Many people think that the enthusiasm we see today for the use of modern technology in education is naive and that the virtual world offered by digital technologies cannot solve our real world problems. This view is not surprising. Historically, the evolution of new methods or paradigm shifts have always been met with apprehensions. Plato had 2400 years back remarked "writing, a growing activity would create forgetfulness in the learners' souls, because they will not use their memories". And yet, human beings progressed consistently as we improved our ability to document everything important to us. One would agree that technology is not a complete substitute for schools and teachers. However, the rapid evolution of digital technologies has opened up immense possibilities to address the chronic problems that have weighed down our education system for decades.
While mentoring and personal touch of a teacher is crucial in the development of a child, we need to understand practical issues as well. A World Bank study reveals that on an average 25% teachers are absent everyday in government schools and only half of the teachers are found teaching. Every year, the cost of teacher absenteeism is around $1.5 billion (approximately Rs 8000 crores) to India. Even when the teachers are present and teaching well, the current school system emphasises rote memorisation. This makes our students good at test-taking, but severely hampers their problem-solving and critical thinking skills in the process.
The other limiting factor is the school curriculum. Knowledge and skills get severely restricted when they pass through the curriculum and the regimentation of learning methods. For example, India’s Mangalyaan successfully entered the orbit of Mars in 2014. It was a glorious moment for the country and there were various lessons to learn from it. However, the key question is, how long will it take to include the Mangalyaan story in our school curriculum and take it to our children? Those who don’t have educated, informed parents or enthusiastic teachers who see things beyond the textbook, would probably not get a chance to learn about such latest and exciting developments.
School curriculums are typically designed for an average student. However, every child learns differently, has a different aptitude and can take a different path to learning. Also, the real world is quite non-linear where we jump from one topic to another and look for related topics, just like browsing the internet. Digital technology can open the doors to the richness of knowledge and resources. Children can learn from a variety of resources on a variety of topics, at their own pace. They can follow their own path. In terms of quality, availability and cost, it is imperative to introduce technology in the mainstream education.
In the earlier generations, schools and libraries were the places to learn and get knowledge. Those who didn’t have access to school or library were left behind. In this new era, access to digital content (along with schools and libraries) is the key to learning. It is time to supplement our current education methods with the use of technology. It is one of the best ways of providing access to more information and knowledge while larger goals of self-learning and critical thinking are accomplished.