Commentary :Create A Level Playing Field
March 2008

Commentary :Create A Level Playing Field

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Inequity in education is one of the worst offenders of economic growth for any country.  Income levels, rural or urban settings, the educational level of parents, nutrition and health are just some of the factors limiting access, achievement, and permanence of children in learning situations. The barrier imposed by this combination of factors  leading to Awareness-divide, is extremely rigid and difficult to surpass.

Evidence clearly shows that inequity in education in itself propels illiteracy and that leads to economic diversity.  A lot rides on equity – economic standards, societal health & well-being and most of all – awareness.  Awareness-divide is probably more dangerous than digital divide.  This vicious circle is one that an education policy maker has to help break before taking a country on the path of economic growth.

It is therefore of paramount importance that an education policy, which brings in ICT as a means to develop computer culture should also focus on creating a level playing field.

In order to achieve equity in education, one has to be aware of the following:

  • What dimensions cause inequities,
  • How to address them and,
  • How to measure the inequities.

Six dimensions that cause education inequity
Gender, race, economic strata, geographic spread, technology and students of differing academic strengths (and with special needs too) are the six main dimensions, which can potentially cause inequities. To add to these, language poses a special barrier to be overcome.
Some of the questions that one should ask before planning for setting up an ICT education policy are:

  1. What kind of reach-out-model (de-centralised, centralized, cluster, etc.) should be adopted to implement ICT education policy so that geographic diversity does not result in awareness-divide?  Should e-Learning be adopted as policy alternative to specifically target remote and rural communities?
  2. How to create a uniform technology platform, network infrastructure and content across the country so that digital-divide is avoided?
  3. If research indicates that boy-students tend to develop adaptive expertise to computers than girl-students, then it is clear that equal opportunity and equal access by itself are insufficient.  What should be the roles of ICT policy maker, school, and parents in ensuring that gender does not create digital-divide?  Do we need novel pedagogical practices?
  4. How useful can ICT be in improving the quality and quantity of education for special groups and communities?
  5. Are lower achieving students less computer-friendly?  Do they use computers for different purposes?  How to address students with special needs?
  6. What specific guidelines should the ICT policy maker include to reach-out to linguistic and ethnic minorities?

Inequity measuring indicator

There are various indicators by which different aspects of education across a country can be measured.  Some such indicators are enrollment ratios, education attainment, quality by cognitive test scores, standard deviation of years of schooling, gender reach ratio, etc. Lately, an education-Gini index helps measure education inequity. Generally Gini coefficients are used to measure distributions of wealth, income and land. Using enrollment, financing or education attainment data one can derive education Gini-coefficients that help in understanding the divide in education. This would become an important input to the policy maker.

Conclusion – A holistic approach

A holistic approach needs to be adopted in order to address inequity problems. It is inevitable that technology has become an inherent part of the triad (others being content and teacher), of a students learning process. Thus as a part of policy planning process, every stakeholder (parent, peer, student, school, policy maker, technology provider, content provider) has a role to play in bringing this inequity down and without making efforts towards quantifying the inequities, a policy can never progress in its evolution.

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