The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns dealt a severe blow to the Indian education sector, but at the same time, it has been a great disrupter. It has also got a positive spin off in terms of integration of technology in the education sector.
“Almost every level — from students and teachers to administrators and parents, everybody has somehow been forced to adopt technology,” said Navin Mittal, Commissioner for Collegiate Education, Government of Telangana, while discussing about the development and challenges in the education sector at TechSparks 2021, YourStory’s flagship startup-tech event.
Navin is an Indian Administrative Service (IAS) Officer from the 1996 batch, with a demonstrated history of working with the public administration and public policy. During his tenure as the Commissioner for Collegiate Education and technical education, he worked in transforming the higher education system in the state. His efforts in modernising and reorganising the courses in government colleges has led to an unprecedented 58 percent growth in student admissions in the last three years. He has also revised the curriculum, making soft skills and employability skills an integral part of the curriculum.
Digitisation in the education system and the challenges
Speaking of Telangana state, Navin said that last year, in March, when educational institutions were shut down as the country went into total lockdown, they realised that schools can’t remain shut for too long and there was a need to move online.
“We discussed with teachers and all the stakeholders, and felt that it’s time that we move on to some kind of online mode of teaching. And when we decided to do that, we were very surprised to see that within about 48 hours of taking the decision, 93 percent of our faculty was up and running on online platforms. Even the students went online as their parents were home and they had access to devices. Almost 65 percent students started attending online classes.”
But as the state slowly reopened, the attendance of students started coming down. This year, the attendance of students has dropped to about 30 to 35 percent, said Navin.
“The prime reason was lack of access to a device, which they could borrow from their parents, but when parents started going to work, most children did not have access to the devices, specially the economically backward section. This is something I would say is now an agenda in front of both the central government as well as the state governments, where we have to move in a direction where every student is able to get a device,” Navin said.
Navin said the future of education is neither completely physical nor digital. It is a sort of hybrid or blended mode of education.
“And that is something which is now well understood and accepted by the relevant stakeholders in the education sector. While there are advantages of having a physical classroom or having a digital mode of education, it has to be a perfect blend of both – where there is peer-to-peer learning and one-on-one interaction. At the same time, virtual education also gives one the comfort of actually attending lectures or classes from wherever they are at that point in time,” mentioned Navin.
Tech-oriented collaborative education is the future
Tech-oriented platforms are the key to upskilling and rescaling the large amount of manpower. With online platforms, it is also becoming easier for the working class to upskill themselves, which would be difficult in case they had to physically attend institutions.
Secondly, with technology, people or students can sit back at home and learn online courses at lesser costs.
Again, with India fast adopting new technologies like artificial intelligence, ML, and robotics, we can see the emergence of new sectors such as drone tech, spacetech, and defence tech, among others.
“We have encouraged most of our technical institutions to adopt new technologies. About 10,000 plus seats have been added in our engineering colleges only in emerging areas like data science, cybersecurity, IoT, and robotics,” he said.
Private institutions are also offering certificate programmes as well as training programmes in these areas and not just students, but also people who are already employed are upskilling themselves.
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