Focus on technology to improve education

Experts discussed the challenges and solutions for education at the Indian Science Congress. Sanchayan Bhattacharjee reports

Most leaders, policy makers, members of the academia, intelligentsia or even common citizens may have envisaged a vision for India. It would be safe to assume that education plays a pivotal role in each of these visions. It is the cog without which the wheels of development would move at a ridiculously sluggish pace, or maybe not move at all. Keeping this is mind; a symposium focusing on ‘Challenges for Education in Modern India’ was conducted at the Nehru Centre, Worli as part of the Indian Science Congress. “If there is one area of public investment which will provide maximum returns it is education,” said Anil Kakodkar, eminent nuclear scientist who convened the session. According to Kakodkar, education is the surest way to ensure that India derives maximum benefit from its demographic dividend. “It’s easier said than done though. We have to overcome the dual challenge of providing access to education for all as well as ensure that quality learning is achieved,” he added.

A significant part of the symposium was devoted to the role that technology can play in the present and future education scenario. Varun Sahni, professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University gave a preview of the ‘Technology Vision 2035 – Education’ report which provides an estimation of where the education sector sees itself in the next two decades. The soon to be released report underlines twelve prerogatives for every citizen of the country, one of which is ensuring quality education, livelihood and creative opportunities. “The certitude of Vision 2035 is to ensure that even by the lowest UN population projection estimates, India will remain a country of immense size and diversity. That’s the base from which we need to work,” he said.

The report classified the population into several non exclusive categories like ‘Rooted & Remote’, “Globalised Diaspora’, ‘Drop outs & late bloomers’ etc. “By 2035, most household across the country will have internet connectivity, so what it means to be ‘remote’ will change. Similarly, Indians will represent the largest diaspora community in the world by 2035 thereby radically transforming the concept of citizenship,” said Sahni. As per the assumptions of the report, the highly competitive education system which is currently in vogue would be harsh to late bloomers and result in more dropouts too. The vision document also pointed out twelve issue areas for testing, evaluation and certification including school and teaching evaluation, accreditation of schools; access to post school education, certification of college level courses as well as evaluation of teaching in various universities.
Sanjay Dhande, member, University Grants Commission, emphasised the importance of institutions creating Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) and licensing them. He explained that while IPRs would form the base, institutes should then develop them into new ventures using incubation centres. Furthermore, a strong venture capital community would help scale up these new businesses both nationally and internationally. “I was surprised to come across a company in Bangalore whose product was algorithms. So like bananas or vegetables or cars, now there are companies which are selling algorithms and making a huge amount of money,” said Dhande. He also urged educational institutions to be flexible and give more importance to synthesis rather than analysis. “Perhaps the most important education for a student is how to choose a course,” he said. According to Dhande, cutting edge technology could be used to provide quality higher education in the country comparable to foreign universities at one third the cost of studying abroad. “An affinity to change combined with a sustained focus on entrepreneurship will certainly help our education system improve significantly,” he concluded.

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