The best way to create value in the 21st century is to connect creativity with technology. – Steve Jobs
I admit that my four and a half year old son is all the time busy on iPad or Apple TV. More often for games but also for songs and videos. He is the fastest car racer I know, sometimes even better than his father. Whenever I ask him to study, he would bring his iPad saying – “Main isse padhunga”. I also don’t stop him and give him all the supportive apps and internet based websites to learn what he should know at his age. This is a personal example to demonstrate the education scenario of coming years. This is a race of digital learning. We don’t want our kids to be left behind. So, we give them the best available technologies. Whatever features a child gets via these electronic devices, he needs someone to guide, explain and customize things according to him. That needs to be a human, and not a robot, to understand his feelings and make him comfortable while studying. My paper would study in detail about the prospects of Digital Learning with and without Physical presence.
I would like to start my paper with an example from a 2015 Hollywood Film – Ex Machina. It is a film on Artificial Intelligence (AI) coming into picture and haunting us around.
The film is all about a programmer who is invited by his CEO to administer the Turing test to an intelligent humanoid robot ‘Ava’. Unexpectedly and unimaginably in the end, Ava escapes to the outside world like a living woman leaving the human beings trapped in the isolated home.
In this film an AI crosses intelligence limits of a human and finally outsmarts a human being. It is an upcoming instance in life when a blurred line between human life and its imitations would be crossed. No doubt, it forces us to look forward for a world full of AI.
There is a huge debate over success and failure of AI. This debate would continue for some more years as it would take time to bring it to reality. But, for the time being let’s imagine a world of robots around us assisting in almost everything. They would be somewhat like ‘Aladin ka Chirag’ which when rubbed would ask ‘Kya Hukum hai mere Aaka?’ And all our wishes would come true.
We recite such stories to our kids and feel proud of our imagination. Similarly, many tech-savvy people believe and are trying their best to convince the world that robots can conquer us. Off course, things have grown over the past few years, and if they continue on the same pace, we in our lifetime, would witness the drastic positive change in the technical arena.
There are many examples around us which say artificial intelligence is going to cover up for all our misdeeds. But, Artificial Intelligence is self intelligent to handle human beings. The living creatures on our Planet are still in dilemma of surrendering before Artificial Intelligence or giving it a tough fight ? Most ugly part is, these things might go out of our control or we might struggle to control them.
The answer needs to be explored, because this artificial intelligence would have to compete with the intelligence of our children. If we want our children to compete with this upcoming technological giant, we have to prepare them accordingly. For the paper I would come to a smaller level of technological advancement as compared to AI.
I, myself, belong to a generation which has seen technology entering the space, upgrading every now and then, sometimes diminish and sometimes flourish. Just compare the computers, smartphones, tablets, television, cameras, social networking via parties to Facebook and twitter… and so on… From floppy disks to flash drives and from CDs to DVDs to Internet TV for infotainment needs. Everything around is comfortable and refreshing.
With this, I would take you to my living room. My Laptop, iPad, Smartphone, Internet and Smart Television, I mean my small intelligent yet dependent world. I call it dependent as all our works would be done on a click or on a command. There are apps available which control my lights, or reads messages and mails for me, reminds me about an event in my calendar or my next appointment, helps me with switching on my Car AC beforetime, etc. The list is endless and revising itself every day. That’s how it is in my control. This feeling of control excites every human beings.
Education and Technological interference
When it comes to education sector, the picture has changed from the time we were in school to the time our kids are going to school. Imparting education has been made simple and at the same time interesting. You ask your child to study with a pencil and eraser, he would hesitate and make excuses. At the same time, he would enjoy learning rhymes or solving maths problems or decoding scientific theories with the help of a gadget (computer, tablet, smartphone etc). Believe it or not, this is a tried and tested formula.
Use of technology in education is a trend we are witnessing for quite some time now. No more homework in writing, just an upload on the website for the kid to download, print and fill the answers. Also, Video lectures are coming into picture. Now your kid doesn’t need to roam around for school, tuitions or professional courses. Many institutes are even coming up with apps which you just need to download on your phone or tablet and get going.
But is it actually that simple, as it sounds ? Have you even tried these apps? Don’t you feel a need for someone to actually explain you at least once about how to use it ? Where to go in the app in search of your relevant information ? What to do and what not to do ? e-Learning is future but with or without a teacher ?
The role of teachers has also changed over the years. Teachers have transformed from being ‘Guru’ to Tech’Guru’. Teachers are no more simply distributing knowledge rather they now impart skills and attributes as well. They not only give lectures and turn their back to students, they are also informing and educating students about the latest and the most accurate. They incorporate modern education technologies like online assignments, video lectures, learning via apps and hi-tech classrooms.
From my personal experience, I know, these innovative measures help students a lot to pay more attention in studies and learning. Also, it is helpful for the introvert as well and extrovert students to participate in class discussions and lectures. All you need for this is a good internet connection and a gadget. Rest all is history.
There is nothing complicated in this. Just like you need to be on field with gloves, pads, bat and ball to learn cricket and practice it over time, you must have a computer and various programmes on computer to learn them, similarly for the next level of learning, we must have the next level of technology in our kitty.
Digital learning has trickled in our system with time and it’s entering our veins slowly and steadily. This digital learning is our fate. We have accepted the transformation by heart, now next step is to inject it in the generations to come. There is a huge potential for educators in India to leverage the missing link between teachers and their students – and bridge the digital divide with a Class teacher.
Biggest problem is who should have the control ? Rather, Who should have the remote control – the Teacher or the Technology. Both ’T’s are equally important. It is difficult for technology to replace teachers and Teachers to replace technology. Another aspect to see this is that teachers are no more in their traditional profile, they are actually the facilitators. Their duty is just to guide and support the students in their learning tasks.
These students are now bored of computers, they are looking forward for their personal laptops, tablets or smartphones. Among these, they prefer to buy a smartphone, which is a multipurpose device for them, as compared to any other device. And why not, these smartphones are their laptops, their mobile phone, their radio and television as well. Thanks to the app producing world, which has made it possible.
Before quoting examples of these internet based education system, let me quote here 2016 data which shows that – India is now the third largest online market for education in the world. This enables people to take better advantage of the resources available online. We have more than 1 million registered schools and 18,000 higher education institutions. However, 4 percent of children never start school, 58 percent don’t complete primary schools, 90 percent don’t complete secondary school and only 10 percent go on to college. What is going to happen to the 90 percent?
For the remaining percentage of population of students, major names in the education industry are coming up with their portals and apps. This is the need of the hour, and they have upgraded themselves with time. For example – the famous ‘Khan academy’ is a portal based teaching institution which has audio-video lectures on its website for almost all subjects and categories.
iTunes U is a vast learning resource offering free educational content. It is a dedicated section for educational audio and video files from universities, museums and public media organisations for free download from computer and mobile devices. Another example is Udemy, an online learning and teaching marketplace. It is for the educated adults, who want to add new skills or explore their passions.
Coursera and Lynda are also working for imparting education digitally. If you look for educational apps in app store, you would find classification of apps and variety of learning mechanisms according to the need and aspirations of the students.
1. The need for Teachers would end with Information and Communication Technology flourishing in the 21st century ?
2. How the need of expressions while dealing with the children/students can be fulfilled with a machine (Robots/Apps)?
3. With technology prevailing in the current education system, would there be a universal approach towards technology usage in times to come ?aa
4. Would ever Artificial intelligence replace human beings specifically in education sector ?
5. Educators of the 21st century would be able to address the challenges that Technology is going to bring up in coming years ?
Students and their quest for knowledge
The students today are in a hurry of learning everything in no time. They desire to be independent at a very early age. They don’t want their elders to question them or suggest them anything. But if you are tech savvy and talk to them in their own hi-tech language, they would not only enjoy your company but also allow your suggestions and demands.
The students today, are the modern learners. They are actually unaware of the times when one had to struggle for best of education and knowledge. Studying under lamp posts or under a candle is just like a tale for them. They know reading in absence of electricity (for a few hours in a day) with the help of their gadgets which are already charged to full battery.
These children/students are that part of the population which are not only more wired but also grew up in a techno drenched atmosphere. They have all the latest technologies and gadgets at their disposal, be it phones, laptops, tablets etc. Similarly, Teachers today are no more just a teacher talking to a bunch of students. They need to be more tech-savvy and at the same time, understand their students and their style of learning.
Moreover, these students are very much into knowing every thing to the deepest. I have seen this trend in every student I have come across during my teaching tenure. They have questions to ask and then arguments to understand the answer. While teaching, even I had supplemented my lectures with iPads and smartphones. My experience would be a generalised experience of many of you reading this paper.
The students not only like the technical supplements but also want to be a part of the hi-tech teaching and notes. In class, with iPad, I found more students paying attention to my lecture and were even trying to use their smartphones to reply to my questions. Also it’s easy to show them presentations and videos for reference.
I even want to add that in one of my classes for Bachelor of Journalism students, when I asked them – If they ever thought of learning more from the Internet than from me, their teacher ? In a class of 28 student majority of them did not agree to this fact. But being their teacher I always knew that in the coming years, these students would be professionals, but the new ones entering the academic scenario would have to face the challenge.
There can be an argument – If these gadgets reduce their attentive learning and divert the attention of the students from the topic being taught. Sometimes, yes, but for a better learning and keeping oneself up-to-date, we have to overcome these speculations.
Also classrooms which provide gadget support for the students can excel better as compared to students with teachers giving lectures from books or notes. Interest is the key to learning, learning is the key to knowledge and knowledge is the key for future. So, we need to understand and accept the need of technical back up for the students as well as for the teachers.
No doubt, teachers need to advance themselves with the latest technology to survive in this digital era. Digital learning is not only for students, but also for the teachers. It’s very well said – Technology won’t replace teachers, rather teachers who use technology will probably replace teachers who do not.
Moreover, technology allows boring lectures to become interesting. Just like solving puzzles or playing sudoku, we can even plan coursework based on games and fun. A quiz based learning process for subjects like maths and science, Social studies or English or Hindi can be more of story-telling types, Maths can be just like playing number games with students in the classroom.
Trust me, this is possible with or without the technical support. With technical support, this becomes easier and trendy. Without technical support, the education in the classroom demands more attention and efforts to keep the students mind in the classroom. Activity based learning can make your students – Jack of all and Master of all too.
Internet would supplement the need for teacher in a student’s life ?
गुरुर्ब्रह्मा गुरुर्विष्णुर्गुरुर्देवो महेश्वरः ।
गुरुरेव परं ब्रह्म तस्मै श्रीगुरवे नमः ॥१॥
Gurur-Brahmaa Gurur-Vissnnur-Gururdevo Maheshvarah |
Gurure-va Param Brahma Tasmai Shrii-Gurave Namah ||1||
The Guru is Brahma, the Guru is Vishnu, the Guru Deva is Maheswara (Shiva),
The Guru is Verily the Para-Brahman (Supreme Brahman); Salutations to that Guru.
And today, Guru is also Internet and Technology.
Guru is a Sanskrit term that connotes someone who is a “teacher, guide, expert, or master” of certain knowledge or field. The above shloka explains how a teacher/guru is worshipped in Indian culture. The Guru-Shishya paprampara evolved in the early oral traditions of the Upanishads. Best example of this tradition is the relationship between Krishna and Arjuna in the Bhagvad Gita portion of Mahabharata and between Rama and Hanuman in the Ramayana.
Now try to replace Krishna and Rama with the internet version. How does it feel ? Take a moment to think about the dialogues/conversations between a robotic Krishna and Arjuna or a robotic Rama and hanuman. The conversation with the machine would miss the personal touch. Same would be the case with education without teacher, which would lack personal touch.
Similarly at times it is difficult to remember aarti and puja procedures. Internet has changed he way of doing puja and aarti which are now dependent on audio files or videos available over the Internet. Just click your keypads and search for whatever you want. An app can solve the tension of remembering all shlokas. We listen to Bhagavad Gita on Internet just like listening to Osho over the YouTube channel. We watch these series with the help of Internet TV and gain the knowledge and wisdom of the mythological powers.
But don’t you think, the stories of Ramayana and Mahabharata were better understood and analysed when they were recited by our grandparents (dadi and nani) ? Or isn’t it better that we ourselves do the puja and aarti when the ladies in the house sing the aarti and the males try to remember the same rhyming with them. The closeness and oneness is missing in the technological world.
Obviously, Internet is the latest adventure for an aspiring to be technical society like ours. Internet is an umbrella, under which almost everything which has a technical aspect can come under. Whether you talk about an app or a website, everything is made very easy with this super creation. But, we need to assess the Internet in terms of education provider or education facilitator. Can it ever replace a teacher ?
From the mythological example, I believe the answer is a big ‘NO’. Teachers have to exist simultaneously, even if you call him/her a facilitator. With the technological developments being welcomed by our society, teachers can’t be replaced, rather they can be updated with the latest technical support available in the market.
When students of various universities and streams were informally asked to choose between the teacher and the internet, we had very critical and at the same time complimentary responses. College students are more than happy about teachers being replaced by the Internet. Although, some of them were super intelligent in my calculation, because they straight forward asked – Internet would easily come to know from where we have done our assignments ? Like copied and pasted it from the internet, where as teachers believe us even if we managed our assignments from the websites.
School students (between class 6th to class 12th) were amazed by the idea and were looking forward to it, but at the same time could not resist their feelings of being without the presence and support of teachers and parents. They unanimously said – Can’t we get both at the same time ? My answer to them was a ‘yes’ because I firmly believe in the concept of Digital education with physical presence.
Where as the very young students (from class 1st to class 5th) liked the idea and were asking us if we are giving them this opportunity right away. Many of these small kids are very much aware of the iPad apps about Digital learning. They are very much into playing games and listening to music on their parents smartphone or Smart TV. So, studying via such entertaining methods, actually fascinated them.
This was a very informal interview, where these students were not told of being a part of this research topic and paper. Many of these students were known to me. On an average, 50 students from each group were talked and informally interviewed about their views on ‘Robots and Apps vs Smart Humans’.
On the other hand, Teachers were a bit disappointed with the offer of internet replacing the teachers from the class rooms. No data was recorded, rather an informal and emotional discussion with them was done. When asked how does it feel to hear that – The teacher would no more be called with the same name, he/she might be referred to as ‘facilitator’. One of the teacher with heavy voice told me – “Will I be replaced by a machine ? We used to be appreciated as experts in our fields. Teacher is something we have been called for our lifetime, and now a new name facilitator”. Another teacher liked the idea of advent of internet in the teaching arena but was convinced with the thought that, physical presence of a teacher is needed even if whole of the lessons and lectures are digitised.
A number of teachers have already incorporated Digital classes and technical support in their study curriculum. These are actually smart teachers, who are upgrading themselves with time and need. Undoubtedly, they are going to survive and would win this race of digital education, which is actually not possible without a teacher, rather a facilitator.
Teachers even raised issues like we can teach them via internet, but course curriculum needs to be available on the internet. For example NCERT is the basic material provider for schools. Before schools go online, NCERT has to go online with all its study material for all the classes. Same applies to boards as well.
Talking to experts on the issue, they are very positive about the education scenario in India in times to come. One of the senior educationist and media person claimed that in times to come, Education based company is going to be the largest company on the internet in next 20 years. The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step… and the journey has to be travelled no matter how bad the roads and accommodations are.
After a long discussion on Digital education, let’s face the fact – If we are ready for the digital transformation as yet. What is the ground reality, when it comes to digital revolution with the help of information and communication technology. With my experience of teaching and being with the media and academic practitioners, we believe future of education in India is uncertain, but encouraging.
- First and the most basic challenge before Digitised education is to improve literacy rate.
- Second big problem with our education system is lack of universalisation of elementary education.
- Third issue is with the quality of education given to the aspiring students.
- Low rates of enrolment in educational institutions is another hurdle to be worked on.
- Next issue is with the poor quality of infrastructure and lack of relevance.
- Another challenge that confronts India is in the disparities in access to education. IGNOU tries to overcome this challenge but others also need to come forward.
- Teachers worry about digital divides, though they are split about the impact of digital tools on their students
- The expansion of the private, self-financing education sector, with its aim of commercial intent, is another obstacle on its way.
- Digitisation would take time for sure. But it would come with a barrier of the language in which most of the information is available on the Internet.
- Another important aspect is to examine whether the presence of computer and internet has transformed and reshape the practice of teaching.
Future of Education Sector
Almost 3 decades ago, we got our first computers and now we are heading towards our first own robots. In my lifetime, I am expecting to see full fledged robots in my kitchen making tea or in my living room assisting me in serving the guests or in my study, helping my son to finish his homework.
Next avenue is – What would be the role of robots in education or in that way in schools and colleges ? In between all this, our education system has travelled a long way. From ‘Guru’kul to ‘Tech’kul… which completely inspires us to move on. The education sector in Asian countries has witnessed a massive growth in terms of the number of institutes and students in the past few decades.
When it comes to centuries, Change has been enormous. Online learning has a bright future because, today it is very easy for anybody to set up a website and start teaching. From companies to individuals, anybody can put anything on their website which is easily accessible for the aspiring students. They can even deliver them study material direct to computers or mobile devices worldwide.
Off course one needs basic training in computers and proper operation of latest technologies. One also needs literacy skills to communicate effectively on the Internet. Apps give you chance to learn while being cozy in your sofa or travelling in public transport and at the same time App development is a career opportunity.
Another aspect not touched till now in the paper is the economic angle to the story. Use of internet is quite hefty on pocket. It is a not a big deal to own an internet connection but to have a fast internet connection is like winning a war with the system. The rush of 2G to 3G to 4G would continue for long and its availability in all parts of India will be under scanner. In the case of the Internet, there are also access and connectivity costs to consider.
Digital education is definitely pushing India closer to attain its education goals. Information and Communication technologies have given more and cheaper opportunities of imparting education as well. Like Social media or blogging or non-professional information sources. Have you ever used Facebook as a learning tool for your children ?
Edupreneurs, a term used for entrepreneurs in the education sector, can definitely incorporate the use of best-in-class content, real-time learning and feedback methods, and personalised instructions. Encouraging online learning, that too via social networking sites can lead to live and interactive learning techniques in the digital format. It would also aid in receiving quality education in the physically bound classrooms.
Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) is known for it’s distance learning courses. But, to substantiate my topic I would like to bring to your notice that even IGNOU has to support it’s distance learning initiative with regional centres and professors assisting students from time to time. It is completely based on the need of the subject, the course and the student.
Without going into much details of the university vision and mission, here, I am only talking about it’s style of education which involves physical presence of the seniors. I have been in conversation with some of the students from various disciplines in IGNOU, students believe that IGNOU behaves less as a distance education institute and more like regular college in terms of mandatory attendance and assignments..
As it’s generally said – ‘From the horses mouth’, I have collected version of students of IGNOU who proudly admit that – “The course curriculum of IGNOU is very good and very well-organised which helps to learn things easily and in a proper way.” Another student says – “The faculty members are well-qualified and knowledgeable in all the study centres of IGNOU. They conduct lectures on Sunday only so we can do our job easily. They provide their own printed material, so there is no need to buy books from outside.”
Now imagine, a university with such a great reputation among it’s students can excel if it comes up with an app or internet based learning. IGNOU already has http://egyankosh.ac.in. It is an online learning website where you can easily access the study material just by making your login. It has almost all of its data uploaded on the website and accessible for the students at just a few clicks. It has a broadcast section, a video archive and online journal portal as well.
Being one of the best open universities of the world, IGNOU has always been a pride for the country. It has worked hard in making digital learning available to its students, but it needs to work more in this area. Specially, there is a need for an app based learning for the prestigious university. There are a number of apps under the name of IGNOU, but best one is yet to come. Via the available apps, people in the name of IGNOU are offering previous years question papers and for study material the app directs to the website. This is fair enough, but today everything should be on app. A lot has been done and a lot needs to be done to make such a big university totally available via internet.
In this era of Information and Communication Technology, Distance learning can be made easier with Digital learning. With the changing time, culture and generations greater emphasis is being laid on integration of technology with education. From conventional methods to the modern ones, the distance learning needs to be transformed completely along with the technical support services. This is the right time for the educational institutions to focus on adopting latest Information and Communication technology based methods to reach out to the learners in the most effective way available.
Off course there would be challenges ahead waiting to be resolved, but that would be possible only if we keep on walking at the right path. Need of the hour is to formulate strategies for the implementation of Information and Communication technologies based quality educational opportunities. This has Government of India’s Digital India initiative as its backbone.
Being a media person by profession and by heart, I would like to relate this digital teaching (absent teachers) with news presentation (absent anchors). I would refer to one of the apps made by Reuters, which asks you about how much time you have for the news updates. Whatever time you choose, the app designs and customises news updates for you. For example – If you have only 10 minutes, the app would give you snippets of the major developments of the day and if you choose 30 minutes, the app would give you detailed account of big developments mixed with some short news items.
Now, I would like to suggest Digital learning at our disposal but only after proper guidance and support of our parents/teachers. We understand, it’s difficult for a child to decide on his/her own about his needs and importance of a particular subject for his exam. In higher studies also, there should be a suggesting body available around, to guide and support the student’s exploration. Moreover, it is not necessary that any two students are at the same time interested in solving maths equations or interested in decoding science theories. They would love to do it, but when they would feel like. The apps or online learning provides this facility.
Thus, another vote for Digital learning. Digital education somehow, means, apps and websites for teaching assistance. The creator of this app or the man/woman behind the scene is also an academician or a technically sound person. Now he/she is also a part of the physical presence that I have been advocating continuously in my paper. I prefer a teacher has central role and not peripheral. But this centre can be a back seat. I mean, teacher can be behind an app involved in app making and designing according to the age groups.
If you visit the app store, and discover the education category, you would find specific apps for nursery, primary, secondary classes along with references, school toolkit or learning with fun. All these sections have apps made as per specifications of that age group. Like we feel that a nursery kid cannot himself/herself choose what app is good for him/her or where to go in a particular app to explore and learn.
Here is the twist in the tale. These apps are designed in such a way that they themselves guide the user how to use it and where to go in the app ? For example, my four and half year old kid understands with the help of direction buttons and indicators how to use the app. He sometimes helps me with the exploration when we are sitting together using his iPad. Yes, at times I need to be present physically with him.
Similarly for higher classes, we have to be there to scold them, which is like spice in the relationship of parents/kids and teachers/students respectively. The apps themselves are enough to guide you to your desired destination. But not to forget, the app is guiding you because some teacher has designed it according to your convenience and demands.
That’s why I suggest that teachers need to be digitally sound and correct. Not only to be digitally active in the classrooms but also digitally reactive behind the scenes. Introduction to new technologies is not only a challenge for the students but also for the existing and upcoming teachers. These technologies off course, replace some things that teachers do. Thus, the teachers need to take new and better duties and responsibilities. One of these is – To be a robot when needed or an app when required while being a human being.
Teachers who are updating themselves to the new versions would survive in the race for long as compared to teachers who still perform in the traditional yet unique style. Yes, every teacher has his/her distinctive technique to make the students learn. This is one thing that would be missed in the coming years.
Teacher can make boring lectures interesting with the help of digital support, Teacher can come down to the level of students and so are better than computers. Teachers not only teach their subjects but also social skills. Technology can overcome the absence of teachers but the personal touch of a teacher can never be felt with the help of a machine.
Another issue on the way is how we would know if the needs of the student is met or not ? With teachers it’s easy as they would ask questions and solutions by the students would get them likes and dislikes. In apps also, you have options for continuous evaluation. Regular tests and when you pass the first test, you are allowed to enter the second phase of learning.
Only a teacher can think it this way, thanks to all the teachers around who have taught us in the previous years and are ready to face the digital challenge in the years to come. Those who argue against the digital revolution must understand that future would become present whether they like it or not. It is better to accept it in time and start working towards achieving new goals under new circumstances.
Major issue in the coming times with the exploration of ICT in so much details, is of credibility. Anything can be made available on the internet and forging is not a big deal. So credible sources and it’s availability is going to be the next hurdle in the digital race.
Also there is issue of authenticity about the content on the internet. Whether it is correct and up to date or not. Spending time in front of faceless computers or smartphones and exposed to unregulated material is not the right path. This challenge need to be accepted and worked on. In times to come, these technological advancements and the future of education is going to be secondary. Main issue would be inefficiency in the policies of government education in india. Internet would give you information and provide you with all the basic knowledge but credibility or authenticity is a big issue.
Some of these challenges if worked on with full attention, those days are not far off when we ourselves would witness schools without teachers or students getting all the love and support from the apps made by the teachers. So, teacher with all the technical knowledge would be the best educator in the 21st century.
This research paper was presented at
‘National Seminar on ICT support for Inclusive Digital Learning’,
IGNOU, 21-22 April, 2017