Challenges of modernising Indian educational system
March 2006

Challenges of modernising Indian educational system

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With 179 million students and 888,000 educational institutions, modernizing  India’s education system is a huge challenge. The need of the hour is  therefore a close collaboration between educationists and technologists; and  open source provides the ideal framework for this process 
Napoleon once said that, “War is too important to be left to generals alone.”  imilarly technology is too important to be left  to technologists alone. By the  ame  token, education is too important to be left to educationists alone. Today,
we are on the cusp of an age that is  being defined by the intersection of education and technology,  particularly information technology. However, India faces a massive challenge in modernizing its education  system. In a country that has 888,000  educational institutions, 179 million students and more than 2.9 million teachers modernizing the system is a  task that requires innovative thinking and a radically new approach. In the  2005 budget, the Government of India embarked upon an aggressive plan of spending a bigger chunk of its GDP (approximately six percent) on modernization of education.In many villages and cities across India, millions of children have no access to basic educational facilities. At the same time, the basic structure of our society has changed from an  ndustrial economy to one where the importance of  knowledge pervades every action of ours. The billion dollar  question that affects the lives of these 179 million students and the  future of our 888,000 educational institutions therefore is—how do we modernize our education system at a time when we haven’t been able to  deliver on the basic  onstitutional promise of providing basic primary  education to all Indians? The shifting structure of our society from an industrial economy to a  knowledge economy offers us both a threat and an opportunity as we seek to modernize our education system. In a world where the creation anddissemination of knowledge are being     rapidly digitized, it is inevitable thatIT will play a central role in the education system of the future. Classrooms of the future will not be mere brick and mortar structures  imparting instructions but information hubs where knowledge is created and  disseminated. This shift is very  similar to the shift we see in the media where power is shifting away from  “broadcast” media like print and television to the “interactive” medium of the Internet where  individuals are not passive consumers of information but also producers of information. In the  professional world a similar shift is happening with organizations  placing a premium on employees who can think on their feet and  execute tasks independently, as against those who merely follow  instructions. If we wish to equip the next generation of Indian students for the knowledge economy, our  education system needs to make a 180degree shift from a system that emphasizes rote learning and studious  adherence to instructions to one that  emphasizes creativity and encouragesinnovation and independent thinking. Our 179 million students (and 2.9 million teachers!) must not be passive “downloaders” of information but  active participants in the process of creating and  disseminating  knowledge.  If we deliver effectively on this  vision of ushering  our vast army of  students into thedigital age, we lay the foundation for   making India one of the superpowers of the 21st century. This  is a challenge that  should deeply engage India’seducationists and technologists and  requires an interdisciplinary  collaboration that has  ever been seen before. The open  source development model provides the ideal framework for this process.  In the context of a developing country like India which is rich in talent but  lacks the purchasing power of the  west, open source offers several sustainable, long-term advantages as we seek to modernize our education  system. The term “Open Source” originated in the world of software. At a simplistic level, the term  represents software that is distributed along with the  source code. Open Sourcesoftware programs are released with a liberal license that allow  users to study the code, modify  it and freely redistribute it. The philosophical underpinnings of  Open Source sound very simple but the tenets on which open source is based—collaboration,  community and the shared  ownership of intellectualresources—has resulted in tremendous innovation.  Moodle (www.moodle.org) an  Open Source course management system was developed by an educator who  found existing proprietary programs inadequate  or expensive. It is now used by thousands of  educational  institutions to  manage their coursework and   s  supported by an  active community that develops and  upgrades it. Since   t  has been developed  by an educator  himself, it enables a teacher to use  Moodle to teach a  course fully online or to supplement a  course taught in    traditional setting.  In the world of software, Open Source  has lead to the   reation of world-class   oftware like the Linux operating system, the Apache web     rver and thousands of other software  programs. Millions of people have  contributed to the development of  these programs and benefited from using   hem. Linux, for instance, was released under the General Public  License in 1991  and consisted of 10,000 lines of code. In a mere 14  years, due to the  ontributions of  open source developers across the world, this code-base has grown to 10   million lines of code. Linux now runs on everything from  supercomputers to hand-held computers. It is  estimated that if these 10 million lines  of code were commercially developed, the cost would run into billions of dollars. Because Linux is available  under an open source license, it is a community resource that is freely  available to everyone. The Open Source philosophy has  proved to be so popular that other  disciplines are embracing the tenets of  community, collaboration and shared ownership of intellectual resources  with powerful results.  The Open Source philosophy is catching on in the world of education  content. For example, Wikipedia  (www.wikipedia.org) has rapidly  emerged as one of the largest online dictionaries in the world. In a short span of five years, Wikipedia has  attracted five million entries fromacross the world in several languages  and is a fantastic educational resource that we should localize to Indian  languages. Because it is released under the open source, “Creative  Commons” copyright, Indian educators have the freedom to translate Wikipedia into Indian  languages and share it with theirstudents. The venerable,  Massachusetts Institute of Technology took the radical step of “open sourcing” 1,100 courses online  at http://ocw.mit.edu based on their conviction that, “the open  dissemination of knowledge andinformation can open new doors to  the powerful benefits of education for humanity around the world.” Other  eb sites like Planet Math  (www.planetmath.org)aim at creating communities of educators focussed  on a specific domain to make knowledge more accessible.  Many educational institutions themselves are now coming together  to leverage the economic benefits of  participating in Open Source development. For instance, leading
universities like the University of Michigan, Indiana University, MIT  and Stanford are investing up to $1  million in staff time to develop producing open source Collaboration  and Learning Environment (CLE) software. Even universities that are  not members of the Sakai Project can download the software and interest in  the Sakai Educational Partner Program (SEPP) is growing at the rate of 1-2  universities per week. Thus it is clear that whether it is for creating educational content,  managing coursework and learning,
teaching a specific discipline or administration of an educational  institution, the open source model offers tremendous benefits as a model  for the creation and dissemination of knowledge. In a country where  888,000 educational institutions need  to be modernized and more than 179 million students educated, the  community ownership model of open source can help the country save  billions of dollars that would be spent on proprietary operating
systems, software and content. Since anything developed under an  open source model can be shared freely, it can help in the rapid  dissemination of educational materials to India’s vast population  of students.  From a long-term perspective, it is important that the creation and  dissemination of knowledge  hould  be a collaborative, community driven  process rather than one that is
monopolized by a few individuals or companies. In the Indian, intellectual  tradition, knowledge has always been  considered as a common good treated
as a community resource rather than private property that can be  monopolized and enjoyed by a few.  The need of the hour is therefore a close collaboration  between educationists and  technologists. The open source
model provides a framework that can lead to an open source  renaissance for Indian education.❏

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