ICT interventions are required to reach out to the masses and provide learning opportunities to the deprived, says Praveen Prakash, Joint Secretary, Department of Higher Education, Union Ministry of Human Resource Development and Mission Director, National Mission on Education through ICT. In an interaction with ENN, he says the real challenge now lies in enabling and empowering teachers in adopting a technology- enabled environment and making them adept in the emerging modes of technology-based delivery. Excerpts from the interview
What are the challenges of higher education and how can ICT interventions help?
The biggest challenge faced in higher education today is the provision of quality higher education to the masses in a cost-effective manner. For the 26 million that go to college today, we have 675 degree-awarding institutions and 37,204 colleges. In all developed countries, the Gross Enrollment Ratio (GER) in higher education is above 40 per cent and the global average is 23 per cent, whereas in India it is only 22 per cent. By 2020, the government envisions to enhance it to 30 per cent. This would mean an extra 40 million going to colleges. The biggest challenge is to provide for those 30 per cent who will need another 700 universities and 40 to 50 thousand colleges in the future. With limited resources, existing ‘brick and mortar’ campuses alone cannot cope up with the current and future demand for higher education. Therefore, ICT interventions are required to reach out to the masses and provide learning opportunities to those who are otherwise deprived.
How do you visualise the transformation that ICT-enabled education will bring in the education system?
ICT-enabled education is rapidly changing the face of higher education as it attracts students of all ages and provides training and learning opportunities just-in-time. It has the potential to overcome barriers of physical distance and time, lower institutional or organ- isational costs and increase student enrollment. It offers flexibility to learners through access to courses at any time or place, promotes individualised learning, and provides educational opportunities to those who are unable to attend class either because of constraints of time or distance or due to other socio-economic reasons.
What is the role of National Mission on Education through ICT (NMEICT) in this context?
The National Mission on Education through ICT (NMEICT) was launched on February 3, 2009 at Tirupati, Andhra Pradesh as a Centrally Sponsored Scheme of the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) to leverage the potential of ICT in the teaching and learning process and is envisioned to be a major intervention in enhancing the Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) in Higher Education. NMEICT is a landmark initiative to address all the education and learningrelated needs of students, teachers and lifelong learners. Three major components of the Mission are broadband connectivity to all higher education institutions, providing low cost access devices and developing high quality e-content across disciplines.
What are the major initiatives of the Mission?
Under the NKN/NMEICT schemes, the Mission aims to extend computer infrastructure and connectivity to over 26,000 colleges and 2,000 polytechnics in the country including each of the departments of 419 universities/deemed universities and institutions of national importance as a part of its motto to provide connectivity up to the last mile. The Mission also aims to provide Internet access to every learner and teacher as an academic right. The Mission has funded the development of Ultra Low Cost Computing Devices to enable students, wherever they may be, access to educational content. MHRD, through the NMEICT, has launched an affordable tablet ‘AAKASH’ for use as an educational tool. In the first phase, 1,00,000 tablets have been procured to be deployed in engineering colleges.
E-content creation has been undertaken on a massive scale by many institutions and universities. NPTEL is a joint initiative of IITs and IISc funded by this Mission to enhance the quality of engineering education in the country by providing free online courseware. The project is now in the second phase of development where more than 990 courses in 23 disciplines in engineering and science are getting generated. Other major initiatives of e-content generation have been taken up by CEC for 68 subjects at UG-level courses and UGC for PG-level courses in 77 subjects. Apart from this, many other institutions are generating e-content in specialised subject areas. All the courseware is to be made available as Open Educational Resources (OER) under the Creative Commons CC-BY license for the benefit of the learner and teacher community in the country.
On the virtual reality front, interesting projects have been initiated under NMEICT such as virtual labs, E – Yantra: Robot-enhanced teaching of subjects in engineering colleges and haptic devices for vocational education. Teacher’s training is another important component of NMEICT. Under the ‘Talk to a Teacher’ project sanctioned to IIT, Bombay, A-VIEW developed by Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham is being used as the collaboration tool for the National Teacher Empowerment Program. It is a programme to train thousands of college teachers across the nation. More than 36,000 teach- ers have already been trained under this programme.
“An important area that requires urgent intervention is to put in place a policy acceptable to all stakeholders for integrating technology-enabled learning as a part of curriculum and recognising degrees/ diplomas earned through the online or blended mode.”
The initiatives of the Mission sound impressive. What plans do you have to ensure optimum utilisation of these NMEICT products and services?
Significant progress has been made by the NMEICT in developing low-cost access devices and software applications for ICT-based education, generating e-content across disciplines and providing connectivity to colleges and universities. The challenge now lies in embedding the technologies in the teaching-learning processes. For this, two major initiatives are coming up to ensure maximum utilisation of the NMEICT products and services.
The first initiative is developing a National e-Library which will be aggregating all the e-content being developed under the Mission and providing personalised services to the learner as per their educational requirement. Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) is a phenomenon gathering momentum over the past few years that integrates the connectivity of social networking, the facilitation of an acknowledged expert in a field of study and a collection of freely accessible online resources. The second major initiative is in this direction. Under the Mission, work is on to set up MOOCs for different discipline areas such as engineering and technology, social sci- ences, humanities and fine arts, medical sciences and agriculture. Initially these courses are to be offered as open courses with the option for request for certificate of participation. In the long run, the plan is to roll them out as Virtual University platforms providing online degrees and diplomas.
What are the challenges you envisage in the implementation of ICT-enabled education in our country?
The major challenge of the Mission is to enable and empower teachers in adopting a technology-enabled environment, supporting them in acquiring skills in e-content development and make them adept in emerging modes of technology-based delivery. Another important area that requires urgent intervention is to put in place a policy acceptable to all stakeholders for integrating technology-enabled learning as a part of curriculum and recognising degrees/ diplomas earned through the online or blended mode.