A Blueprint for Smart Schools
Schools which support students' learning and thinking skills with programs, infrastructure, tools, teachers and management aided by information and communication technologies are Smart Schools.
In a Smart School, students are autonomous learners; they learn how to learn. Smart Schools enable children to acquire abilities of constructing knowledge from available information. These abilities are crucial to a learning society.
This paper is a blueprint for Smart Schools in India. It outlines various inputs that must go into the establishment of Smart Schools - readiness of the school and its management, changing role of the teacher and the need for teacher training, changes in curricular practices - including pedagogy and assessment and the necessary technological support. The task ahead is enormous but there is visible preparedness among possible supporting agencies.
The role of Information Technology (IT) in education, training and human resource development has been well recognized in the IT Action Plan of the Government of India. The Task Force on IT perceives information technology as a tool that has the power to transform the country into a prosperous and self-confident nation.
For the field of education, a promotional campaign, aptly named Operation Knowledge, proposes to universalize IT and IT-enabled education as a tool for processing and assimilating knowledge. This is a comprehensive approach for integration of technology into the classroom and further into the entire educational process.
The Smart School initiative is a significant component in the IT Action Plan (1998) for making the school system relevant to the changing nature of tomorrow's workplace, which will increasingly use information and communication technologies.
In the wake of recent developments in IT and communication technologies, Smart Schools have been established in a number of countries (Maheshwari, 1998). These schools operate on the premise that all students have the ability to learn and progress, which can be enhanced by using appropriate learning technologies. Computers, the Internet and other high band communication technology such as video-conferencing have been effectively used by Smart Schools for enhancing the learning of students.
In sharp contrast to traditional schools, Smart Schools offer an open environment for learning. Students function as autonomous learners. In a Smart School, the emphasis of learning shifts from acquiring discrete pieces of information to acquiring abilities by students such as constructing their own knowledge from information.
Why is this shift in the schooling process required? Because with advancements in science and technology, the world of work is changing and so are occupations. New skills are required to cope with these changes in the workplace. Each person, therefore, should have the ability to continuously update his or her skills and knowledge. To survive professionally in this fast changing world, one has to be a lifelong learner. Learning how to learn, therefore, is basic to all other skills that should be acquired at the school. Schools which support students' learning and thinking skills with programs, infrastructure, tools, teachers and management by using information and communication technologies will be the Smart Schools.
Different countries have different visions of Smart Schools but their mission goals are similar. This paper presents a blueprint for Smart Schools in India.
IT in Schools: General Expectations
Information technology embodies processes, applications and equipment by which information can be accessed, created, communicated, organized, analyzed or presented.
IT-enriched schooling ensures that children are IT-literate and that learning technologies are integrated into the schooling process. Children benefit from this integration as they develop skills of (a) performing specific functions using information technology and (b) using the global network for communicating and for collecting and organizing information obtained from the world wide sources and using it in the curricular context.
The Smart Schools Concept
The concept of Smart Schools is to be seen from the above perspective. With access to the state-of-the-art information and communication technologies, Smart Schools will provide a learning environment where the pupils will develop the ability to construct their own knowledge. All pupils have this ability. It can be enhanced by the use of computers, the Internet and other learning technologies.
Smart Schools shall function on the premise that learning how to learn is the ultimate skill (Learning : The Treasure Within, UNESCO, 1996). Pupils in Smart Schools will be autonomous learners and learn how to learn. This skill will be crucial to a learning society. Learning in Smart Schools will redefine the content, process and outcome of schooling. Students, teachers and the school management in each Smart School will be totally committed to the above concept.
The teacher's role in a Smart School shall be that of a navigator who will provide pupils with learning maps to chart out their learning paths. Learning will take place as pupils think, solve problems and make decisions through collaborative efforts.
The aims of the Smart Schools will be to promote balanced development, help integrate knowledge, skills and values, enable multidisciplinary, thematic and continuous learning and help acquire competencies to cope with the Information Age.
Some basic skills will be common among all children in a Smart School. Beyond those, learning experiences in these schools shall be graded. A set of suggested grade wise activities and the resulting experiences and abilities are presented.
With access to the state-of-the-art IT facilities, children at the primary stage will be involved in a range of interactive activities and will
Students will acquire at this stage the ability to
For primary school children, computer laboratories should have specially made furniture suitable for small children working on computers.
Upper primary and middle school
Learning will continue to be around traditional school subjects, but relevant innovative practices will be introduced for children to
Pupils will acquire skills to
In addition to being assessed by their teachers, secondary school children also write public examinations. Therefore, they will use for their learning both on-line and off-line resources for learning concepts relevant to the curriculum. The ability to access and process information will be the desirable skill that students will acquire. They will be able to
It is important to note that Internet materials can be adult-oriented. Therefore, effective blocks have to be put on inappropriate sites so that pupils cannot access them.
The role of the teacher
The role of the teacher in the Smart School has to be necessarily different from the traditional role. All Smart School teachers will
The school as a whole will undergo changes in order to support the new practices. It will
The schooling process in the Smart School will
Smart Schools will support and nurture the individuality of each learner. Each student will develop his/her own learning style. It is imperative, therefore, that the learning outcome of all students in a class cannot be assessed by a common tool or a testing instrument. The mechanism of assessment has to be such that
This scheme of assessment, because of its in-built flexibility, will reduce stress on students and help them in using the outcome of assessment in improving their learning.
Smart Schools are 'wired' schools where classrooms, laboratories and offices are equipped with IT facilities. For each school stage, i.e. primary, middle and secondary stage, IT facilities should have the following basic components
Establishment of three laboratories with the above equipment is an expensive proposition. The more recent development in the hardware technology in the form of thin client intelligent terminals will reduce expenditure considerably.
Apart from the laboratory facilities for students, there will be a local area network connecting the students' laboratory, the teachers and the Principal's office. Ideally, there should be one terminal for each teacher. But to start with, there can be one terminal for two teachers. The Principal's office will be connected to the administrative offices.
Outcome of Smart Schooling
The skills and abilities that IT-rich environment promotes can bring about change in the teaching-learning process. Research says those learning technologies in general
In the environment of Smart Schools, these skills and abilities will lead to a perceptible shift from
Imperatives for teachers
The most crucial factor in implementing and maintaining any innovation in the school is the teacher. Smart School teachers will require training so that they are
The range of exemplar student activities listed above indicates the expertise required of teachers for making those activities realizable in the classroom. Teachers teaching at different stages of schooling should acquire specific IT skills that are relevant to their students' learning at that stage.
If some of the existing schools are to be converted into Smart Schools, it will be crucial to train their teachers in the IT skills relevant to the learning activities in the concerned stage that they handle in the school. Appropriate in-service courses will be designed for the induction training and periodic recurrent training.
In the pre-service courses, a core course on IT literacy and methodology courses for using IT as a tool relevant to the learning of the students in each stage will have to be designed immediately and teacher educators will have to be supported for teaching the IT course.
Managing Smart Schools
Each Smart School will need a full time Technical Manager. Procurement and management of resources and providing continuous technical support to teachers will be the responsibility of the Technical Manager. The Manager will also assist the Principal in planning, deploying and enhancement of IT and media resources.
The management policy for Smart Schools will be consistent with the Smart School concept. IT will be used in carrying out the administrative as well as academic functions of the school. Teachers will use computers for assessment, maintenance of performance records of students and interaction with parents. The entire administrative staff will use IT for storage, management and retrieval of information.
The Task Ahead
Considerable amount of preparatory work is to be done by several agencies, together, before Smart Schools make a start. There are a number of recognizable tasks ahead. Standardization of hardware and software for these schools is one. Pre-service courses may have to be attuned to the skills required of a Smart School teacher. Therefore, IT skills have to be suitably integrated into the teacher education curriculum. Appropriate training modules for in-service teacher and induction level training are to be developed. Implementation of the Smart School program as per the blueprint will require development of learning activities using learning technologies and appropriate pedagogy for autonomous learning. Processes of computer-assisted assessment, digitized maintenance of performance records and their accessibility to parents are to be adopted. The responsibility for development of navigational maps on the World Wide Web and multimedia learning materials on school subjects will also have to be taken up.
There is a perceptible readiness amongst various sectors to support and take part in the Smart Schools initiative. The process can rely upon support from individuals and private enterprises that have shown remarkable willingness to participate. There is an existing base of trained manpower among educators. A number of schools have already adopted IT-based learning materials and methods and are making use of the global network for accessing learning resources. Time is now to start our own Smart Schools.