Sunday, April 13, 2008

Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) in Schools

There has been an interesting discussion on policy recommendations that are to be made to the Ministry of Human Resource Development, Government of India. This discussion has been happening on the discussion list named Solution Exchange on ICT in Development (see http://www.solutionexchange-un.net.in/ictd/cr/res28030801.doc for the discussion on ICT in Schools.) This posting brings you a copy of what I contributed to the discussion. The questions posed by the initiator of the discussion are shown to provide the context to my remarks.


Topic 1: ICT Infrastructure in Schools

1. What are some of the key challenges faced using ICT in school education with regard to ICT infrastructure?
a. Uncontrolled access to the Internet for all students is very expensive
b. Satisfactory Internet access for the students in a school is difficult to provide in most areas of the country outside the big cities
c. The Internet in schools poses problems of misuse (like visiting educationally useless and undesirable sites)
d. Attempts to use ICT in education are relatively ineffective unless the student gets content in his/her own language and content relevant to the curriculum. Suitable and adequate content should be planned for when the physical infrastructure is planned. Educational TV offers the raw material for computer based video and multi-media instruction in Indian languages.

Local Area Networks (LANs) are very important for educational institutions, particularly because Internet access is a problem. If content is available for hosting on the LAN, it would play a valuable role. Ideally a good part of the content should be in the video form. Interactive multi-media material would also be valuable. We should make such resources available over every school LAN, instead of trying to make them accessible over the Internet. The bandwidth required for these is quite high, and the LAN is the cost-effective solution to provide this bandwidth. This will overcome many of the problems listed above.

I have a few other suggestions in relation to infrastructure. India has excellent satellite TV infrastructure and has invested significantly in educational TV. Due to technical advances, a school can now spend only Rs 2500 on DTH equipment once to get a 1.5 Mbps digital link (that is what satellite TV uses), which in turn brings video content for free. Some Indian educational channels are planning to switch to DTH soon, and it is very practical for them to do this. Due to the rapid fall in the cost of servers and storage, it is entirely possible to record in digital form into a server thousands of hours of TV programs, and make it available on demand from every PC on the LAN. It is easy to make a specified program available over the LAN according to a schedule to as many classrooms and PCs as are required. We can simultaneously provide for any set of Classrooms/PCs to access programs that are required individually, without depending on a time schedule. A digital library on a server on the LAN would be a valuable asset, as it will store all types of digital content.

ICT is perceived as expensive. It need not be so, if a PC and a projector are used for a class as a whole. Such a facility should ideally be available in every classroom. The classroom PC-cum-projector facility can be used even to administer quizzes and tests. Objective type questions can be displayed on the screen and students can be asked to write down the answers. Alternatively, the teacher can call out students at random to answer a given question for the benefit of the class. The teacher can correct wrong answers, explaining why that answer was not the correct one.
4. Can you offer advice on ways in which school ICT Infrastructure can be used as community learning centres after the school hours? I believe that the most useful way would be to have a trained person there after office hours to offer training on the use of the PCs and any available Internet connection to interested people in the local community. We need to train several million people at that level, and trainers working out of school facilities can easily run a sustainable training program. People will pay a lot more for training and education than for mere access to hardware and software. We will need several hundred thousand trainers to do this work. Therefore a big project in this direction will create a large number of valuable job opportunities for teachers and others. These opportunities will arise wherever there are schools in India.

Topic 2: Capacity Building for Use of ICT in Schools

1. What are some of the key capacity gaps facing ICT in school education? Are there any good examples where these capacity gaps have been addressed?

A key issue is the scarcity of effective teachers who can handle ICT infrastructure and utilize it for educational purposes. Any training we give such teachers is lost within a couple of years as many of these teachers move out of educational institutions and go to business and industry. We could modify an idea of the SNDT Women’s University in Mumbai and use it to solve this problem. SNDT offers a Master of Educational Technology (Computer Applications) (http://www.sndt.ac.in/det/METCA%20Prospectus%202007-08.pdf ). IGNOU could offer a “Diploma/Degree for ICT Teachers in Schools” to start with, for the benefit of teachers working in schools. This would be a part time course spread over two or three years, giving significant credit for effective performance as a teacher using ICT. Practical work specified to the participants could be teaching assignments, which could be graded by local senior teachers or other administrators. In addition, the participants would be learning in the distance education mode and taking examinations. Those enrolled would serve the school during their education, and get the greatest reward – getting better educated. If they leave the school system after qualifying for a Diploma/Degree, that would be fine. The economy needs such people too.

2. Can you suggest creative ideas and innovations for building capacity for ICT in school education?

We could announce an award of Rs One Lakh per author for a hundred authors a year for creating educational content in the form of e-books in Indian languages. This may be any one, not necessarily a teacher; for instance it could be a college teacher writing for school students. Those whose books are selected for the award should put the e-book in the public domain, so that any one can use it. This would be a method of providing inexpensive content for digital libraries at schools. If 50,000 schools use an e-book and it has a notional value of Rs 50 per copy, the value created by the proposed “Indian Language e-Book Award Scheme” would be Rs 25 Lakhs. Public libraries should also be able to use public domain content in Indian languages, thereby doubling the utilization of e-books created. The scheme should not exclude books in English.

MHRD’s National Programme for Technology Enhanced Learning (NPTEL) has created thousands of hours of video lectures, covering a lot of the four-year curriculum in four disciplines of engineering at the university level. The valuable experience gained in this project can be used to create video content to cover school curricula in all Indian languages. School-teachers can be trained and invited to create video content in their areas of expertise, and in their own language. The best teachers can provide inspirational lectures and model lectures. This content can also be packaged as short video clips which a local teacher can use in the class, offering his/her own lecture livened and enriched by the video-clips.

Submitted by
Srinivasan Ramani

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