The National Education Policy, 2020 (“Policy”), unveiled by the Ministry of Human Resource Development (“MHRD”), is revolutionary in every sense. While the Policy focuses on multiple aspects, including the need for early childhood care, inclusive education and revamping of the current curriculum, an inherent thread that runs through the Policy is the interplay of education and technology. Over the last decade, India has transformed itself into an ‘information intensive society’ and there is a growing requirement to embrace the usage of technology in the field of education. In this regard, the Policy notes that one of the central principles steering the education system will be the ‘extensive use of technology in teaching and learning, removing language barriers, increasing access as well as education planning and management’. In the current ‘pandemic circumstances’, with virtual learning replacing in-person learning experiences, students and teachers have been compelled to re-imagine conventional learning and teaching techniques. Introduction of the Policy at such a critical juncture is significant, as it details the vision of education for future generations and will be a quintessential tool towards building a ‘self-reliant’ India.
Key Aspects: We have mentioned below some of the key aspects of the Policy dealing with technology.
Primary Education : The Policy recognises the importance of technology in aiding teachers, bridging the language barrier between teachers and students, creating digital libraries, popularising language learning as well as ensuring greater access to education (specifically for differently-abled children). It is also proposed that coding be introduced in school curriculums as an important skill that students must develop. The Policy also notes that technology can be an effective tool in facilitating teacher education and encourages the utilisation of technology platforms for online teacher-training.
Professional and Higher Education: The need to embrace technology in professional education (legal/health) as well as the incorporation of technology to expedite the aim of achieving 100% literacy (by introducing quality technology-based options for adult learning) has also been put forward. The Policy recognises the importance of technology in addressing various societal challenges and seeks to promote interdisciplinary research and innovation. For instance, Higher Education Institutions (“HEIs”) have been encouraged to set up start-up incubation centres and technology development centres, and a National Research Foundation is also proposed to be set up to cultivate a culture of research. The Policy envisages the establishment of the National Educational Technology Forum (“NETF”), which shall operate as a platform for free exchange of ideas on the use of technology to enhance learning, assessment planning and administration for school and higher education.
Administration of Education : The creation of the Academic Bank of Credit to digitally store academic credits earned from various HEI’s to facilitate the grant of degrees based on credits earned over a period of time, is also a progressive step introduced by the Policy. An interesting facet of the Policy is its focus on utilising technology to ensure efficiency and transparency of regulatory bodies such as the State School Standards Authority, the Higher Education Commission of India as well as its four verticals (National Higher Education Regulatory Council, National Accreditation Council, Higher Education Grants Council and the General Education Council).
Adapting to AI: The Policy recognises challenges arising on account of the widespread use of Artificial Intelligence (“AI”) and highlights the need to adopt changes occurring on account of increased use of AI across sectors. It has tasked the NETF with identifying and categorising emergent technologies based on their ‘potential’ and ‘estimated timeframe for disruption’ and to present a periodic analysis of the same to the MHRD, who shall then formally identify such technologies which require appropriate responses from the education system. In light of the emerging ‘disruptive technologies’, the Policy is pioneering as it notes the need to generate awareness as well as conduct research on various aspects of the emerging disruptive technologies, including concerns pertaining to data handling and protection.
It is essential to develop a coherent plan of action for fostering technological proficiencies to aid successful engagement with technology (and its future advancements), while providing effective safeguards for data protection and data privacy.
Digital India: The Policy calls for investment in digital infrastructure, development of online teaching platforms and tools, creation of virtual labs and digital repositories, training teachers to become high quality online content creators, designing and implementing of online assessments, establishing standards for content, technology and pedagogy for online teaching-learning. The Policy envisages the creation of a dedicated unit for the purpose of devising the development of digital infrastructure, digital content and capacity building to supervise the e-education needs of both school and higher education.
Key Concerns: Although the Policy has done a stellar job in imbibing technology in ‘education’, in the Indian context, this also raises certain concerns, which need to be considered.
As per a government survey conducted for the period July 2017 to June 2018 and published in November 2019, in rural India, only 4.4% of households have computers as against 23.4% of urban households and nearly 14.9% of rural households have internet facility as against 42.0% of urban households
1. As per the same survey, in rural areas, among persons aged 5 years and above, 9.9% were able to operate a computer as against 32.4% in urban areas, and 13.0% of rural users were able to use the internet as against 37.1% in urban areas. Research has shown that internet penetration in urban areas is higher, but rural penetration is growing at a faster rate. Even then, access to the internet was almost always through mobile phones in both urban and rural areas.
2. In the context of education, it is important that each student, in urban and rural areas, has access to digital hardware, whether in the form of smartphones, computers or tablets, exclusively for their use. As of today, majority of students from under-privileged economic backgrounds have limited or no access to exclusive digital devices/ internet/ or even electricity.While the Policy does note the existence of these limitations and the need to eliminate it through concerted efforts, such as the Digital India campaign and the availability of affordable computing devices, it is necessary that practical solutions are found around these issues and that efforts are supplemented with access to other amenities such as power supply, basic infrastructure as well as general awareness on the importance and usage of technology.
3. The ‘human-element’ of education cannot be overlooked and technology can be used only as an auxiliary tool to amplify the learning experience. It is also pertinent to assess the way technology is used, processed, transferred, stored and necessary safeguards be built in to protect the privacy of the users and protect against data thefts.
Conclusion: While the Policy is a novel and progressive document, acknowledging the invaluable role of technology in facilitating learning and teaching, it is essential to develop a coherent plan of action for fostering technological proficiencies to aid successful engagement with technology (and its future advancements), while providing effective safeguards for data protection and data privacy. In this regard, ed-tech companies are uniquely positioned to assist with the execution of various goals envisioned under the Policy. It is estimated that by 2022, K-12 ed-tech market in India will be worth USD 1.7 billion, and post K-12 ed-tech market will be worth USD 1.8 billion.
The ed-tech companies can collaborate with educational institutions as well as develop customised online platforms/courses to increase reach among Indian students
The Policy also presents a significant opportunity for cooperation between the various industry stakeholders and regulatory authorities/educational institutions. In this regard, the Internet and Mobile Association of India has recommended a partnership between the ed-tech industry and the NETF, which will help streamline research and enable the NETF to adopt industry-led best practices.
Overall, the success of the Policy will be contingent on the means and mode of its implementation, as well as the ability to effectively integrate the objectives of the Policy, within existing initiatives and engaging the relevant stakeholders in the effective delivery of the Policy. The Policy is mindful that education in the future will involve greater dematerialization and digitalisation of content. For a hitherto conservative educational system of India, this mindfulness is itself a remarkable feat.
(The author is a Research Scholar at Jiwaji University Gwalior (MP) .Views are his own).