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Elementary Education and Information Technology (IT)

by Dileep Ranjekar, CEO - Azim Premji Foundation

December 24, 2001

Emergence of a New Society

About 8 years ago, I was amused to see a string of Wipro computers surrounded by many people, in a departmental store at Churchgate in Mumbai. When I asked the counter person what was happening, he informed me that they had started providing the facility of computer based "horoscope". All that you have to give is the birth time, date and place after which the computer was able to dish out the horoscope, which was fairly accurate.

About a year ago, when we floated inquiries, looking for 10th or 12th standard pass local youths in about 20 villages where we wanted to set up community learning centers in equal number of villages, we were flooded with applications. And surprisingly, a large proportion of these applicants were trained in some manner or other in Information Technology.

Very clearly a new society is emerging that is lapping up Information Technology and its applications to make their life simpler, faster and more exciting. Even more interesting is the fact that a whole new generation is emerging that is questioning things they find out of place and are coming up with new interpretations in life. One very interesting story I heard in the rural areas is as under:

During a visit to one of the rural schools, the visitor asked the children in appropriate class, "Between the electricity and sound, what travels faster?" One of the students answered "sound". The teacher asked the reason as to why the student felt that way. The student was quick to answer, "When I switch on my TV, the sound comes first and then comes the picture". The answer was wrong but what was interesting was the logic of the student that was based on his daily experience.

With the advent of TV and other mass media, the information explosion is leading to knowledge revolution. A new Knowledge based Social System is evolving. This will re-define what is illiteracy and change the concept of developing society. One of the most interesting features of the knowledge-based society is the "Fluidity of Knowledge" or "Information". It becomes critical to capture knowledge or information at the given point of time. And this is where IT could play a critical role in storing, disseminating and multiplying the knowledge.

Myths about Technology

Myth 1: Technology itself improves social life
Myth 2: Progress in technology is equivalent to progress of the society

It is important to understand that only when the technology achieves something for the society can it improve social life. Further, for a society to be called progressive, technology cannot be in the hands of a few chosen ones. It must reach the majority of the members in the society and they need to be in a position to use it imaginatively for the well being of the masses.

The Criticality of Information Technology for India

  • Information Technology today is a key contributor to the economic growth of India. This sector is the one, which has given a status of a "superpower" to our country.
  • Indian IT Industry grew by 40 % compared to GDP growth of ~5.2 %
  • Software Exports contributed 14% of our total exports last year and this percentage will significantly grow infuture. It is expected to contribute ~18 % in 2001-02.
  • Indian Software companies work with Fortune 500 companies and therefore have access to the bestpractices of these companies.
  • The Human Development Report 2001 clearly establishes that countries with higher TechnologyAchievement Index also have a higher "Human Development Index".

Education and Technology Co-relation

Among the noted case studies of usage of IT in education is that in Singapore where they achieved wonders with the help of IT in the schools.

Some of the features of what they implemented were:

  • They made an education policy that made Internet more outward looking and collaborative. This included ideas to create a web based platform combining a set of Internet application
  • Schools established communication and collaboration both within the school and beyond it, involving parents and other interested members of the local community with the school and its activities.
  • Parents are given passwords for logging in from their home or office. They can get details on gradingmethods, teaching methods, assignments, and homework. They can also participate in online meetingwith the teachers to offer online suggestions.
  • Students benefit by working with students from other schools.
  • Official mentors from anywhere in the world offer advice to the school and students.
  • Bulk of the IT spending is for less able and less privileged children. In the past, most of these childrenwould have dropped out of school at the earliest opportunity, but give them access to a PC and the Internet and they will stay in school.
  • If they want to upgrade their skills later, they will also be far better equipped to take advantage of the manyonline courses to be found in "Education Town" specially established on the eCitizen Site. The concept has thus gone beyond School Internet.

Some of the implications of IT in Education are

Long Term

  • Global Access to knowledge
  • Sharing of experiences and best practices
  • Consistent higher Quality education possible
  • Self paced and self based learning
  • Effective learning for solid fundamentals early in learning life cycle, through:
    • Virtual world of information
    • Simulations
    • Experiential learning
  • IT will become a fundamental literacy for the world. Today in the US, the International Literacy Mission haslaunched massive efforts to improve the IT literacy in the US, which they found was at about 52%.

Short Term

  • Information Technology to strengthen the efforts for universalising primary education (Though there are multiple factors that impact universalisation of elementary education)
  • Parental feedback indicates strong demand for English language and computers to be included in the schooling process
  • The short term impact of IT in elementary schools is attracting the children to the school
  • Creating an excitement around usage of IT
  • Facilitating retention of children in the school around the excitement that gets generated
  • Providing contents that will simplify understanding of complex parts of syllabus as well as address the fundamentals which are building blocks for future education

Acceptance that the world is a global village has to start from the elementary school. The issue of hardware costs will soon get addressed with low cost hardware that would be affordable even by the government schools and village communities. The need of the hour is for creative education contents that make learning enjoyable for the children through contextual learning and develop a habit of creative learning.