Friday 30 September 2016
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A Great Democratiser

Only online education can address a paucity of colleges, courses and faculty

Online education is going to be very big in India. It comes from a demand-supply gap, as the demand for education, particularly high-quality education, is way higher than supply and availability. This is why our children are not able to find the field of study of their choice and will have to explore opt­ions online to access what traditional offline modes cannot provide.

In the US, it is adding to what is already there. It is education for the educated. That is not the case in India; here it will be big and demand-driven, just as we have seen in mobile phones. Today, the quality is suspect and the bandwidth is low. With some initiative from the government and some from the private sector, we will see online education come up and flourish. And this will be pushed by 3G and 4G, better bandwidth and the coming of more smartphones, which will see many more people accessing onl­ine content on the phone.

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It will also address the issue of shortage of faculty, which is a big problem in Indian education today. In online education, you need only a few high-quality professors. I would rather have one good mit teacher teach me than a bunch of bad ones. Yes, people will get into a debate whether this has the potential to replace teachers but we have also seen developments like Kindle and music players which have redefined usage patterns. There is also the classic intellectual debate about whether online education will work in isolation, in the absence of a classroom full of students, peers and teachers, but new theories show that self-learning is a new model whose time has come.

Actually, we cannot afford to engage in these debates, as India has no choice. Even if this model is the second or third choice for developed countries, it is a luxury for India to spurn it out of hand, as students here are not getting anything. The ideal solution has to be a blend where online education plays an important role in mainstream education.

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We are now experimenting with a flipped classroom, where class-work is done at home online, while homework is done in class with teachers as facilitators. Research is also on about authentication of students in online education to establish who is sitting at the other side. There are issues with it, but even Aadhaar has issues with authentication. But in 95 per cent of cases, the data and information provided is correct. It is the same with onl­ine education. Some int­e­r­national online courses are exp­erimenting with using com­puter keystrokes as a biometric fingerprint to establish the identity of the person sitting at the other end of a computer.

The other thing online courses would provide is another chance to students who cannot understand or clear a course in the first attempt. In today’s system, if you fail in an exam, you are gone. In online education, you get more chances and can learn a lesson many times. It is a great democratiser. This is what India needs.

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