Use of ICT in Schools: A ray of hope in the darkness
In this present scenario, when face to face interaction and all the means to physical classroom became out of reach, a Government School teacher like Ritika Tomar from Sonbhadra, Uttar Pradesh came up with the solution in the form of using ICT tools for the purpose of teaching and learning. The syllabus, teacher as well as the learner remained the same, the only thing that got changed in her approach was the method of teaching and learning.
She divided her students in a group of two that is those who have access to smartphones and those who have a simple cellphone. She made WhatsApp group and started sending messages, YouTube links, videos regarding the content of learning materials. She also established a successful connection with those who do not have access to smartphones through simple text messages and made them aware of various channels like Doordarshan, Radio Program where students can learn according to their syllabus following a fixed time table. She ensured that no student lag behind and made the best use of DIKSHA, E- Pathsala, Let’s learn English like platforms to reach her goal. Though she was not able to connect and be in contact with all her learners yet, she is the best example of practicing ICT tools theory in a practical way in remote areas.
This story is not only about Ritika Tomar and her students. In the wake of pandemic, school closures have impacted 247 million children enrolled in elementary and secondary education in India, as per UN report. This has impacted about 28 million children who were attending pre-school education in Anganwadi centers.
In the current scenario, many students did not expect to return to the institution they left due to the pandemic closures. Many students may enroll at an institution closer to home, but others will be unable to return to their studies at all.
Digital divide is a reality
We can’t ignore the fact that students from remote areas, who are facing lot of difficulties during this pandemic, are not in position to be benefitted from online learning-teaching methods.
We also need to understand that this is not the first time that the learning of children got hampered. It is going on since ages. The states like Bihar, Assam face floods every year; in the region of Kashmir and North East, there are several incidents of violence and similarly there are states where due to excessive heat, cold or rainfall schools remains closed for months.
Rural and Tribal India are facing three kinds of problems. The first is availability of digital device. Not every child has access to PCs, laptops or smartphones. Even if a family has one smartphone; it is not for the purpose of learning. The second is network issue and the third is data issue. Data is cheap in India but still not everyone can afford it.
ICT – A boon in disguise
Although Technology will never replace the existence of physical classroom, there is a need to develop a more child centric education model mixed with Textbook and Technology. New generation is Tech friendly and modern devices attract them the most. Instead of scolding them to not engage with it all the time, we need to take it as a challenge to use digital device as an educational tool, and make it a platform to learn something new, to sow in them seeds of creativity. To make this possible the teacher needs to come forward.
If we see from Teacher’s perspective, ICT tools are empowering them and helping them even in the time of epidemic to connect with fellow teachers virtually and continue their teaching to lower the loss of education, in turn improving the things further.
Usage of ICT tools gives access to students to do any course, at any time by connecting themselves with the best of faculty. It is cost friendly hence irrespective of their financial condition, they can get access to a lot of contents and materials. It fills a broad gap between those who have access to variety of contents in different languages and those who do not. Hence, fulfilling the purpose of reaching the heart of students instead of mind.
ICT tools have the power to make teacher reach to unlimited number of students which is not possible in a physical classroom especially in a rural context where the rate or dropouts are higher, where students do not attend school on a regular basis due to restricted time table as they serve as a working hand for their parents.
Using ICT tools are also environment friendly as it saves paper and hence ends up saving millions of trees. It also saves teachers’ time as they can solve a large number of pupils’ problems, doubts in a go and considering the assessment process their papers, assignment, projects can be checked and feedback can be given immediately.
India needs customized ICT solutions
The pedagogy of teaching and learning also demands a change, moving from a teacher centric approach to child centered, making learning enjoyable and engaging. There are various examples of people who are coping with the current scenario and coming out with new innovative measures.
Government school teacher Vijay Sharma has adopted a very innovative teaching technique during lockdown. While following physical distancing, he started taking class with the help of loudspeakers in his village Konkhana in the district of Mahasamund, Chhattisgarh. As a result, children are able to connect themselves and are studying by sitting at their home. His school Komkhana Government School was converted into a quarantine center. He found out that his most of the pupils do not have access to smartphones, thus with the help of village people and panchayat he came up with this idea. Today other districts are also following his model.
Recently a school in Bankathi village, Dumka, Jharkhand has found a similar way to teach their 200-odd students amid the crisis. The headmaster Shyam Kishore Singh from Upgraded Middle School has set up several loudspeakers on trees and walls across the village where students can attend the classes from different locations near the loudspeakers for 2 hours daily.
AppGuru and Government School Teacher from Alwar Rajasthan, Imran Khan believes that this is the time to turn the adversity into an opportunity and to really work as a teacher in this direction to reach to everyone through technology. Imran has developed more than eighty educational app for students and was praised by PM Narendra Modi during his UK rally. Today crores of students are using the apps made by him not only in India but also abroad.
India must focus on enhancing network connectivity so that students and Teachers of rural areas can benefit. The Indian telecom sector needs to add additional mobile towers and implement the Right of Way (RoW) policy announced in 2016 immediately to provide quality services.
BharatNet project must be completed on high priority before 2022 so that highly scalable network infrastructure can be accessible on a non-discriminatory basis. This project will help to provide affordable broadband connectivity for all households and on demand capacity to all institutions, to realize the vision of Digital India.
We also need to think of other measures such as inventing a learning centric student friendly tablet at subsidized rates, and need to make it accessible to at least one tablet per household. Ministry of Telecom, especially TRAI should come forward and work on providing student friendly data pack.
India also needs to focus on developing ICT friendly Content, which can be easily available on phone and accessible without internet connection. Currently we have more content with engagement and entertainment purpose, and private players are converting this situation into profit making business model. They are not giving importance on Child psychology, Teaching Pedagogy while creating contents. We should focus on capacity building of teachers so that India can leverage their skills for content creation.
There is a need to launch dedicated program on Radio and Television; and here we can learn some global practice like Somali-language television series, Sesame Sheeko Sheeko and Baghch-e-Simsim of Afghanistan. We also need to involve Panchayati Raj Institutions at grassroots level so that society can own such initiatives.
Making our Government School an ICT resourceful school should be in priority. Right now many state governments and even the central government are working on this direction but Govt institutions are more dependent on private players, rather than enhancing their own capacity. As Government of India is planning to convert School Blackboard into Digital Board by 2022, we also need to focus on providing electricity to schools so that they can use it with full potential.
This corona crisis has taught us that we need to focus on the learning of children in the long run and for that ICT tools can play a very important role. It is certain that ICT will impact education in multiple ways, only some of which can be foreseen at the present time. It is glad to see that our National Education Policy 2020 also talks about eliminating the digital divide and expanding ICT based educational initiatives. We must be hopeful for the better future of India.