by Azim Premji, Chairman, Wipro Corporation
One of the few things on which there is consensus across the entire ideological spectrum in economics and politics is that literacy and education are perhaps the most significant drivers of development and democracy. For societies to improve their literacy levels and the quality of their education, multiple complex factors must be worked upon. Information and communication technology (ICT) can facilitate improvement on several of these dimensions. To me, use of ICT for literacy is almost intuitive, given the challenge of reaching out to large numbers which a country like India faces. ICT provides us an effective tool for connecting with a large number of remotely located learners at a low cost.
My perspective on the use of ICT for education and literacy is based on our interaction with the parents and schools in over 1,300 villages in 2000, through the Azim Premji Foundation. Through these interactions we gained the following perspective: Parental feedback indicates strong demand for computers; they also consider computer interface as an enabler for knowing English; ICT can strengthen our efforts for universalising primary education and; ICT could also be the solution to a uniform high quality of instructions without replacing teachers. But more than that, we learnt that ICT also has a huge role in attracting children to the school, and creating excitement in and around the school.
To me ICT is not about the computers or the educational CDs or the Internet or the specific device or medium we use. It is really about a different process that we deploy for the purpose of enhancing the quality of education. It is about providing alternative learning experiences to the children who currently do not have options other than text book as a learning tool.
If someone asks me what we should try through ICT in the schools, I would have the following response: A change of culture – openness, responsiveness and opening windows for new thinking, an atmosphere of innovation; an alternative paradigm in pedagogy – interactive, away from the chalk and talk, self paced and contextualised learning; an attempt to achieve equity and; bringing excitement and motivation.
Mere introduction of ICT will not automatically create the kind of impact or change that we intend to cause. Technology will induce change only if accompanied by changes in ideas, processes and way of viewing things. Technology is likely to create bigger transformation where the current situation and culture are considered to need improvement.
Based on our experience with the schools, I would suggest that we must address the following critical issues to enhance the effectiveness of ICT in literacy and education.
First is the challenge of making teachers a partner in this effort. If teachers do not see that ICT is helpful in their work, there is no hope for it turning out to be an effective tool in our mission for education and literacy.
Second is the challenge of deciding what to, and what not to, deliver though ICT. The usual tendency is to try to deliver every learning item through ICT. It amazes me when governments roll out a large-scale programme to introduce ICT in schools and villages without an adequately thought out long-term plan of how it will be utilised. There is no point in using an expensive computer screen as a replacement for the blackboard.
Third is the challenge of enhancing the vision of a typical teacher of what learning experience could be. The challenge is to ensure that an average teacher relates to the broader definition of literacy and education, and not merely reading and writing.
Fourth is the challenge of building teacher capacity. For a teacher to translate vision into reality she needs to acquire capability in discipline area, teaching methods or pedagogy, and use of ICT. Our challenge is to build this capability in each of our teachers, which is a mammoth task given our large numbers. India has around 5.5 million teachers. Finally is the challenge of building teacher motivation. It is our challenge to create a motivating environment for them so that schools truly become centres of learning. I suspect that this is going to be our biggest challenge.
This article appeared in The Economic Times, issue dated 31 October, 2007