“We would need technology because we do not have enough teachers. We are not talking about education at this moment, we are talking about access to quality education and equal opportunities.”
Please comment on the changes that are being introduced by technology application in schools, with respect to capacity building amongst teachers and students.
Talking in terms of mainstream education, India is the youngest country in the world and our number of kids outside school is estimated to be almost one crore. And if we really want to bring them into school, in line with the Right To Education bill, then we need millions of teachers and trillions of schools. Education is not like building airports or roads, where you have Public Private Partnership and things can just emerge. Education is a long term investment. Results can be seen after 14 years of a child joining school. The problem is that unless we use technology we can not educate our children, whether they study in centres or schools or studying from home. We would need technology because we do not have enough teachers. We are not talking about education at this moment, we are talking about access to quality education and equal opportunities. So the need is so huge, so we need technology which is one of the solutions.
Now whenever we talk of technology, we talk about cost. Then are raised the questions about who is going to bear the cost and how is it going to be used. I still think that in the absence of very good trained, quality teachers to teach this age group, where we want to retain the children. You know the findings are that out of the number of students who enter school, only two percent are able to reach the university level. So surely, there is something more than the employemnt factor which is taking kids away from school. It could be bad teaching, bad curriculum, it could be anything. So to retain kids there you have to make learning interesting and fun; and have outcomes which would lead to life long learners as per the UNESCO. Therefore the role of technology is very important.
What is the scope of ICT capcity building amongst mainstream and special schools?
The opportunities are immense. These are greater than the challenges but it depends on the investment again. But the government, does not necessarily invest into hardware. Companies like Educomp solutions, which are doing very well, they are providing the hardware, they are also providing the content and digital tools. I am not advocating that tools should replace the teacher, but surely it can supplement the teaching, becasue one of our biggest concerns is that when a child enters a school he should stay there and not leave school. So if your lessons can be made audio-visual enabled, it helps. I believe in a word called VARK which stands for Visual, Audio, Reading and Writing and Kinesthetics, which is human relationship between the teacher and the taught. And if these four principles are followed in school we can become a great country. 5-10% of the population getting excellent population is holding the world. You go anywhere around the world, if there is an Indian there you will see that she/he is able to hold that position in the given enterprise in a very efficient manner. I think we have huge potential, we have great capacity but what we need are resources and those resources can be harnessed with good planning and good attitude.
I am not advocating that tools should replace the teacher, but surely it can supplement the teaching, becasue one of our biggest concerns is that when a child enters a school he should stay there and not leave school. So if your lessons can be made audio-visual enabled, it helps.
Additionally, we have large percentage of government school and a small percentage of private schools. So, that large number of government schools must have quality. There ICT is being introduced and in places like Kendriya Vidyalaya, I am on the board of their Samiti, if they can provide for ICT infrastructures, so can the rest of the government schools. I think we need a quality where many factors are to be brought together and we need campagning for children who are out of school, we need awareness and need to meet their parents for advocating need for educating children. We need to, also, encourage teaching as a profession.
Do you think that the current allocation in Budget on elementary education will help in extending financial support to ICT programme in the country?
Well I think the allocation should have been much more. It has increased from approximately 3.4-4% to 5-6%. But a six percent for a 40% population is really not the desired ratio. If you want this country to use all the roads and the airports, whatever development plan it has involved itself into, unless the population is educated, they are not going to use them properly. I think education is not just about literacy. It is also about an enlightened life. It is about a healthy living. It is about utilisation of total resources of our country and therefore, I firmly believe that they should spend more money on education and related services.
Currently, there is a PPP trend in vogue. Do you see any implications in terms of opportunties and challenges such partnerships offer? Is there any initiative on same steps, taken by institutions you have been associated with?
I am on board of PPP of the Planning Commission, with HRD, so the private players are ready to take initiatives and ready to put in money, but, nobody is going to put in money unless they see some returns coming out of it. And education investment is not one time investment. It is a long term investment so you can’t show results immediately, because human indexes build over period of time. Therefore, I think the ministry and planning commission have already set aside some amount of money to provide back-up financial support. But even if a private initiative builds a school and runs it, what the government says is that they will pay for the thousand children who come from the special category or special classes, as we call them. But what we are saying is that start these initiatives from class one and not class six, becasue the best age to learn is at the earliest. So what we are saying is that whatever the cabinet sanctions should be implemented at the earliest.
There is a vast difference in education provided by the government and the private initiatives. You can not always do what they do. While I agree that some government initiatives are really doing good, around 72% of the government schools are really in a sad state.
We are run by examinations, degrees and diplomas, but what is the quality that we get. So my concern is for the quality of education. I believe it is only through digitalisation and ICT implementation that we can overcome the issues of quality. And this happens when the child is with the computer; he is with the world. For speech, we have programme from IBM, where the kids who do not use their lips, tongue and blow air, if blow at the computer trees come, if they blow more and harder then more trees come, if they blow more the birds start twittering, so the images become more detailed and large. The technology plays a huge role in literacy and spreading awareness. One to one interaction between teachers and students is very important but the research oriented technology programmes on screen are all the more important. IT is one tool that interests students and supports them to do much better than otherwise.
Is ICT implementation of any consequence for educating childern with special needs?
We already have very few trained teachers for catering to education of the children with special needs. It takes long to get them ready. We have tried at Tamana three IT projects for Autistic, Dyslexic and also for others. And we are surprised that kids do exceptionally well with the IT aids. For instance, I have a HP computer with a touch screen. So I can have a child sitting with me right here to work on it, knowing that he can touch and get sounds, colours, pictures, he can click picture of himself or you, and he doesn’t require the traditional form of teaching, where you make him sit down and teach him alphabets becasue for children with special needs you need to teach them the content which is not age relevant but their intellectual state specific. You have to make them believe that they are worthwhile and capable of doing things at their own pace. If I may say, children today are apparently born with their own mouse and windows. We just need to capitalise on their capabities!