Prof. Amarendra P. Behera, Joint Director of the Central Institute of Educational Technology (CIET) of the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) of India visited Sri Lanka recently to participate in the South Asia Regional Symposium on Information and Communications Technology (ICT) for Education 2018. During his visit Prof. Behera spoke to the Daily Mirror on the growing importance of ICT and expressed India’s willingness to assist Sri Lanka in its endeavours to utilize ICT in the field of education.
Q What is the role of technology in the education sector?
Technology has a great role to play in education, starting from the teaching-learning process itself. Information and Communications Technology (ICT) can unburden children from the heavy curriculum and make the teaching-learning experience more interactive, more enduring, and more experiential.
I can’t see how a bud blossoms into a flower with my naked eye. But if we video every fraction of a second then we can show the child how it happens. Environmentalists campaigning for a sustainable environment object to the dissection of frogs. In that case children need to know how to do it. So they can watch and learn through virtual dissection.
Training teachers is also a challenge. We can train teachers using ICT. We can have a cumulative assessment of children and store the results. So data gathering, data storing, data retrieval becomes easy and instant. If a child is comparatively a slow learner the teacher can give some special classes, some special resources for the child. For instance, if I am a blind child, I cannot read a book. It has to be either in Braille or someone has to read it to me. So I can design talking books for visually impaired children.
Q To what extent has ICT been used in the education sector in India?
In India there are two important schemes running in the school education sector. One is the CAL programme which is a computer assisted learning programme. As part of that programme 50 lakhs(INR) is spent on each district annually to provide ICT in schools.
Similarly, we have the ICT @ Schools Schemes for secondary and senior secondary schools. This was launched in 2004. As part of that scheme each school should have a computer lab with a minimum of 10 computers, 2 MB/S internet connectivity, and training is provided to the teachers. Almost 50% of schools in India are covered by this scheme. The government of India has also created digital content through many agencies. Children can access the digital content through web portals, mobile apps, tablets, laptops etc.
- The child should also develop creativity so that the child can approach the content in multiple ways
- India is happy to provide any support to develop educational portal to facilitate the teaching-learning process in Sri Lanka
Q Have any surveys been carried out to assess whether there has been an improvement in the competence of students after introducing ICT?
Many surveys have been done and the result has been a mixed one. Infrastructure is provided, but the availability of internet is a challenge due to power cuts. If the connection is 2Mbps, downloading content becomes problematic.
Q Recently a program to provide A/L students with tabs was suspended in Sri Lanka. In a country like Sri Lanka- a developing country like India- where we talk of the lack of basic facilities in rural schools, do you think a program of this nature could actually benefit students?
ICT is a reality and it is going to stay for many years. Children need to master the 21st century skills. The child should have full blown language skills, be it Sinhala, Tamil or any other language. The child should also develop critical thinking. He or she must question everything.
The child should also develop creativity so that the child can approach the content in multiple ways. When we talk of creativity we speak of fluency, flexibility and originality. If the child has done a project on tsunami using ICT or watched 20 to 30 videos on it, and one day the child sees a change in tide, he or she can predict that a tsunami is on its way. The child can then warn others. That way children save many lives. So we have to develop critical thinking, problem solving and communication skills which are 21st century skills. ICT is required to develop these skills. Developing critical thinking, for instance, means you need to gather information on many things.
Q Do you suggest that each student should have a tab?
Ideally, every child in a class should have a laptop or tab. Tabs are now not very costly.
Q The TAB programme in Sri Lanka is also said to cost around Rs. 4 billion and that was one of the reasons as to why the programme was suspended. What are the cost-effective methods by which ICT can be incorporated into the education system?
We advocate for each child to have a tab so that it will be a personalized learning experience for the child. Under the ICT @ schools scheme funds are provided by the Government of India to all the states.
Implementation of all the parameters of any project is vested with the states. Some are prompt in implementation and some take more time for implementation. It is the prerogative of the state to decide on the gadget. The Government of India has an open plan. States can provide laptops, desktops and tablets. For instance, suppose there are some remote schools. They might say it is difficult to maintain tabs. So they can opt for desktops.
Q So the government has to provide financial support and also have to fulfil basic necessities in schools. How do you strike a balance here because sometimes the best schools would get all the resources while rural schools, for instance, would be left behind?
Whenever the government plans something, it is for all the schools because equity, equality and quality are equally important to the Government. So it’s not a case of the best school or worst school. Whenever the Government plans it provides basic amenities to all the schools.
Q In practice do rural schools also benefit from this programme?
In practice it depends on the promptness of the system - how quickly they do it. Suppose it is a remote school. It will be difficult to find a supplier who can provide infrastructure and maintain them. So it is not a problem of the school or the government. It is a problem in the system.
Q How could India assist Sri Lanka in revolutionizing the education sector with the use of technology?
Sri Lanka is a SAARC country. It is a close neighbour of India. We would be happy to provide any support related to developing an educational portal to facilitate the teaching-learning process in Sri Lanka. We can help in digitizing text books in Sri Lanka. The National Institute of Education (NIE) in Sri Lanka is the agency to develop the syllabi and textbooks. We can help them. If the Government of Sri Lanka requests support we would be happy to support.
Pics by Waruna Wanniarachchi