Great strides have been achieved in recent times in resolving the global problems of access, equity and excellence in education. However, significant challenges remain in truly universalizing high quality learning especially in growing economies like India. Indeed, solutions to these challenges are most critical to the continued growth and prosperity of India.
The expansion of education through technology opens up a host of opportunities for India. The population of our country is expected to grow to over 1.5 billion by 2020; as PM Narendra Modi had said ‘with the right skill sets, this population has the potential to make India the Human resource Capital of the world'.
The Skill India programme has been launched with this very goal in mind. Its tag line 'Kaushal Bharat, Kushal Bharat' (Skilled India, Successful India) is the governments vision for transformation of the current low-wage unskilled workforce to one with specific industry oriented skills.
However, there are numerous challenges confronting the country. Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) of 30% for the higher education segment has been targeted for 2020. To meet this ratio, the capacity of higher education institutions needs to nearly double and will require an investment of USD 200 billion.
The historical rate at which capacity addition has happened in higher education and the severe shortage of quality faculty ...points to a large short-fall in the targeted GER. The inevitable socio-economic consequences of this - hundreds of millions of under-educated, unemployed youth - can be catastrophic.
The bright side is that through the creative use of learning technology, the need for physical infrastructure and dedicated faculty can be reduced. With the advent & widespread use of cloud computing, students now have access to a digital ecosystem which can provide them with an enhanced learning experience.
Online lesson planning tools, e-books, online assessment gives flexibility to the faculty to define lesson plans as well as decide on the number of sessions needed to complete a course from anywhere & at any time
Much has been written and said about the role of digital technology and its potential to positively disrupt education as we know it. From MOOCs (Massively Open Online Courses) to SWAYAM (the Indian HRD ministry launching Study Webs of Active-Learning for Young Aspiring Minds), digital learning has been hailed as the master solution to all our educational challenges. And yet, while the potential is undeniable, adoption of digital learning tools and techniques have been excruciatingly slow at the learner level as well as at the teacher's.
Behavioral issues, language issues, poor access to broadband internet, poor device penetration have been cited as reasons for this slow progress. Educators and policy makers need to recognize these ground challenges and come up with innovative solutions: eg., small learning centers with quality broadband can beam high quality pedagogy to remote corners of India; while giving the student a cohort of fellow learners as well as a local teacher to address queries.
Another major challenge is the engagement of the private sector. As per the current statistics, less than one in 10 adult Indians has had any form of vocational training. Even among those who have, majority had either acquired a hereditary skill or learned on the job.
Only a measly 2.2 per cent in all had received formal vocational training. As against this, 75 per cent of the workforce in Germany and 80 per cent in Japan has received formal skills training. India lags behind even among the BRICS countries with nearly half the Chinese workforce being skilled.
The primary focus of skill development is towards providing employment in the private sector & developing entrepreneurial skills but the figures depicting the involvement of the private sector in this regard are appalling. As per The World Bank Enterprise Surveys 2014 the percentage of firms offering formal training programmes for its permanent, full-time employees in India is just 35.9, compared to China's 79.2.
This spells a double failure for the market as a whole where the employer is not willing to invest in developing the skills of the employee & the employee does not have the resources to pay for skilling. Digitization can address this issue to a limited extent with increased industry participation through online teaching aides. This coupled with easy access to the internet for the workforce to learning content through MOOCs either free of cost or at a nominal cost will help in their skill up-gradation.
Other major challenges for India to realize the true potential of digital education are digital literacy & infrastructure. A major portion of the Indian population is still illiterate in digital terminologies & devices. With almost 85% of the population still not being conversant with the English language, there is a language barrier for the adoption of online courses.
Creation of local language internet to tap potential of the rural market can help to increase the adoption rate. Similarly a large part of the population does not have access to the requisite internet bandwidth for accessing the online learning resources. The Government of India has come up with certain initiatives like NOFN (National Optical Fiber Network) connecting 5 lac villages via broadband till 2017, 25 cities by Wi-Fi by the end of 2015, but a lot more needs to be done in mobile wireless internet.
However, considering the overall response to digital education in the country the future looks optimistic. As per the report titled ‘India E-Learning Market Outlook to FY2018 - Increasing Technology Adoption to Drive Future Growth' it is estimated that Indian e-learning market will grow at CAGR of 17.4% over the period FY2013 to FY2018. It is perceived that Indians are among the most aggressive users of the massively open online courses (MOOCs).
The key to full utilization of the potential of digital education is to educate students to be lifelong learners who can transform the vast plethora of information into knowledge & contribute to the global market thus making "'Kaushal Bharat, Kushal Bharat" a reality.
The article is written by Anish Srikrishna, President of TimesPro, Times Centre for Learning Ltd.
About the Author:Anish is the President of Times Centre for learning Limited. With over 20 years of experience he is an established marketing and management professional with a wealth of experience in brand building and innovation.
Anish worked at Pearson India as Business Head for Higher Education Test Preparation. During his stint at Pearson India, Anish has been instrumental in introducing Direct Delivery programs to diversify Pearson Education into test preparation and distance education.