The purpose of higher education is to push the frontiers of knowledge and it is here that ICT can play a critical role to accelerate the pace of creating new knowledge. Nikita Bothra from Elets News Network (ENN) digs deep to find out how technology is enabling leading universities and institutions to join hands and create opportunities of learning.
Presently, higher education in India is experiencing a metamorphosis in terms of access, equity and quality. This transition is highly influenced by the swift developments in Information and Communication Technology (ICT) all over the world. The introduction of ICT in the higher education has profound implications for the whole education process, especially in dealing with key issues of access, equity, management, efficiency, pedagogy and quality. At the same time, the optimal utilisation of opportunities arising due to diffusion of ICTs in higher education system is a serious challenge for higher educational institutions. In this backdrop, the opportunities and challenges posed by integration of ICTs in various aspects of higher education has been summarised conclusively.
The modern society to a large extent depends on the everyday use of internet, mobile phones and computer usage which makes the younger generation more adaptive to the explosive technology in the digital world
An Apparatus of Change
The essence and core of education, higher education in particular, is to promote research and create the processes that inculcate the “problem solving” approach and it cannot be fuelled without having collaborations, joining hands with industry and other academic institutions to share and exchange knowledge and information. This helps in understanding the organisation’s needs, to discuss, deliberate and conceptualise a viable solution and implement so that real life issues can be optimally solved. Dr. Sunil Kumar Pandey-Professor & Director, Institute of Technology & Science, Ghaziabad points out, “ Technology has come to our rescue in a big way by connecting the missing dots towards collaboration and associations, creating strong connect among different organisations and institutes for academia to march ahead.”
YVS Kumar-Dean, Academic Planning & Quality Assurance, Rayat-Bahra University, Punjab, says, “Technology can act as a catalyst of change and equaliser in the system by providing unbiased access to information to act and benefit without bureaucratic, corrupt, obstructive, judgmental or regressive mindsets intervening in the process.” However, setting up a technological interface with public-at-large or multitudes of stakeholders is prone to the above mentioned negative factors. “Hence, even more rigorous checks need to be in place to obviate such systematic biases in the design phase of the interface,” Dean Kumar addded.
Effects on Science & Engineering
ICT is a facilitative channel for an innovative, interesting and insightful perspective to visual, aural or conceptual understanding of fundamentals and practices in any field of education and endeavour. However, the costs and the efforts needed in establish developing and implementing ICT with the requisite burden in providing hardware, software and modules aren’t that viable in organisations with short- term planning. There are a fresh set of challenges of implementing ICT in higher learning which is clearly stated by Dr. M Ramamoorty – Chancellor, KL University, Andra Pradesh, when he says, “The term “smart” has become a buzzword in every field of activity. The modern society to a large extent depends on the everyday use of internet, mobile phones and computer usage which makes the younger generation more adaptive to the explosive technology in the digital world. This has good and bad impacts on the education patterns both in engineering and in science.” The pedagogical teaching methods are forced to change in tune with the students’ interest. Video lectures, distance learning, digital libraries and search engines have enabled the students to have easy access to the required information. Commenting further, he says,“Computer aided system design using software packages like MATLAB and simulation packages like LABVIEW have made the students learning process move towards the results, and less towards the fundamentals.”
Students in general have found computer-oriented courses much easier to follow because of their background. Thus, students have preferred to take up computer science oriented subjects and are less disposed towards core engineering disciplines. The direct result of this mentality is that the conventional professional engineering courses have suffered in many universities, for departments like civil, mechanical or electrical are largely populated by such students who could not get seats in computer science. This “second choice method” of course selection means students who could not find jobs in IT industries find it extremely difficult to find jobs in the core industries due to their dearth of fundamental engineering knowledge and interest in the discipline. This Prof. Ramamoorty believes, “has created a large number of unemployable engineers- a huge burden to society. If this trend continues, the impact on engineering industry will be drastic in India. The same is also true for the science stream which is also affected by poor intake into the research laboratories. This trend may mean that engineers with good fundamental knowledge in engineering design may not be available in future.”
India vs International Rankings
India ranks 91 on the Networked Readiness Index 2016, a key component of the World Economic Forum’s The Global Information Technology Report 2016. The report assesses the state of networked readiness of 139 economies using the NRI and examines the role of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) in driving innovation. The NRI is thus a key tool in assessing a country’s preparedness to reap the benefits of emerging technologies and capitalise on the opportunities presented by the digital transformation. The numbers in Indian higher education – 329 state universities, 46 central universities, 128 deemed to be universities, 205 state private universities and 74 institutes of national importance, with a Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) of 23 per cent – fails to interpret the dilemma they represent. Huge vacancy in teaching positions; poor, unavailable and skewed funding for research; pathetic employability of graduates; money laundering in the name of capitation fees; vested interest and political interference in higher education are few of the major obstacles that plague the higher education sector.
Businesses done with global perspective are changing the nature of competition and establishing more rigorous standards of quality in products, services and solutions
Opportunities & Challenges
The challenges and opportunities in the higher education sector is diversified with its fair share of criticism. Echoing what has been said above, Dr.Rupa Vasudevan-Vice Chancellor, Rai Technological University, Karnataka asserts, “a challenging mismatch between our education systems and job skills required by the employers, such as critical problem solving, group ability and communication skills. To grow in the knowledge economy, investments in ICT techniques and new information sources in line with the industry skill/job requirements are crucial. More sophisticated technology-driven strategic techniques, industry-academia gap analysis, strengthening partnerships with industry at the university and institutional level can help bridge the gaps between degree, credential programs and jobs.”
On the other hand, Dr. Ramamoorty maintains, “Businesses done with global perspective are changing the nature of competition and establishing more rigorous standards of quality in products, services and solutions.” The education sector has to keep pace with these changes and be aligned with these needs. It isn’t an easy task for education to accept and even welcome change, because of the sense of impermanence and discomfort which will naturally result. He continues, “Likewise marked changes in attitudes, life styles, healthcare, financial stability and marketplace behavior cannot be predicted by trends because these changes either create new trends or they alter trends already in place. These change agents serve an essential role in shifting outmoded educational paradigms to the ones that are truly appropriate for our times.”
Dean Kumar puts it aptly, “The question whether education is for gaining knowledge, wisdom and professional respect or for just providing a livelihood lies at the crux of the matter. Students who are looking only for plum jobs are not really interested in the hard work that fetches a proportionately suitable position and standing in life. On the other hand, students who are looking for knowledge have aims that are not necessarily focused on certificates to serve only as an entry point. But then the latter can add to value to a modern society.”
On the same terms, Dr.Ramamoorty stresses,“The lack of industry-academic dialogue and connect builds a gap, which is enlarging as a result of a disconnect between what is needed and what is taught.” He points out a few shortcomings of institutions lined up below:
● An industry-linked mechanism is needed that keeps close watch on developments, challenges and needs of the industry and suggests the probable inclusions in curriculum that addresses the issues of industry employing students.
● Identifying technology, concepts that needs to be incorporated to keep curriculum relevant.
● Some of the leading organisations have started some academic initiatives to train the students on latest technologies but after two to three years they too turn into a “paid business model” with high pricing which most of the institutes may not afford.
● Quality of faculty is a big challenge and to retain a good faculty is even a bigger task and needs to be addressed.
● The existing processes are more focused on documentation rather than quality of out coming product, i.e. the students. Conceding on Dr.Ramamoorty’s views, Dr. Aarti Srivastava- Associate Professor, National University of Educational Planning & Administration, New Delhi says, “Education does not restrict itself to instrumentality. The link between industry and academia is very weak. Therefore, the ivory tower approach of the academia is not concurrent with the field realities. The “triple helix model” interface between academia, industry and government may be able to resolve this dissonance.”
A Close Watch
Computer systems and ICT are leading the changing paradigms from “manpower” to “mindpower” in the workplace around the globe. Teachers must be ready to accept the challenges of pedagogical changes, to keep close watch on developments and changing needs of industry to ensure that they are relevant, able to shape and produce competent students who are ready to deliver. Students must be prepared to accept, adapt to, and thrive upon change. The process of education must deal with the needs of students to develop both macro and micro strategies for dealing with their world. The higher education sector is facing a big challenge to maintain its relevance in terms of content, context and pedagogy. The conventional systems and processes are challenged for their preparedness and responsiveness. This needs to be countered by appropriate measures by improving and updating the contents to ensure it is relevant, globally acceptable while the ways and means of delivery of contents should be effective and productive with affordable cost.
Online mode of education is creating enormous opportunities for those who could not join the formal education system or those who wish to learn from the best of the institutions across the world without being physically present and on their own pace. The governments are also realising this and the National Programme of Technology Enhanced Learning (NPTEL) Phase II and III are focusing on the content generation activity. Besides, an amount of Rs. 4612 crore is expected to be incurred during the 11th Five Year Plan for the National Mission on Education through ICT. This mission is an opportunity as well as a challenge for the bright faculty members of Universities and Institutions of Excellence to invest their intellectual capital for the knowledge empowerment of all the learners of our country.
ICT has created all the tools and technologies that can help us in addressing the above issues in a greater context. In fact, the availability of improved infrastructure, connectivity, reachability, accessibility and affordability has broken all geographical boundaries and opened the doors for sharing and collaborations to ensure that quality education is available to all who wish to learn. Of course there are many challenges including creating a reliable ICT infrastructure and seamless connectivity, improving bandwidth and creating awareness about the usage of technology. “Nonetheless, the Digital India Mission of Government of India is creating positive vibes and hopefully these issues will be addressed and resolved at a faster pace,” concludes Dr.Ramamoorty.