Tuesday 21 February 2017

Educational Technology in India's Higher Education

Education plays an extremely critical role in the development of any country. In the era of knowledge economy which is widely being talked about, it would not be wrong to say that education is a nation’s strength. A developed country is inevitably an educated nation.
For developing countries like India, the nation is striving to achieve excellence in higher education that plays a pivotal role in the development process of the country, since it is viewed as a powerful means to build knowledge based society. Immediately after getting independence, the government in 1948 had set up the University Education Commission in order to enhance access and quality of higher education across the country.
On educational front, the country witnessed an appreciable rise in reaching out to all the classes of its society. However, at tertiary level of education, the nation is facing challenges in terms of access and quality.
The government took several steps during the 11th Five Year Plan to increase access to higher education by adopting state specific strategies, enhancing the relevance of higher education through curriculum reforms, information technology adoption and distance education along with reforms in governance.
However in terms of Gross Enrollment Ratio (GER), India still lags behind the worldwide average and emerging countries like Brazil and China.
The 12th Five Year Plan (2012-2017) confronts the challenges facing India’s higher education system and has proposed several initiatives to resolve them. These include increased funding for disadvantaged groups, imbibing cutting-edge technologies, faculty improvement programs, improved governance and provision of incentives for advanced research.
The government has laid out plans to achieve enrollment of 35.9 million students in higher education institutions, targeting a GER of 25.2 per cent, through these initiatives towards the end of the plan period. It also intends to improve the quality of the system significantly, while encouraging the co-existence of multifarious, research-centric, teaching and vocation-focused institutions.
As of 2011, Indian higher education system, which is controlled and monitored by the University Grants Commission (UGC), is spread over 42 central universities, 275 state universities, 130 deemed universities and 90 private universities. Additionally, 5 institutions were established functioning under the State Act, along with 33 Institutes of National Importance.
Nearly 33,000 institutions function as Government and Private Degree Colleges which also include 1800 exclusive women's colleges. Currently, over 60 per cent of higher education institutions in India are promoted by the private sector.
While the focus of the government has largely been on school education, in the context of post secondary and higher education, consistent and quality growth however has become debatable. A demographic divide still persists in the access to quality higher education with several communities still remaining under represented, contradicting the very objective of equity within the social growth of the country.

Challenges in India's Higher Education:

With the urban and the rural divide having significantly narrowed due to the onset of technology, communication and better infrastructure over the last two decades, there has been an appreciable improvement in the reach of better higher education to several under-represented groups across the country.
However, the need of the hour is a provision of high quality education across all sectors to match the requirements of a growing Indian economy. The suffering of the under-represented communities has not been appreciably alleviated as unemployment, inflation, low income and lack of adequate access to quality education continue to plague them.
Some of the key challenges for India in terms of access and quality of higher education are the following:

Poor Infrastructure – This shortcoming is perhaps the chief of all in delivery of quality education. While focus on the urban segment has been heavy, the same is not replicated in most of the rural areas. Establishment of quality higher education institutes in the rural sector has not been significant, which is a serious deterrent for the rural community in general.

There is wide disparity in higher education GER across states, urban versus rural areas, gender and communities that have to be bridged.

Inadequate faculty – The student teacher ratio on the whole is at a lamentable state. While it is still lower in the urban areas, the rural areas take the brunt of the scene with the ratios being at very high rate.

Unqualified or untrained faculty-- Even as the woes of inadequate faculty remain, a major part of the ones who are present to impart higher education are woefully unequipped in terms of either qualifications or experience or proper training.

Inappropriate or over load in curriculum – The curriculum of most higher education courses is very infrequently updated even as the world sees a continuously changing scenario in industry manpower requirements. This has caused a crass divide between the industry expectations and the college pass-outs who are poorly equipped with the right technical, business or social skills to be employed.

The above mentioned are some of the key challenges to access of higher education. I believe access is pre-requisite for quality. Until and unless access, that refers to availability of suitable number of institutions across region to fulfill demand, is given, it is virtually impossible to bring in quality at the tertiary level of education across the country. In simple term, it can be said that quality (to provision of suitable infrastructure, trained faculty and effective pedagogy in higher education institutions aimed at delivering expected outcomes) is a step ahead of access.
These challenges can be effectively addressed with the help of education technology in order to take higher education to the door steps of each and every citizen of the country.

Educational Technology:

Now-a-days, educationists have realized that in education “learning” is more important that “teaching”. As we know that learning is concerned with students, whereas teaching is related with pupils and teachers.
Gone were the days when a teacher was the only source of knowledge. The students learnt what the teacher taught. With the advent of textbooks and other learning aids, the teacher’s personal knowledge, though important, ceased to be the only or even paramount source of learning.
There are two factors which have posed critical problems for education. These are: “informational explosion” and “population explosion”, that means more things are to be learnt and more individuals are to learn. It is not possible to solve them by conventional means. In order to overcome these problems successfully, educational technology are required.
Now the question is “what is educational technology?”. In layman term, educational technology can be defined as the use of all educational resources—men and materials, methods and techniques, means and media--in an integrated and systematic manner for optimizing learning. It can also be defined as anything which can facilitate the process of learning.
According to PoA (p.183), “Educational technology offers the means to reach numbers in remote and inaccessible areas, remove disparity in educational facilities available to the disadvantaged and provide individualized instruction to learners conveniently suited to their needs and pace of learning.”
The Association for Educational Communications and Technology (AECT), Educational Technology defines it as:
 “Educational Technology is the study and ethical practice of facilitating learning and improving performance by creating, using, and managing appropriate technological processes and resources.”

Need For Educational Technology:

In the wake of growing population of the country, it has become the need of the hour to go for educational technology in order to provide education to the masses. That is why, the National Policy on Education, 1986 as well as the revised NPE, 1992 have laid emphasis on the use of educational technology for improving both “quality” and “quantity” of education for the first time in the history of Indian education.
The NPE, 1986 (p.22) stated, “Educational technology will be employed in the spread of useful information, the training and retraining of teachers, to improve the quality, sharpen awareness of art and culture, inculcate abiding values, etc, both in the formal and non-formal sections.”
In developing countries like India, the educational technology has to be mastered and utilized by educationists, if they are to keep pace with each other and catch up with developed nations. Both quantitative expansion as well as qualitative enhancement of education can be facilitated and accelerated with the help of educational technology.
As Apater has pointed out, “Today,  a technology of education is being developed with the aim not only of making education more widely available, but also of improving the quality of education which is already available.” 

Technology Trends in Indian Universities:

Educational technology has successfully been used for improving the quality as well as expanding the frontiers of higher education in the country. The tools help to create a social, highly collaborative and personalized environment with innovative solutions that will enhance the way students learn, communicate and collaborate and study both on and off campus. It has broken the monopoly of oral communication and invaded the classrooms of the colleges and universities.

Since August 15, 1984, the University Grants Commission launched the project “Countrywide Classrooms” and has been investing huge amount on establishing production centers providing TV sets, producing and purchasing suitable Educational Television (ETV) programs.
The ETV programs are produced at the different media centers, namely, Educational Media Resources Centers (EMRCs) located at Ahmedabad, Hyderabad, Pune, MCRC situated at Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi.
A Mass Communication Bureau has also been functioning at the UGC New Delhi and ETV production facilities have also been developed in the Technical Teachers Training Institute (TTTIs) located at different cities of the country.
Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) has been set up as an effective alternative model of higher education on September 20, 1985 by an Act of Parliament. The instructional system of IGNOU is different from that of conventional universities as it adopts a multimedia approach to education.
Some of the exciting technology trends in Indian Universities are:


With the proliferation of mobile phones on campus, colleges everywhere are compelled to capitalize on feature-rich phones that are capable of much more than just voice calls.Adoption of the BlackBerry, iPhone and other smart devices that have Internet access allows students and faculty to perform a wide range of assignments. Tasks like administration, sharing class notes, downloading lectures, instant messaging, etc., are possible anywhere cell phone service is available.

Mobile phones are also being used to access computer files from remote locations. With services like “Soonr”, students who have forgotten to bring an assignment to class can use their cell phone to access the completed work on their home computer and show it to the professor.

Digitization of Books (E-Text Books)

There is an increased trend towards creation of a digital repository of books to create a digital learning environment for students. The digital version of the books embedded with text, pictures along with video, simulations and visualizations help students learn the concepts in an interactive way.
The National mission on Education through ICT plans to generate new online course content for UG, PG and Doctoral education. Efforts are already underway to prepare course content for 130 courses (UG and PG).

Content Delivery using IT/ICT

Higher Education is purely a content driven play where educational content is delivered through innovative use of ICT. There is an increased trend in higher education institutes to render content through Radio, TV and Satellite

Open Education Resources

Many Indian universities are contemplating Technology enabled free access of education resources. AICTE - Indian National Digital Library in Engineering & Technology (AICTE - INDEST) is a consortium set up by the Ministry of Human Resource to enhance greater access and generate annual savings in access of bibliographic databases.
The University Grants Commission (UGC) has also launched its Digital Library Consortium to provide access to peer reviewed journals and bibliographic databases covering subjects such as arts, humanities, technology and sciences

Virtual Technical University

The National mission on Education through ICT is working on a war foot to establish a virtual technical university to impart training to UG/PG students along with new teachers.

Social Learning

The emergence of Web 2.0 and social networking such as blogs and wikis, as well as new online video repository and delivery websites such as YouTube, iTunes U and Big Think is influencing a new trend in higher education.
The emergence of smartphones such as the iPhone and other intelligent devices has enhanced mobile learning (referred to as m-learning). These technologies create new channels for content delivery, online video expansion and podcasting. Also, the adoption of virtual reality websites such as “Second Life” has provided higher-education institutions with new venues for class gatherings and learning.
A combination of Web 2.0 tools viz., Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, Mashups, and Social Networking Communities are transforming the traditional learning environment into something more social and personalized. While traditional Learning Management Systems (LMS) like Blackboard, Sakai, Moodle or Web CT are course-centered and driven by faculty, the new trend in education is to create a “learner-centric” system.

Educational Technology for Teacher Education:

The NPE 1986 emphasizes the teachers’ accountability to the pupils, their parents, the community and to their own professions.
At present, there are several institutions for training of elementary schools teachers and for preparing secondary school teachers. But a large number of these institutions suffer from inadequate facilities—human, physical and academic to provide good professional education. Curricula of teacher education are also felt outdated and teaching practices unsuitable as well as undemocratic.
Besides, improving these facilities, it is necessary to provide modern media, materials and methods for accelerating the teaching-learning process and energizing the training practices at various levels.
State Institutes of Educational Technology (SIET) have been established initially in Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Odisha, and Uttar Pradesh. Besides, a Central Institute of Educational Technology (CIET) has been set up in the NCERT with 100 per cent central assistance, to generate educational software in general and for teachers in particular for updating teachers’ knowledge and skills and improving their professional growth.