Role of Technology in Bridging the Educational Fault Lines

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BridgingThe recently held ruling of the Supreme Court to scrap reservations in higher education institutions in national interest has opened the Pandora’s Box and created the expected furore and dilemma among all the stakeholders of education.

The opponents of reservation in education believe that it cuts down merit and propagates mediocrity, as it passes over those who have scored higher in an examination, for the reserved category who have scored lower. However, the problem is that the opponents of reservation mistakenly equate the number of marks scored, to the level of merit.

The examination system and entrance tests prevalent in India not just measures merit, intelligence or ability in the subject, but also aptitude for a certain type of questions.

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In his book “Competing Equalities: Law and Backward Classes in India”, Mark Galanter spoke of three kindsof resources to produce results in competitive exams:

  •  Economic Resources: For prior education, training, materials, freedom from work, etc;
  •  Social and Cultural Resources: Network of contacts, confidence, guidance and advice, information, etc; and,
  •  Inbuilt Ability and Hard Work.

The recently held ruling of the Supreme Court to scrap the reservations in institutions of higher education has created a new uproar among all the education stakeholders. But the major challenges of ‘access to all’ and ‘quality of education’ have been the persistent fault lines of our education system. Nevertheless, technological interventions in education have induced a silent but substantial transformation in meeting out both these issues. Elets News Network (ENN) delves into the role of technology in bridging the educational fault lines and how academia-industry association can transform the higher education in India

What SC ruling says?

In October 2015, the Supreme Court held that national interest requires doing away with all forms of reservation in higher education institutions, and urged the Centre to take effective steps ‘objectively’. Regretting that some “privilege remains unchanged” even after 68 years of independence, the Court noted that despite several reminders to the central and state governments to make merit the primary criteria for admissions into superspecialty courses, the ground reality remains that reservation often holds sway over merit.

“The fond hope has remained in the sphere of hope…The said privilege remains unchanged, as if (it is) to compete with eternity,” the top court remarked, adding that it concurs completely with what it had ruled in 1988 in two judgments. In these two judgements, while dealing with the issue of reservation in super-specialty courses in medical institutions, the apex court had said, “There should really be no reservation” since it is in the general interest of the country for improving the standard of higher education, and thereby improving the quality of available medical services to the people of India. “We hope and trust that the Government of India and the state governments shall seriously consider this aspect of the matter without delay and appropriate guidelines shall be evolved.”

The top court also referred to a body of judgments, asking government authorities to abstain from relaxing the eligibility criteria based on various kinds of reservation, since it would defeat the very purpose of imparting the best possible training to selected meritorious candidates.

Reservation in India: An Overview

ReformingIn India, reservation, a form of quotabased affirmative action, is the process of facilitating the citizens in education, scholarship, jobs, and in promotion who have category certificates. The reservation in India is governed by constitutional laws, statutory laws, and local rules and regulations. The major beneficiaries of the reservation under the Constitution – with the object of ensuring a level playing field – are Scheduled Castes (SC), Scheduled Tribes (ST) and Other Backward Classes (OBC).

Though the Article 15(1) of the Indian Constitution says that the “State shall not discriminate any citizen on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them”, it also provides for compensatory or protective discrimination in favour of certain sections of the disadvantaged people. Article 15(4) of the Indian Constitution specifies that notwithstanding the provision stated above, the State can make “special provision for the advancement of any socially and educationally backward classes of citizens or for the SCs and the STs”.

In India, reservation, a form of quota-based affirmative action, is the process of facilitating the citizens in education, scholarship, jobs, and in promotion who have category certificates. The reservation in India is governed by constitutional laws, statutory laws, and local rules and regulations

The SCs and STs constitute approximately 22.5 per cent of the India’s population. Accordingly, a prorata reservation of 22.5 per cent (SC 15 per cent and ST 7.5 per cent) has been made for them in educational institutions which come under the administrative control of the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) and other central ministries. Similarly, reservations have also been provided by the state governments and union territory administrations, directly proportional to their population.

In 1978, the second Backward Classes Commission, known as the Mandal Commission under the Chairmanship of BP Mandal was set up. In 1980, the Commission submitted its report and recommended the reservation of 27 per cent of the seats for OBCs in all scientific, technical and professional institutions run by the central and state governments.

The Mandal Commission further recommended that the states which have already reserved more than 27 per cent seats for OBC students would remain unaffected by this recommendation. The recommendations of the Commission was implemented by the Government of India in 1990. In this regard, the Supreme Court had ruled that the total percentage of reservation should not exceed 50 per cent of the seats.

Reforming Higher Education

The higher education system in India is the largest in the world in terms of number of institutions and the third largest in terms of student enrolment. India has remarkably transformed its higher education landscape over the last two decades. It has created widespread access to low-cost highquality university education for students of all levels. With wellplanned expansion and a studentcentric learning-driven approach of education, the country has not only improved its enrolment numbers, but has dramatically increased the outcomes of learning. In addition, with the effective use of technology, it has been able to resolve the longstanding gap between excellence and equity in education.

India has also undertaken large-scale reforms to enhance faculty-student ratios in educational institutions by making teaching an attractive career path, expanding the capacity for doctoral students at research universities and delinking educational qualifications from teaching eligibility.

In the last few years, the country has undertaken massive structural and systemic reforms in higher education that have started to yield encouraging results.

technology Bridgeing the GapTechnology: Bridging the Gap

Globally, the investment in technology in educational institutes has increased hundredfold in the last two decades. Most of the investment has been made based on the belief that technologymediated learning environment offers opportunities for students to search for and analyse information, solve problems, collaborate and communicate. Therefore, equipping the students with a set of competencies to be competitive in the 21st century marketplace.

In the coming decade, technology will play a bigger role in transforming higher education imparted by universities, and taking it to the next level. The technological tools and innovative solutions can help in building a social, collaborative and personalised environment that will enhance the way students learn, communicate and collaborate, and study both on and off campus.

In India, use of technology for promoting education has always been a part of policy and plan documents on education. Currently, the policy makers at central as well as state level are favouring inclusion of technology and Internet-based education, adopting cloud-based virtual classrooms/ universities and mobile learning initiatives. The Government of India has implemented various national as well as state specific schemes that run concurrent to large number of privatelyled technology initiatives at both school and higher education levels. The draft of National Policy on Education (NPE), framed in 1986 and modified in 1992, stressed upon employing educational technology to improve the quality of education.

On the other hand, higher education in India imparted by universities is facing challenges in terms of Access, Equity and Quality, which have been assumed as the persistent faultlines. In the 2011 Ernst & Young – FICCI report on higher education, it was noted that the following are some of the key challenges in terms of Access, Equity and Quality:

  •  Insufficient infrastructure to meet the growing demand for higher education. In 2011, 14.6 million students enrolled in higher education in India. By 2020, 40 million students will have to be enrolled if gross enrolment ratio (GER) target of 30 per cent has to be met. This implies an additional capacity of over 25 million seats that would be required within the next decade;
  •  There is wide disparity in higher education GER across states, urban vs rural areas, gender and communities that have to be bridged;
  •  Faculty shortage, deficient physical infrastructure, ill-equipped libraries and outdated curricula continue to be major concern in our higher education system.

However, the innovative use of technology, IT and ICT is believed to be a game changer that can significantly strengthen the higher education system and propel the country into becoming a ‘Knowledge Superpower’.

According to the report, the adoption of technology in higher education can facilitate the following:

  • Improving the access to the system through online education;
  • Improving the quality of teaching, especially across remote locations;
  • Increasing transparency and strengthening systems, processes and compliance norms in higher education institutes;
  • Measure students’ learning participation and effectiveness;
  • Analyse student behaviour to maximise students’ involvement, optimise retentions and improve placements;
  • Analyse students’ performance, placement, application volume, website analytics, and social media metrics for brand audit.

The private players and organisations in technological space are working towards solving the issues pertaining to access of education. The main role of technology is to make quality education accessible to everyone, anytime. The organisations working in education technology space focus on developing innovative products. The main target is to overcome the issues such as lack of sufficient teachers, reach in remote areas, lack of infrastructure, lack of government interventions etc.

These organisations are developing innovative and technological tools which are helping the students in actively making choices about how to generate, obtain, manipulate or display information. They are analysing the information, making choices and executing skills — as compared to the traditional teacher-led classroom. Not only this but students are now in a position to define their goals, make their own decisions and evaluate their progress.

Based on the technological interventions, success in the 21st century classroom has become far more dependent on students obtaining a well-rounded skill set as compared to reaching an academic comprehension level. Therefore, bridging the gap between technological integration and the common core standards of imparting is the first step toward improving our education system.

With around 140 million people in the collegegoing age group, one in every four graduates in the world will be of the Indian education system. The key to harness this demographic dividend is education. Currently, the third largest education system in the world, India is likely to surpass the US in the next five years and China in the next 15 years

The Way Forward By 2030, India will be amongst the youngest nations in the world. With around 140 million people in the college-going age group, one in every four graduates in the world will be of the Indian education system. The key to harness this demographic dividend is education. Currently, the third largest education system in the world, India is likely to surpass the US in the next five years and China in the next 15 years, according to some research estimates.

The University Grants Commission (UGC) has contributed a lot in the growth and development of higher education in India, by designing educational programmes and implementing various schemes through academic, administrative and financial support.

However, in the current changing higher education landscape, entrance of private universities and educational institutions will be a game changer. There is a need to introduce new institutions of medicine, science, technology and others. With GER of about 17.9 per cent, India has an ambitious target of 25.2 per cent by the end of 12th Plan (2012-17) and 30 per cent by 2020.

However, a major concern for India’s education system is the creation of employable workforce to harness the demographic dividend. According to a industry report supported by NASSCOM. In India, only 25 per cent of technical graduates and around 15 per cent of other graduates are considered employable by IT/ITeS industry. Therefore, there is an immediate need for a holistic and symbiotic association between academia and industry to make the graduates employable . There is also a need for moving from ‘traditional generic model’ of education to a ‘learner-centered skill-based’ model of education. The Indian students should be mentored to make their careers in the areas of their skills, strength and abilities.

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