India is expected to have a literacy rate of 80% by 2020. This would be close to the global average of 84%.
As the fastest-growing economy in the world, India has grand ambitions. However, the consistent supply of educated workers required to sustain the growth of the country’s largely knowledge-based economy may not be possible if its education system does not improve.
By 2020, India is expected to have a literacy rate of 80%. This would be close to the global average of 84%, but this would mean little without real education.
Although many young children in the country are now enrolled in primary schools, studies have suggested that many of them do not possess even the basic literacy skills. The failure of India’s primary education system thus reflects a deep crisis that can hamper the prospects of millions of young people.
According to a recent Annual Status of Education Report (2014) prepared by Pratham Education Foundation, a non-governmental organisation (NGO), more than 50% of grade 5 students in rural India are unable to fluently read a simple story from a grade 2 textbook. It was found that nearly 75% of grade 3 students cannot perform a two-digit subtraction and about 20% of grade 2 students are not able to identify numbers up to 9.
As a matter of further concern, it has been observed that the figures have dipped even more from the time the NGO started carrying out periodic assessments. So, millions of children have finished primary school without achieving basic mathematics and reading skills.
Another instance of India’s education system performing poorly is that of the country being ranked 73rd among 74 participants in a triennial test of science, mathematics and reading skills conducted by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in 2009 for 15-year olds globally. The country did not participate in the subsequent rounds.
All of this is despite the significant progress India has made in providing access to primary education since the 1990s, when enrolment was less than 80%. Following a constitutional amendment in 2002, which declared education as a fundamental right for all children aged 6 to 14, a large number of primary schools have been built by the government and more than 95% of villages now have such schools.
Therefore, the need of the hour is to concentrate more on what is taking place inside the classrooms and effectively teaching fundamental skills to students. Technology can play a significant role towards advancing that goal.
How technology can help improve the quality of education in India?
Perhaps the best way to tackle the impending crisis in Indian education system is to close the gaps in the traditional structure through an intelligent blend of offline and online teaching methods.
Introduction of alternative methods of teaching
Lack of good teachers is the biggest problem faced by the Indian education system. It is difficult to find teachers who have sufficient subject knowledge and key teaching skills, and are also passionate about their work. While filling this gap immediately is not possible, this issue can be resolved to a great extent through digital education platforms.
If standardised course materials are prepared, high-quality content can be delivered to students even by semi-trained teachers. Lessons and practice sessions in the form of audio-visual guides and presentations can help students study largely by themselves. Students in remote schools can participate in online classes and attend live lectures by connecting with urban learning centres via video conferencing.
Learning through mobile phones
In recent times, smartphones have reached even the remote corners of India, and are used even by those belonging to the lower socio economic segments. Interactive voice response (IVR) and text messages can help students learn, especially in their native languages. Students can seek guidance and get their queries resolved by connecting with distant counsellors and faculty members.
Mobile phones can help maintain the quality of education, while improving access to education. An analysis of mobile learning projects in several developing countries, however, indicates that while it is evident that mobile phones facilitate increased access to education, there is less evidence to indicate how well mobiles promote learning of new concepts.
Grouping students by abilities
While schools may not be able to group students based on their learning abilities instead of grade levels as part of the formal education system, they can create (with the help of digital content providers) and distribute varying digital content modules among students based on their capabilities. For example, a student weak in a particular subject can access exclusive modules for online study that combine previous lessons and practice materials to help them enhance their skills even without a teacher.
Appraising teachers’ performance
Teachers’ performance must be mapped closely to improve the quality of the Indian education system. Monitoring student-teacher activities and the targets they have to achieve in terms of key result areas are some of the ways of mapping a teacher’s performance. School administrations can channelise these through an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system to maintain a centralised database and transparency. Every teacher can have a dedicated profile, with credentials and previous experience, which parents can look at before admitting their child to a particular school.
So, technology can help fill many of the gaps in the Indian education system, especially with respect to teaching standards. Educational technology solutions such as digital classrooms, self-learning modules, educational apps and games are already being offered by leading providers such as Next Education India Private Limited.
The article has been authored by Beas Dev Ralhan, CEO & Co-founder, Next Education India Pvt. Ltd