‘Digital India needs Champions to Drive it Forward’

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Education will be one of the prime beneficiaries of Digital India, says Edutech CEO Shameema Parveen in an interview to Elets News Network

Shameema ParveenEdutech was established in 1991 in Dubai. Could you briefly tell us about the journey to improve the learning and teaching curriculum in Dubai and other places?
As Edutech marches towards our twenty- fifth year, it has been a transformative experience for us to evolve with the changes in the learning and teaching space. ASF Karim and I started Edutech in Dubai when we felt there that Middle East education sector was at the crossroads of modernisation. Instead of reinventing the wheel, we felt we should use some of the best practices and proven technologies used around the world. We identified that technology based learning is what we stand for and still continue to focus on that niche perhaps in a holistic manner.

With higher education institutions realising a change in educational approach was required to build self learning and critical thinking skills in students, Edutech was involved in resourcing hands-on learning through engineering labs and technology based learning centres in education and corporate sectors. We soon became part of many nationwide initiatives in the UAE, Oman and Saudi Arabia. While continuing to cater to the expanding education sector, we served a lifelong learning market by also servicing corporates like oil and gas and the banking sector which had challenges to implement sustained and qualitative training programmes.

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We noticed that hardware and analogue based learning technologies were soon making way for digital and software based learning tools like online learning platforms, Online examination systems, digital language labs etc. Also, we saw that library and information services were moving online for access to information. So, Edutech acquired those capabilities and offerings and was the preferred vendor for holistic learning solutions in the region.

We have a transformational impact on the region’s education and training space covering seven countries and over 2,00,000 users.

“Digital India and several other projects and initiatives are well thought out and I am optimistic of them improving the Indian education sector”

How vibrant is the role of education solution firms in improving the education system in India?
In a diverse country with the world’s largest number of schools and second largest world population, we would need all possible support available to improve the education system in the country. This includes government initiatives, education institutions, academicians and educationalists, teachers and students, trade bodies and, more importantly, education solution firms like Edutech can act as the greatest catalyst in this process. Having exposure to various countries where technology and best practices have improved their education systems, we at Edutech and several other firms in this space can add value by creating referral models and success stories that government and private educational institutions can replicate and scale.

We, at Edutech, are proud to be part of several such initiatives like implementing online learning management, STEM and robotics, e-learning, scientific and technical Labs, and online examinations in India since late nineties. Adoption was a challenge those days but due to our constant thought leadership and awareness, we were able to bring in more users over time. Now, with government mandate to have better connectivity at grassroot level across villages and cities in India, it can enable a big leap in the way instruction and content and information is delivered and consumed in the education sector across India.

Edutech is part of various government initiatives to improvise quality of education in India like TEQUIP, MODROB, FIST and several skill development initiatives of corporate and industry consortia.

How have educational institutions received these solutions for better teaching-learning outcomes?
Edutech has been constantly spreading awareness on ICT in education, When we started our India operations in 1999, perhaps we were too ahead of the curve mostly because of the awareness and lack of resources and infrastructure. Now, with better infrastructure coming in place and government initiatives and educational institutions competing for creating a better ‘Education Experience’ to the students, we are on the right track.

When we first did the national level Robotics championship in 2003, we managed to create good awareness on STEM and Robotics in education. We saw international schools and students with exposure to western world participate. Now, after 10 years, we see thousands of students in cities and towns across India adopt concepts of hands-on STEM and enquiry based learning.

Likewise, online examinations were increasingly used by large IT firms with challenges in scale and qualitative assessment roll now. Now, schools, corporates and higher education are open to digital learning and examinations. Affordability and availability of computing devises, ease of use and awareness we create help these practices grow. I feel the growth for next 10 years will be far more rapid and exponential.

Several global education solution firms are eyeing India. How is Edutech geared up for the challenge?
Edutech has walked the talk in this space. We are one firm which has successfully implemented various learning and educational technologies in India. Now, when the market is ready for next wave of adoption, education industry is looking at credible partners with local presence and history of delivery. With over fifteen years in India and seven offices across India and hundreds of employees, I strongly feel education sector and institutions need reliable partners beyond short-term profit motives.

The Digital India programme is now on ground. What, according to you, will it take to make this programme successful?
Technology is an enabler. We need clear champions with clear mandate, resources and accountability to drive these projects forward. This includes the customer – vendors such as Edutech and end users to make this whole practice sustainable.

What impact do you see on education?
Education will be one of the prime beneficiaries of Digital India. We have been a proponent since we started in 1991. It will lend a lot of reach and quality to the learning and teaching process. For example, this world fosters greater voice and data connectivity to tier 2 and 3 towns and rural India where we need quality education the most. It is also part of effective nation building exercise. Likewise, more accessibility to user- friendly computing devices will help students access content and teachers from across the country and even across the globe. Effective school and education management policies and process could also be enforced by the system.

What is a practical timeframe that we should look at before we call it a success?
There are various phases we have to go through. We need to realise that there is no other option other than to adopt digitisation and the use of ICT in learning whereever applicable. We are never talking of replacing the importance of conventional teaching, but building in greater qualitative process and access to good teaching and pedagogy.

How do you see the accessibility and affordability of education solutions?
India’s volume-centric business can be a misnomer. I feel we need to have volume-based business models in place that are a win-win than skewed towards the product and service providers or the customers. Let me explain . Several projects are executed with low price models of future forecasted volume scales that never materialise for various factors of execution and systemic issues. In such cases, vendors are left with unviable business models that affect the quality and execution of the project. We have to realise that for any project to be successful, service providers need to be profitable enough to have good delivery systems in place. Else, the complete project suffers.

We feel projects with clear milestones and attached volumes should be sustainable on its on rather than tapping to the forecasted volume models with successful emphasis on successful completion making them eligible for higher volumes that follow.

Do you think education policy makers and administrators are taking long to adopt to digital solution in their educational institutions?
The answer is more than yes and no. There could be projects that were not executed well earlier and the sheer diversity of the country and its decision making structures could delay the process. There were several initiatives as early as 10 years back that are still on-going. Digital India and several other projects and initiatives are well thought out and I am optimistic of these improving education sector in India eventually.

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