality upgradation) is now imperative.

How do we bring technology to education and to the classroom?
Giving computers to every child in school, or in every classroom is not going to change the overall situation sharply. International school experience, even in developed countries is that the teacher cannot be dispensed with; the key is to equip the teacher technologically, and allow her/him to innovate, orient and enthuse the teacher to perform, with technology as aid. Technology cannot be just a substitution for the human element.

The learnings from the Shiksha experiment point to a way to develop the theme of aid to education.

Digital India will be a reality in the next three or four years, and will cover over 2.5 lakh Gram Sabhas. This provides an unparalleled new opportunity to introduce technology in schools in a sensible way, taking into account our ground realities.

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