Director, PR, Planning and Advocacy – The Akshaya Patra Foundation
India is home to the largest population of children in the world, with an estimated 43 crore/ 430 million children in the age group of 0-18 years in the country. These children are the future of our nation and therefore, it is imperative that they are provided with necessary means to realise their potential. A modernised education system can channelise efforts in this direction. In order to achieve this, it is imperative that we address prevailing teaching-related concerns such as outmoded teaching methods, shortage of qualified teachers, highly disproportionate student-teacher ratio, and inadequate teaching materials that affect the quality of education.
While the ratio of rural-urban enrollment in schools is a massive 7:5, nearly 60 percent of students in rural areas, up to the age of ten, lack basic reading skills. Similarly, despite the improvement in Pupil Teacher Ratio (PTR) from 32 in 2009-10 to 24 in 2015-16, single teacher schools continue to be a major concern in rural parts of the country. Recent numbers point out that there are 97,273 single teacher schools in India, which account for about 8.8 percent of the total schools in the country. These obstacles don’t just lead to poor quality of education, but also contribute to high dropout rates in rural schools—nearly 50 percent by the age of fourteen.
The use of technology can help in mitigating aforementioned concerns. Education can be digitised in rural areas by providing multimedia teaching tools to teachers and engaging students through learning methods that utilise digital tools, such as smart-boards, LCD screens, videos, etc., to teach them different concepts. By making it possible for one teacher to deliver information remotely across several locations, interactive digital media will also help address the shortage of teachers in these schools. As of 2016, 9,07,585 posts for teachers are lying vacant in elementary schools and 1,06,906 posts in secondary schools.
Teachers in rural areas may face certain challenges, such as limited training in using digital tools, exposure to technology, and apprehension of new modes of teaching. Therefore, it is crucial to impart adequate technology training to teachers. This can be done by means of training programmes initiated by the government as well as by non-governmental organistaions (NGOs) and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) arms of corporates.
In rural areas, disinterest in studies accounts for 20.24 percent out of school children. Interactive learning facilitated by digitisation can make learning in classrooms interesting and, in turn, incentivise students to attend school regularly.
A crucial factor that needs to be looked into is the necessary infrastructural support in schools. The centre as well as all state governments are making concerted efforts in this direction. Under ‘E-Kranti’, one of the major pillars of Digital India, the government of India has collaborated with various telecom service providers to empower remote areas of the country with basic infrastructural set-up for internet services. However, more efforts are needed, since only 9 percent of rural India has access to the Internet.
In the Union Budget for 2018-19, the government’s focus has been towards improving the quality of education by integrating technology. It has allocated Rs 456 crore for digital education. The emphasis on the need to graduate from blackboards to digital boards signifies the role that technology must play in improving the quality of education. The role of NGOs in spreading digital education tools across Indian villages is also noteworthy. For instance, Pratham, in partnership with Vodafone Foundation India, has started the digital classroom initiative called “Learn, Out of the Box” to enhance teaching and learning in low-income schools using technology as the primary teaching tool. Similarly, e-Vidyaloka is a not-for-profit that aims to improve the quality of education in remote regions of India through digital classrooms. While NGOs are making efforts alongside the government in the field of digital education in rural India, the next logical step would be to bring resources of both entities together and implement these initiatives on a largescale to maximise the impact.
The collective efforts of the government, NGOs and CSR wings of corporates have begun to steer rural India towards achieving better and more effective use of digital tools. Though it is in its initial phase, this development is promising. Digital education for students in rural schools can bring them at par with students from urban areas and further universalisation of education, thus fostering India’s national interests.
The author is Director, PR, Planning and Advocacy – The Akshaya Patra Foundation