Sensible Use of Technology Imperative for Improving Education in India : Dr B S Bhatia, Former Director- Development and Educational Communication, India

India has a history of more than 30 years of satellite broadcast. The satellite revolution started in 1975 under the aegis of Ahmedabad-based Development and Educational Communication Unit (DECU) of Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) with the Satellite Instructional Television Experiment (SITE) project. Digital Learning walked through the years of satellite broadcast with Dr B S Bhatia, former director DECU, as he shared his experiences and the future of digital communication at eINDIA2008 held in New Delhi.

Please comment on the changes in the technology landscape over the years in India. How has it impacted the education sector?

Technology has evolved substantially in the past four decades. e-Learning actually started with radio broadcasting of programmes, then came television. We started with issuance of learning license for broadcasting educational programmes for schools. Then with SITE experiment came the satellite television. This was primarily aimed at school children in rural areas and we installed televisions in about 2000 schools. However, its infrastructure demanded a huge set up and this technology was expensive for that period. But with computers becoming an in-built component of the working environment the production cost of learning material has come down drastically. The satellite technology demanded a huge studio set up with equipments, but today anyone with basic computer skills
can create learning material for classrooms. The whole scenario has changed from the technology point of view.

Technology brings with it issues of access and quality. If we get down to school level, although computer availability has increased across the country, Internet connectivity is yet to reach many areas. Moreover, the computer aided educational programmes available freely are either not monitored or evaluated. Plus we need to focus on capacity building activities. On one hand teachers need to be trained in using ICT effectively in classrooms and on the other we also need to evaluate the content reaching schools.

India has made great technological advances, which needs to be sensibly put in place for improving education at the grassroots level. EDUSAT was one such attempt to provide computer network in schools and colleges and thereby introduce ICT in education. The next phase of technology wave will see wireless technology for schools.  Educational bodies like National Council of Educational  Research and Training and the University Grants Commission have started work in this direction.

What kind of technology does the education sector need. Is it one single technology or a blend?

It has to be a blend of technologies. For example, college students have access to mobiles and Wi-Fi connectivity, whereas the technology environment in schools mostly involves computer labs and ICT enabled teachers. The blend of technology used also varies with the audience. For example, both the community radio and campus radio can serve as a platform for interaction amongst college students.

At a time when a plethora of content is being pushed into schools by the market forces, do you think there is need for some standard on the quality of learning material?  

With computer penetration increasing in schools, the space for computer-based content has increased. Apart from computer-based content, there are also many players for television content across the country.

As there is lack of quality benchmarks for e-content, some companies just copy textbooks and make CDs. Hence, we are working on standards for quality content to ensure that only quality content reaches schools. A working group on Quality Content Assessment has been formed with the active support of Commonwealth Educational Media Centre for Asia (CEMCA) to look into the process of production and standardisation of e-content. We believe quality benchmark can be assured by following a level of period testing. So first we are talking of assessment, this will be followed by grading and finally certification. We aim to bring in a mechanism for production of quality e-content, prescribing to quality benchmarks.