Hits And Misses Of The Stimulus Package: E-vidya

the government revealed the PM’s e-Vidya digital education initiative that attempts to leverage technologies and devices available with the man on the street to address this issue.

COVID-19 has suddenly left 321 million Indian children staring at an uncertain academic year for over ten weeks now. Remote learning platforms have replaced the physical classroom for many school and college students. Effectiveness of these mediums aside, the more important question is whether they improve access or deepen the digital divide. Only two Indian states have at least 40 per cent of rural households with Internet connectivity. Add to that the lack of family support due to computer-illiterate parents and financial troubles; the country is looking at a huge dropout rate and a widening economic divide in the years to come. 

Last week, the government revealed the PM’s e-Vidya digital education initiative that attempts to leverage technologies and devices available with the man on the street to address this issue. A comprehensive package, it seeks to go beyond content dissemination and addresses teacher training, psychological help for teachers and students as well as caters to students with visual or hearing impairments. 

Television sets, radio, community radio and podcasts (Shiksha Vani) will supplement the Internet. The plan is to leverage Swayam Prabha, a set of 32 DTH channels catering to education set up in 2017 by adding newer content, including a separate channel for children with special needs. Doordarshan has had dedicated channels for school education for many years now. For these to succeed, it is necessary to weave them into regular curriculum besides making their content more attractive and appealing to the audience, especially younger children. 

DIKSHA will be extended as a ‘one-nation, one-platform’ for e-resources catering to school children across all states and UTs in fourteen languages. Digitalization of textbooks, expected to benefit nearly 25 crore children, has the potential to significantly reduce the cost of schooling for them, not to mention the environmental footprint of going paperless. 

No crisis should be wasted. We have the opportunity today to make Indian education more holistic and meaningful for students. Poor learning outcomes at the primary levels and education without employable skills at the higher levels have been the constant pliant about the Indian education system for years now. ‘Vidyadaan’ under the e-Vidya package uses crowdsourcing and invites individuals and organizations to create content for the DIKSHA platform. This is a welcome move as it can bring a diversity of views, updated content and hence, quality. Private players in the e-learning space such as Unacademy, Upgrad and Byju’s can be invited to collaborate to make it a win-win for all concerned. 

The top 100 universities have been permitted to start online courses by 30th May 2020. This can be a shot-in-the-arm for the government’s MOOCs initiative under the Swayam portal. Digitalization makes learning location agnostic and expands the opportunities for students and educational institutions alike. Allowing credit transfers precipitates competition that can improve the overall quality of learning. 

The package has not spelt out any financial outlay or the modalities of how content creators, technology platforms and students will be brought together or how learning outcomes and impact will be assessed.  

Indian education has lacked focus on skills such as critical thinking, clear articulation and embracing alternative viewpoints. To a great extent, rote learning and straightjacket approach to exams and evaluations taken at the school and even UG levels have led to this. Education also includes empathy, ethics and social consciousness. Now is a great opportunity for the state and private players in education to incorporate these aspects into curriculum and learning objectives. Education is much more than theorems and formulae; it has the power to shape persons and personality. While technology cannot replace physical connect and interaction, this crisis can be used as a stepping stone for revolutionizing how India conceives of education.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house

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