Digital India has been envisioned as an ambitious program to transform India into a digitally empowered society and a knowledge economy. The young population in India in the last decade has become increasingly technology-driven, revealing considerable potential and readiness to imbibe and learn using digital media.
Also there have been unprecedented reforms in the education system in India at all levels, where much effort and commitment has been directed at improving the quality of education at all levels, especially at the schools.
One of the important debates in the Indian education policy has been how to improve the educational outcomes within schools. In this context increasing the quality of teachers and thereby the student outcome, is one such issue that is discussed by policy makers time and again. Digital education today is no longer limited to the four walls of a classroom. It has paved way for virtual classrooms, making learning attainable and providing easy access everywhere and every time.
The latest trends in digital education space also include adaptive and collaborative learning where a student is engaged by practicing, experiencing, sharing things and gaining knowledge in a collaborative environment. The fourth generation of communication technology is speculated to revolutionize the digital education space by providing cutting-edge user experience. Thus, the government’s focus is to integrate technology in digital learning for both urban and rural India. It is also looking at public-private-partnerships to enhance reach to rural and remote areas.
In an effort to bring rural India in to the digital age, the Centre has launched the Digital India campaign. Some of this campaign’s targets include providing broadband connectivity to a quarter of a million rural villages by 2019 and making Wi-Fi connections available in schools. However, few pertinent questions that arise are; can technology alone bring a positive impact on learning? Is it capable of solving major educational problems in India? The answer is; only if we have a clear vision on how to enable technology help students learn better and teachers teach better. Therefore, there must be deliberations on finding solutions to hurdles like affordability, accessibility, mode of delivery and content.
This further put an emphasis on the teacher educators in the teacher training institutions, who need to end the sole emphasis on academic achievements, and put in efforts to continuously update themselves in order to advance the quality of education system and the quality of students’ learning.
There are expectations from teacher training institutions, which are responsible to provide pre service training to teachers, to bring a new cadre of teachers in the country, who will be well trained to deal with the demands of the digital era.
According to the National Council of Teacher Education (NCTE, 2011); there are 12,052 teacher education institutions in India. These institutions are expected to train about 4.52 million teachers in about 5.98 lakh Primary Schools and 98 thousand High / Higher Secondary schools in the Indian education system. However, the teacher education programs have till date not yielded a way out to achieve teacher competency and teacher quality to meet the demands of digital era, where the talk-n-chalk classroom is being replaced by interactive whiteboard with projectors and speakers, which is student centric that breeds immersive learning environment.
Initiatives in Educational Technology
The young, today are facing a world in which communication and information revolution has led to changes in all spheres; scientific, technological, political, economic, social and cultural. New demands are often placed on the schools in addition to the existing ones; to be equipped with current knowledge and modern methods of acquiring new knowledge as the challenge has always been how the technology will get adopted to make a significant difference.
The continuous professional development of teachers in digital teaching strategies can change the contemporary digital divide and dismal landscape in Indian Education. Digital technologies like electronic tools, systems, devices and resources that generate store or process data are a part of teaching learning in the present era.
Teachers can collaborate to share their ideas and resources online. They can communicate with other teachers of the same field across the globe and collaborate with them, refine their work and give the best to their students.
Such an approach of teachers would definitely enhance the practice of teaching as well as both students and teachers will have an access to vast material. There are plenty of resourceful, credible websites available on the Internet that both teachers and students can utilize. The Internet also provides a variety of knowledge and doesn’t limit students to one person’s opinion. Thus, Digital India can only be accompanied by digital education that too at micro level.
Certain government initiatives such as e-education, e-basta, Nand Ghar is supposed to impart education using technologies including smart phones, mobile apps and internet services in remote rural areas. With initiative like e-basta the government aimed at making school books accessible in digital form as e-books to be read on tablets and laptops. Further, there are plans to train the play school educators to use digital tools as teaching aids.
With the various digital initiatives that the government has launched, it is assumed that such a step will help strengthen access to technology especially in government schools and preschools. Such steps from the government will prove useful for teachers to constantly innovate and adapt to changes.
Teachers shall thus develop critical, evidence-based attitudes, be adaptive to digital teaching strategies and would make efforts to facilitate digital curating culture in the education system. Already the changed perspective is evident from the fact that a good number of schools are taking steps to adopt the digital approach to learning; they have now switched to smart boards and are no longer rigid in their teaching methodologies.
Impact of Technology
The role of technology in education has been an important issue today with debates about the impact of technology on our society. The implications of quick and easy online access to information for knowledge and learning and the effect of technology on young people’s social, emotional and physical development are well recognized facts.
Teachers lack the required competencies to meet the digital education demands. The major role is to be played by the teacher training institutes but unfortunately these institutions are suited to traditional system of schooling. The inputs provided to student teachers in the teacher training institutions are traditional in nature and as per the traditional Indian classroom situations, the curriculum lack the global perspective and the need of digital knowledge base.
The present digital age of modern technologies require teachers to have deep subject knowledge and pedagogical content knowledge and the knowledge of new technologies applied to subject teaching (Mishra & Koehler, 2006). It is therefore important to take stock of what we know about the impact of digital technology on education from what we have learned till yet.
The National Policy on Education (NPE) 1986 subsequently revised in 1992, the NCTE and the NCF emphasised on teacher training institutions to be prepared for the 21st century challenges and recommended replacement of rote learning in classrooms by pupil-cantered, activity cantered teaching learning process and creating an atmosphere where children feel valued.
Expectations are thus from the teacher education institutions to take a note of it and prepare themselves to meet the lifelong learning needs of the present society. Education system today has undergone a major shift from teacher dominated classes to digital generations, where students do not solely depend on teachers for knowledge gain, classrooms are virtual and multicultural and the knowledge based society and the intellectual capital has the power to control.
It is of utmost urgency for the educational institutions to change their way of working and be prepared to the need of the coming generations, where the classrooms will be comprised of multi-national children and require multilingual pedagogy, multiple approaches and methods of teaching.
To meet the present digital age challenges teachers must realise their changed role in the school management. Schools expect teachers to take decisions, keep themselves updated with knowledge, and be self improving to be able to cope with the stress of the changing times. A paradigm shift is necessary in teacher training program from a new technology development perspective, as even today teachers are not prepared for the use of digital systems and are unable to handle Intercultural classrooms. This places more responsibilities on the teacher training institutions to come out with new plans of teacher education and meet the needs of digital savvy society.
The ability to deal with demands of digital era and be creative to learn and transfer knowledge in different modes especially in ICT and distance modes is of major concern today.
Nevertheless, technology has the potential to improve learning outcomes when well integrated into the learning process. This puts a demand on the teacher training institutions to work towards empowering prospective teachers and enable teachers to be techno savvy in the classrooms to handle the growing demand for innovative pedagogy in the digital era.
Schools must facilitate teachers to be innovative in classrooms, to be able to create digital tools and resources, to be able to form digital teachers club, enhance online work culture and be prepared for all kinds of assessments, e.g. the online examination. This calls for a number of stakeholders to come together and support the initiative and thereby strengthen the education sector in India.
India cannot deny the power of technology in bringing educational reforms as there are almost 131 million households with cellular phones in the country. Thus, delivering education through the digital platform to children and teachers could be a potential way to bridge the education deficit.
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