By Dr Monique Kamat – CEO, Narotam Sekhsaria Foundation
For the first time in history, on Budget Day, the Finance Minister of India was seen carrying a tablet kept inside a red cover with the national emblem embossed in golden color on it. Smt. Nirmala Sitharaman had replaced the ‘Bahi Khata’ with a tablet as the Union Budget this year took the digital route. The entire budget was thus presented from a smart device which reflects the pace at which we as a country are determined to form a digitized India. And amidst COVID, the education sector has been one such ground that has seen a 360-degree shift where technological intervention saw maximum penetration as the lockdown acted like a catalyst for the changing times we aspire for.
There are some noteworthy points that are crafted out carefully in the budget that are commendable while keeping in mind the education portfolio. More than 15,000 schools will be qualitatively strengthened to include all components of the National Education Policy. They shall emerge as exemplar schools in their regions, handholding, and mentoring other schools to achieve the ideals of the policy. In the previous year’s budget, Smt. Sitharaman had mentioned the setting-up of the Higher Education Commission of India. This year, there will be an introduction of legislation in a bid to implement the same. It will be an umbrella body having 4 separate vehicles for standard-setting, accreditation, regulation, and funding.
A National Digital Educational Architecture (NDEAR) will be set up within the context of a “Digital First” mindset where the digital architecture will not only support teaching and learning activities but also educational planning, governance, and administrative activities of the center, states and union territories. It will provide a diverse education eco-system architecture for the development of digital infrastructure, a federated but interoperable system that will ensure the autonomy of all stakeholders, especially all the states and union territories.
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 30 lakh elementary school teachers were trained digitally, and in 2021-22, the center will enable the training of 56 lakh school teachers through the National Initiative for School Heads and Teachers for Holistic Advancement (NISTHA). The COVID crisis has led to job losses, pay cuts, and switches in careers for individuals. While every dark cloud has a silver lining, the situation has given rise to an opportunity to one and all to step up the pedal and take the digital route ineffective communication. From web designing, programming languages to data analytics, a series of futuristic online courses have gained much steam in recent times as Ed-Tech companies have successfully gained a wider audience and acceptance.
In schools and colleges, teachers, as well as students, have adopted virtual methods of learning like fish to water. However, there have been certain new challenges that have emerged during this paradigm shift. A lot of teachers and students face difficulty in using multiple apps for different activities. And in a pursuit to ensure that this void is filled, NGOs like Narotam Sekhsaria Foundation are joining hands with tech players who are into the digital learning space to make this transition even more seamless. There are projects like “Project Ignite” which are poised to be instrumental to allow educational institutes to be able to adapt to a blended online and offline format with the help of virtual campus and Learning Management System (LMS) in order to streamline the virtual education system.
Adaptation to novel methods of learning is the only way forward and education institutes, Ed Tech companies, and NGOs have sensed that quite early. This comes at a time when teachers and students have to struggle using multiple apps for various activities right from attending the online lectures to submitting assignments and what is required at the moment is a holistic solution to create a single interface that helps in bringing everyone on one common platform and thus help to improve the overall ecosystem. With physical classrooms closed, technology will be the game-changer in the days to come. And in the Budget 2021-22, the same sentiment has been reiterated for the education sector in India.