A Programme for Making Education in India Relevant to an Information Age


The School System in India

Bringing Learners Together

The Project

The Competencies

Discovering India


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Telecommunication via geostationary satellites and the worldwide network of computers have made the world a global village. Real time electronic communication between any two computers connected to the network, irrespective of their spatial separation, can be realised using the Internet. This is possible because the electromagnetic signals move in the network with the speed of light. Unlike the cost of travel, which is directly related to the physical distance between the starting point and the destination, the cost of electronic communication is independent of it. The Internet has thus shrunk the world in both space and time and made the concept of national frontiers as notional as the boundary lines drawn on a globe.

In a village, the education of children in addition to being the prerogative of the parents is a community responsibility, because children grow up together. Likewise in the present context, education of children who now live in a global village may have to be viewed with a broader perspective than as isolated national concerns. This Symposium, appropriately called " Growing Up Together ", therefore, is not only topical but is a challenge to the galaxy of educators attending it, for they are expected to evolve a regional perspective. Only with a regional perspective of education that cuts across language barriers and cultural diversities it may become possible for us to enable our children to grow up together. This will require that our children study in a global classroom. As already mentioned Internet offers the possibility to realise teaching and learning in a " global classroom."

I will like to take advantage of this opportunity to present my ideas on the challenge of making education in India relevant to the emerging information age and will like to explore the possibility of taking part in the region-wide collaborative projects being evolved through this Symposium. To help the international audience to appreciate the challenge of bringing about any significant change in education in India, I present first the complexity of the school system in the country.

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The School System

India being a vast country is full of diversity not only in its social and cultural structure but also in its educational system. There are 32 States and Union Territories in India. It is therefore not surprising that the structure of education in the country became extremely heterogeneous as it evolved in the States in response to aspirations and contextual needs of the regional population. Therefore, the most important task for the Central and the State governments, which work together in a federal set up, was to adopt a common structure of education.

Several Commissions on Education, at different times in the fifty years since independence, examined issues on education to meet the emerging needs of its people. That students throughout the country should attain comparable knowledge and competencies was accepted as an important challenge for the educational system. Because of recent efforts, the country has finally adopted a uniform structure of education. The structure has been split into three stages, comprising 10 + 2 +3 years of studies. Of these the first twelve years form the school education and the next three years leading to first degree form the higher education. The first ten years of school education are used for transacting an undifferentiated general education curriculum. The next two years form the higher secondary stage. It provides diversification into academic and vocational streams and is preparatory to professional and tertiary education.

The assessment of performance of students is carried out by each school for its students, except for two public examinations, conducted by as many as 34 Boards of School Education, at the end of the 10th and the 12th year of school studies. The varying standards of assessment of performance by the different Boards of School Education are a nightmare to students, who have to compete for admission to national institutions by writing common entrance tests, though they would have studied in schools with varying learning conditions and with different curricula.

In 1993, the total enrolment of students studying in classes I to XII was 154,223,500 and, of these, those who were studying in classes XI-XII alone were 7,170,766. The total number of seats for professional education in the country is less than 100,000. Admission to professional courses is either based on performance in public examinations or in entrance tests or in their combination. Because of clamour for obtaining admission to professional courses, students tune their learning to the pattern of tests of the Boards and those of the entrance tests. The pressure to perform well in public examinations and entrance tests results in a " backwash effect ". Only what is tested is taught and learnt! In reality, the prevailing practice is that some selected course contents are hand picked for testing. Learning becomes bookish and is reduced to mastering of clever tricks for performing well in these tests. Moreover, as the public examinations are administered to a vast number of students, they are impersonal and cannot assess individual skills. When students are asked whether the 10 years of general education or the additional 2 years of higher secondary education have given them the skills required for their viability in the society, the common answer is " NO." When the situation has reached such an impasse, the way out may have to be found not in tinkering of the existing system but by providing a radical change to it. The changing nature of work and the global emergence of an information age provide the context for determining the change.

Today, the world has changed. More and more jobs have become skilled. The youth will have to possess the skills required for initial employment and the ability to learn new skills to keep pace with the changing nature of work. Another dimension to consider is that employment opportunities will be preferentially available to those who possess the required skills irrespective of their nationality. Therefore, young persons will require an education that can provide them better appreciation of life and culture in societies other than that of the society in which they grow up. The other crucial factor is the influence of information technology in nearly all occupations. Each person will have to learn how to use the computer as a tool in the work that he/she may be doing and have the generic skills for using information technology effectively. Some of these skills are problem solving, critical thinking, decision making, accessing information, processing and dissemination of information after providing value addition to it.

In the context of these concerns, we at the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) have planned a programme for using computer as a resource in schools. Broadly, it comprises of development of competencies for using computer in stand-alone mode, in network and for learning by using both offline and online educational resources. The online learning by a student can be the use of e-mail in carrying out collaborative projects of mutual interest with some other student elsewhere in the world, accessing of information of interest form the world wide web with the help of search engines and using it in her project. Because of the high cost of hardware and software, and the limitation of accessibility to Intenet, it is proposed to try a pilot experiment first. I give next a brief outline of the project.

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Bringing learners together- A project proposal for international collaboration

The project aims at giving advantage of the vast educational resources available in the countries of the region, elsewhere in the world and those of the NCERT to students and their teachers through the Internet and other communication technologies. The personality of a child is shaped in a cultural context. By enabling young persons to grow up together in an interactive environment with peers in different countries will help them to attain comparable intellectual heights and develop international understanding. To make this happen we require participation of appropriate organisations in the region for working with us on the project.

It may be pointed out that schools in India emphasise mastery of discrete units of fixed knowledge through teaching of traditional school subjects such as languages, mathematics, science and social sciences. What is required is that though learning may continue to be around traditional subjects, the learning experiences may be reoriented for developing learning to learn, decision making skills, communication skills and interpersonal skills. These can be achieved by exposing students to real life problems, involving for their solution a collaborative effort. Implementation of such an approach will require that schools, irrespective of their physical separation, arrange for their students to interact with one another to enable them to work on problems that can be best solved collectively. The Internet provides an effective mode for enabling interaction in spite of physical separation. In addition, the global networking of computers has made it possible to share educational resources without encumbrance and that too at near zero cost. Individuals and institutions are putting up information on every conceivable area of human interest on the Internet. Information on education, especially school education such as lesson plans, test items and supplementary instructional materials on a wide spectrum of school subjects are available on the Internet in an organised and easy-to-access form. The Internet is an ideal medium for interactive self-learning and if used intelligently will develop learning to learn. Therefore, the computer and the network to which it may be connected have to be used as tools for achieving the stated objectives and not as subjects of study.

In order to provide such a learning environment to a group of children in India the following steps would be taken:

  1. Selection of a cluster of State-run schools in New Delhi and Bangalore (in view of availability of access to the Internet and expert support in these cities) for taking part in the project (as global communication will be crucial to the project, these schools should have sections of students who use English as the medium of study),
  2. Involvement of children in the age group 13-16 in the project,
  3. Association of local experts to provide support to the participating schools and in the monitoring of the programme.

The following assessable competencies will be developed through appropriate activities. Each student should be able to

  1. boot the system, run a programme, use help and tutorials, open a file, save a file, locate a file, copy a file, print a file, etc.,
  2. work in the Win 95 or Win NT environment,
  3. use with facility MS Office for word processing, database management and spreadsheet,
  4. generate tables and charts,
  5. create graphic objects using graphic tools,
  6. plan layout of documents and prepare them in aesthetically appealing form for desk top publishing by insertion of images, tables, charts and graphic objects in text,
  7. scan images using a scanner,
  8. send and receive electronic-mail,
  9. attach files with e-mail and to open attachments received with e-mail,
  10. send and receive FAX using computer,
  11. log on to the Internet,
  12. open a web site from its URL,
  13. find information using search engines, select and classify information from the search findings,
  14. use hyperlinks for surfing on the Net,
  15. save selected information from web sites into folders and make their hard copy by using a printer,
  16. work on collaborative projects with peers using e-mail.

It is expected that these competencies will make students information technology literate and at the same time will develop in them the confidence to upgrade their skills, as they would have acquired the ability of learning to learn.

The competency XVI is what we want to realise through a collaborative venture. In the following paragraphs, we have visualised a programme in which students from India will be able to assist international students to understand India better. We expect that similar approach would be reciprocated by collaborating organisations in helping international students in general and students from India in particular to understand their country better.

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The topics on which the Indian students should be able to carry out in-depth study and acquire information that they can share over the Internet with their international peers, say students in Australia, are those that they have inherited, grown up with or have easy access to. For them, it would be a voyage into their own heritage and culture for discovering India. If similar approach is adopted by all the participating countries the children with their knowledge, understanding and experience will be able to mutually benefit and develop a realistic appreciation of each other's culture.

We have prepared a tentative list of such topics:

History , Culture , Geography

Historical monuments in and around Delhi and Banglore, Ancient Indian history, India's struggle for freedom, Temple architecture: Belur and Halebid, Geographical diversity, Lives of people in different geographical areas, Flora and fauna, Indian dances, Indian instrumental music,Indian cooking

Religion , Education , Personalities

Trauma of pubic examinations, A day in the school,

Religious diversity,Hinduism, Islam, Jainism, Sikhism, Christianity, Swami Vivekananda, Rabindranath Tagore, Mohandas K. Gandhi

Customs,Festivals, Paintings

Hindu Marriage, Islamic marriage, Holi, Depavali, Rakshabandhan,Bhaiduj,Id-ul-Zuha, Contemporary Indian painters and their paintings, Ajanta paintings,

Seasons,Society, Sports

Seasons and flowers, Castes in the Indian society, Child labour, Indigenous sports of India, Indian sports today, Cricket in India

The above list is illustrative and can be expanded to cover other topics that might be of interest to children in the region. Similar lists may have to be prepared by all participating organisations.

I next come to NCERT's role in implementing this project. The NCERT is an apex organisation in India, which through its programmes such as curriculum development, publication of textbooks, teacher education, educational technology, vocational education, research and extension provides resource support to school education in the country. We have recently set up a computer resource centre at the NCERT headquarters in New Delhi.

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NCERT's role

As the principal resource centre on school education in India, the NCERT would co-ordinate this project and collaborate with its counterparts in other participating countries.

Other responsibilities of the NCERT would be:

(a) Development of modules for students for acquiring the planned competencies

(b) Training of teachers

(c) Networking with professionals for providing expert support

(d) Obtaining feedback from students

(e) Making available on the Internet its resources

(f) Answering students queries by e-mail

Looking ahead

It is accepted that a majority of schools in India have inadequate infrastructure and it may not be possible for the State to provide computers in sufficient numbers to each school for implementing the above programme. If with the pilot project, it can be convincingly shown that children who are information technology literates have an edge in an information society, the community may come forward to meet the needed support.

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