Bridging the Digital Divide written by Gargi Banerjee

Bridging the Digital Divide written by Gargi Banerjee

In 2012, the Government of India formulated a national policy on ICT-enabled education that aimed “at preparing youth to participate creatively in the establishment, sustenance and growth of a knowledge society, leading to all-round socioeconomic development of the nation and global competitiveness.” An aggressive campaign was launched by the National Mission on Education through Information and Communication Technology (NME-ICT) seeking overhaul educational environment of the country by providing network access to remote corners, quality e-content, and low-cost tablet personal computers (PCs) called Aakash. In 2020, the National Education Policy is still laying the framework for integration of technology in education. Given India’s gigantic telecom base, and the massive government-led thrust, why has there been so little on-ground progress in ICT-enabled learning in India?

Implementation Barriers

Infrastructure

Thus far, the focus in terms of policy making has been on overcoming infrastructural barriers.There are good reasons why that has been so—70% of India’s population lives in rural areas and while India can boast of the world’s lowest call rates and the most affordable smartphones, the internet penetration in rural India is only roughly about 20%1. The 2016-17 DISE data indicates that compared to 87.64% schools in Delhi that have electricity and computers, Madhya Pradesh has 13.02% of schools with the same facilities and Bihar has 6.73% schools with the required infrastructure.2The rationale is thatonce these gaps are bridged, internet use would be homogeneous. However, access to ICT devices and internet is only part of the problem of digital inclusion in rural India and rural schools. There are major sociocultural and psychological barriers that make the implementation of ICT-enabled education challenging.

A flow chart depicting ICT implementation challenges.

Teacher-training and capacity building

In the rural landscape, teachers are perhaps the most important stakeholders. They influence student behavior ad uptake of learning in overt as well ascovert ways. They might be inadequately trained, and may feel overwhelmed with multiple roles. Some teachers may also be concerned that ICT-based instruction could potentially replace them, or they might feel that adjusting to a digital pedagogy is too much work. These attitudinal barriers can pose serious challenges in the success of an ICT-enabled curriculum.

Training teachers on the use of technology is not enough. Intervention programs designed to train teachers should focus on two aspects—training inthe tools and focused training on the pedagogical aspects of ICT-integration. Teachers need to be trained on how to re-imagine their roles as knowledge-facilitators where they have been primarily knowledge-disseminators. This brings us to the important aspect of availability of e-content.

Content

For ICT-enabled programmes to be successful and sustainable, both students and teachers must have access to good quality and usable content. A sizeable percentage of Indian students receive instruction in their native language, while available digital educational content, as well as software products are designed largely for an English-speaking audience. Indigenous learning management systems or software programmes that are multilingual will also go a long way in promoting the uptake of tech-

based learning. It is also imperative that original educational content in regional languages are developed. They also need to be designed keeping in mind local contexts and scenarios. For example, a math lesson explaining the congruence of triangles could possibly use an imaginary historical scenario involving forts and battle scenes to set a practical context to the lesson. Depending on where this is taught, a situation with a local flavor is likely to resonate more with students and stick with them.

Support and Sutainability

From a policy perspective, it is not enough to just launch programmes with a view to further ICT-enabled education. These initiatives need to be linked to a self-supporting mechanisms3so that benefittinginstitutions are able to continue with their programmes once the initial thrust is over. One important factor that ensures continuity is the availability of funds. Multiple cost-effective financing channels should be kept ready for contingency support. Apart from funds, ongoing technical support is necessary as is the periodic involvement of mentoring agencies that can ensure that interest in these programmes are sustained and they are updated as the need arises.

Overcoming Barriers: Elements of a Meaningful ICT Programme.

Bridging the digital divide is not simply about giving people access to tools. It is about creating the right environments, institutional frameworks, and human capacities that foster meaningful learning. Studies have established that interpersonal ties and strong community ties are a strong predictor of technology use, especially in rural areas.4In a linguistically and culturally diverse country like India community involvement at the grassroot level is critical. To that end institutional networks at the panchayat level can facilitate in-service training of teachers and panchayat officials such as block education officers to ensure optimal utilization of ICT resources.

In the implementation of EdTech programmes in India, private-sector participation has been significant. Large-scale ICT programmes in government schools have been rolled out by companies such as NIIT, Aptech and Educomp, using the BOOT (Build, Own, Operate, Transfer) model. Typically, the ICT lab is maintained by the corporation by a period of three to five years after which the ICT lab is transferred to the government. In this model, there is very little scope for a proper integration of ICT into the pedagogy as the ICT learning environment is like a separate lab. Additionally, a deeper evaluation of the BOOT model reveals that the programme runs in a standalone manner, without meaningful participation from school teachers. The programme focuses on computer literacy and not much on subject integration since the coordinator appointed for the school is chosen on the basis of their technical competence with IT rather than their teaching skills. Consequently, this model needs reevaluation and school-level ICT integration must involve all stakeholders—students, teachers, administrators, guardians and the community. Involving teachers directly in the public adoption of ICT-enabled curriculum can be done through professional development programmes, which will make them take ownership of the process. Along with this, schools should also have some degree of autonomy in deciding their approach towards a digital integration.Whether they require additional teachers or changed time-tables or modified instructional and assessment processes are implementation decisions that a particular school administration is best placed to take.

A meaningful ICT programme should also consider a wholistic approach to digital literacy. which includes building a critical perspective on the impact of ICTs on education and society. For instance, exposing Ddata privacy norms, intellectual property and fair usage, other legal framework and cyberspace security need to be addressed simultaneously.

References

Das, R. (2012). Integrating ICT in Teaching Learning Framework in India. Bhatter College Journal of Multidisciplinary Studies.

DISE 2001. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://udise.in/

Indian Market Research Bureau (IMRB) Kantar. (n.d.). Internet in India 2017.

Venkatesh, V. &. (2012). igital divide initiative success in developing countries: A longitudinal field study in a village in India. Information Systems Research.