Government announces revised scheme of ICT in schools, at a cost of INR 7K crore 1.08 lakh government schools to go 'Smart', benefiting 1.5 crore students, during the 11th Five Year Plan.
At last it's here! This development has long been awaited!! It's an initiative that has always been debated on but had never been negated that the use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) would improve the quality of the teaching and learning process. Additionally, it would also bridge the digital divide, empowering those who have hitherto remained untouched by the digital revolution and have not been able to join the mainstream of the knowledge economy.
Taking cognizance of the benefits, the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs, Government of India approved a revised scheme on Information and Communication Technology in schools earlier this month as per the 11th Five Year Plan.
“The revised scheme on ICT will cover about 1.08 lakh government, government-aided secondary and higher secondary schools and would help to bridge the digital divide, benefiting 1.5 crore students,” says Kapil Sibal, Minister, Human Resource Development, Government of India. According to Rajeev Katyal, Director-Education, Microsoft India, the project has dual objective of improving the quality of education as well as providing digital skills to students, thus making them more suitable for either employment or further studies in a knowledge economy. “We welcome it as a very positive step to meet the above mentioned objectives,” shares Katyal.
This is also expected to be a major intervention in enhancing the Gross Enrollment Ratio (GER) in higher education by five percent during the 11th Five Year Plan period and in ensuring access and equity in higher education, as recommended by the Oversight Committee and the National Knowledge Commission.
According to Prof. Ashok K Bakhshi, Director, Institute of Lifelong Learning, University of Delhi, “The scheme is the need of the hour and is a step in right direction. We must change ourselves with the changing times, giving the best of the practices to the students.”
“The project is far reaching and even if 50 per cent of objectives are met the complete outlook of education would change. It would also act as a catalyst for larger opportunities,” quotes Amit Gupta, CEO, S Chand Group.
It would have a three-tier committee system to monitor and guide its functioning. Also, the Ministry of HRD, Department of Higher Education would enter into a MoU with State Governments for proper monitoring of the scheme in their State.
“We believe, children are the best at technology. Therefore, the effort is to enable them in learning through technology at the very early stage of their lives,” quotes Shakila T. Shamsu, Joint Adviser (Education), Planning Commission, Government of India.
“A great initiative, the Government clearly wants to improve the teaching – learning process and prepare our students for the future by increasing its investment on ICT,” says Jayant Bhadauria, Head, Education Vertical for India & SAARC, Adobe Systems Incorporated.
Whereas Prof. Utpal Mallik, Head, Department of Computer Science, NCERT states that there must be room for debate on the policy from the very beginning.
According to Lokesh Mehra, Regional Manager – Corporate Responsibility, Cisco Systems (India) Pvt Ltd, South Asia, In Asia, a project has already been implemented by UNESCO (the UNESCO ICT competency framework project) in the domain. Therefore, with corrective measures and customised approach this declaration can go a long way in reforming the education system, even at the grassroots level.
Adding to that Anshul Sonak, Manager, South Asia Education, Intel, states that the project will go a long way in creating quality human capital of India in the long term.
Strategy, target and the impact
The existing centrally sponsored scheme of “ICT in Schools” is being implemented through the State Governments and United Territories since 2005-06. Under this scheme, nearly 53,000 schools have been included. The revised scheme envisages to cover an additional 58,000 schools as a need has been felt to expand the outreach of the scheme. According to Shri Sibal, priority would be given to educationally backward blocks with special attention on SC, ST, minority, weaker sections and the disabled.
“This is probably the most significant step considering the size and reach of this programme reflecting the success and the positive impact the ICT programme has had so far in Government schools across India,” says Srikanth Iyer, COO, Manipal K-12 Education.
Under this programme, each school will be provided with required ICT infrastructure, e-content, power supply and Internet connectivity, and a technology equipped classroom, with audio-visual aids for enhancing the learning method.
Once the project is implemented, training individuals for the jobs of the future and enabling them to visualise what is possible today will not only make a difference in their lives but will enrich our communities now and for years to come, comments Mehra.
According to him, if implemented correctly, India would be able to quadruple the number of teachers, professors, academicians and instructors that would help to achieve 20 per cent GER by 2015.
Besides, the technology-enabled Teacher Professional Development programme can further facilitate the teachers in formative assessments to measure the understanding of the students' progress thereby continuously maintaining a robust pool of talent through various initiatives and programmes.
According to Kabir Khanna, CEO, Chalkpad Technologies, although the project is definitely a step in the right direction, the real impact can only be determined on the basis of how well they the project is implemented and executed on.
The estimated expenditure of the scheme is INR 6,926.13 crores for the 11th Five Year Plan. The funding will be provided on a 75:25 sharing basis between the Centre and the States, except for North Eastern States including Sikkim, where the sharing pattern would be 90:10. Recurring cost will be provided for a period of 5 years from the year of sanction. There is a budget provision of INR 502 crores during the current financial year for the project.
Funding will be on 75:25 sharing between the Centre and States, and 90:10 for the North Eastern states.
Funding will be on 75:25 sharing between the Centre and States, and 90:10 for the North Eastern states.
“All the states including the North Eastern States have prioritised the project and set aside resources for the implementation,” shares Shamsu at Planning Commission.
According to Khanna at Chalkpad, “It is also important to see how this money is being spent and how it makes the process of 'imparting and absorbing education' more efficient and interesting, leading to better results.”
The need indeed
Earlier, the NASSCOM-McKinsey Report 2005 projections indicated that there will be a shortage by about 5,00,000 suitable professionals (representing an opportunity cost of USD 10 billion) by the end of the decade and in the absence of corrective action, this gap will continue to grow. However, if current trends are maintained, the IT-ITES sector will need an additional 1 million plus qualified people in the next 5 years and will generate exports of USD 86 billion in FY 2012.
Analysing the dearth and apprehending the potential, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has termed the 11th Five Year Plan as “India's educational plan.” It is through universal literacy, access to education and knowledge-based industrial development that India will believably march ahead to join the front ranks of the great nations. Having said that, making available ICT solutions, shared management personnel, and management skills with the school committees will be crucial, explains the plan.
Achieving the goal
Though the scheme has been announced, there are critical phases in defining the goals, say experts. According to Sam Carlson, Lead Education Specialist, The World Bank, “There was not enough focus and genuine teacher professional development to help teachers skillfully integrate ICTs into their classrooms. I believe this may change with the revised centrally sponsored scheme ICT@Schools and the adoption of the new Policy for ICT and Education.”
Further to that, Katyal at Microsoft adds that the process should be divided in phases of three, five and ten years time frames. In the first three years, every Secondary School must have an IT lab and at least one ICT- enabled classroom.
In the second phase of five years, all government upper Primary Schools should be offered the same facilities of an ICT lab and an ICT-enabled classroom while the third phase of 10 years should see this entire programme spread to Primary Schools. Microsoft would like to support the government here in terms of its specialised teacher training techniques as well as advanced level technology courses, Katyal ensures.
According to experts, Public Private Partnership (PPP) would be the best route as no single agency can handle the same. “PPP would avoid duplication, bring best of both the sectors and would speed up the entire process,” Gupta adds. Further to that Khanna at Chalkpad clarifies that there should be an autonomous body set up by the government to oversee the process as a whole.
Adopting best practices of the PPP model from across the world will be useful. “Standard guidelines will make the PPP model efficient. A lot of players are already implementing the BOOT model, however emphasis should be on creating the appropriate environment for ICT,” says Bhaduria at Adobe.
There is also a need to recognise the fact that the Government alone cannot overcome the challenges. The education sector is also the obligation of the private sector to balance the lack of high-quality education, says experts. Through PPP, private sector can advise on steps going forward with respect to a comprehensive ICT framework that they would have implemented elsewhere globally.
On that, Sonak at Intel says, “Given the diversity of India, we require multi-pronged approaches in implementing such large public-funded scheme in the most effective manner with more and more public private partnerships where local civil society, academia, government bodies and local business ecosystem come together and bring in their strengths to work complimentarily on project mode basis.”
Recent Reforms in education sector
The challenges and opportunities
There has been a significant impact of ICT in the delivery of educational services across the world. But in India, implementing the process is a little complicated than elsewhere. According to Shri Subhash C Khuntia, Joint Secretary, Department of School Education and Literacy, Ministry of Human Resource Development Government of India, “The project includes implementation in lakhs of schools, it tends to cover a wide range of areas across states in the country including the rural and sub-urban areas. Here lie the challenges.” Reaching out to those places and meeting the requirements is a critical job. Therefore, the mode of application has to be customised, he apprehends. “We are working on the the rules and tools of it. The applications do not only focus on deploying computer labs but also other mode of technologies and specifically the customised content for the regions,” he focuses.
According to Shamsu at Planning Commission, training the teachers is vital besides providing the infrastructural facilities and that is also a great challenge. After the training, upgrading the faculties regularly on the developments is also equally important. Besides, educating the non-teaching staff of the institutions to carry on the regular activities in the IT enabled process is also crucial.
With regard to that Dr. Latha Pillai, Pro Vice Chancellor, Indira Gandhi National Open Unversity (IGNOU), says, “We have the resources but we have to concentrate on the process of implementation and the infrastructure. The priorities have to be chalked down properly.”
According to Dr. Sitanshu S. Jena, Chairman, National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS), the parameters of quality have to be set in priority in the process implementation, developing the materials and generating the content including enlisting the facilities and the vendors. Also the project needs experts to judge the parameters. Until and unless these pointers are not met, the project would not get its desired outcome.
Also it is not only a question of digital divide but also to bridge rural and urban divide and also provide equal opportunities, comments Gupta.
Thus according to Bhaduria, the Government needs to expedite the implementation by simplifying the process and by introducing a National Digital Curriculum for schools and higher education.
And therefore, the institutes need to have a clear understanding of their role and evolve an ICT strategy to map the growth of students who will be enrolled under this programme, advises Mehra.
But if a syllabus-based content can be ensured, then the impact of ICT interventions will increase significantly, further opines Iyer at Edurite.
The curve ahead
The outcome is huge but hitherto to experience though, clarify experts. There should be an emphasis on those tools and technologies that the market uses. Similarly, ta study ought to be conducted to understand the skills required by the industry and how ICT can be used to impart and certify such skills. Content should be developed to ensure teaching skills and teachers be trained to deliver these skill sets.
This would consolidate the industry and also bring economies of scale and affordability which are the desired outcome of ICT initiative, say experts. “In my perspective, self employment opportunities would also generate that would be backed up by a generation of technologically educated youth to bring the change,” says Gupta.
The project will help reduce the drop-out rate in schools. It would also further enable the creation of a better employable workforce, which will fuel our economy, says educationists.
According to them, through the scheme, India can invest more leading to inclusive education, spanning tertiary and vocational education and will have curricula based on the needs of the industry.
In the modern economy, socio-economic impact of relevant education is more profound than ever and hence the success of the project is not just required from the industry standpoint but also from the nation's standpoint, analyses Bhaduria.
Summarising the impact of the implementation of the scheme, Carlson at World Bank concludes, “My vision of education in India by 2050 is one where all children complete Class 12 and develop the intellectual curiosity, skills, habits and knowledge needed to succeed in the global economy.”