In India, the penetration of digital technologies and the internet is limited is estimated to cross 55 per cent by the end of 2025. In a country of an estimated 1.39 billion population, only around 11 per cent of Indian households have computers -- excluding smartphones -- and about 24 per cent (households) can boast of internet facilities. Bearing in mind that personalised and adaptive mobile and video-based learning, usage of VR and AR for learning are the factors that are enabling the growth of digital education, the reachability of remote learning is a concern. Moreover, with over 1.5 million schools closed due to the pandemic, students are dependent on digital infrastructure to access E-education. If the issue of computer infrastructure is not handled immediately, an entire generation of children will suffer an academic setback.
A sound technology, supported by fundamental facilities and systems to serve the country, plays an important role in the process of nation-building. It gives impetus to government initiatives like Digital India and Make in India. A superior educational support system is one of the requirements to accomplish such programmes in order to make India a front-line economy. It will largely depend on the availability and dedication of an adept human resource, and it is here the role of education is most crucial.
Accordingly, we must strive for inclusive education in India. To that end, it is necessary to address the challenge of the digital divide. In recent times, the outbreak of Covid-19 abruptly halted classroom teaching and a sizeable surge was seen in the use of language apps, virtual coaching, video conferencing tools, or online learning software. Already there was high growth and embracing of education technology, but as schools scurried to provide learning through the aid of digital platforms, amidst the rollercoaster ride of the pandemic, it became clear that online education was here to stay, and there was a need to create a strong infrastructure in its favour.
However, in the sphere of virtual learning, the difference between the haves and have-nots increasingly resemble a chasm. Hence, it is imperative, like the privileged, smaller towns and cities are given access to an uninterrupted broadband connection and the underprivileged students provided with laptops/tablets to benefit from the high-quality education resources available online. In due course, digital learning will not only broaden their competence and productivity but also mobilise a talented pool of manpower for the country.
Recognising the reality the government has taken a step in the right direction. Union Budget 2021-22 has greatly highlighted the strengthening of the country's digital infrastructure for education by announcing the setting up of a National Digital Educational Architecture. The "Digital First" approach of the government to facilitate the entire gamut of educational activities will provide multifarious education eco-system architecture for expansion of digital infrastructure, and help make the education sector future-ready. It is expected that the government will increase the annual budget of education from the present 4.6 percent to 6 percent of GDP, and gradually hike it further, to create an ecosystem for research and development infrastructure in the education sector.
Thus, considering that digitisation of education remains one of the key areas of interest in our country, overall, the government is vigorously working to make India a preferred destination for investment in infrastructure, digital technology, finance and biotechnology. Furthermore, being cost-effective helps the edtech industry to sustain the infrastructure and maintain a healthy system of education. It also attracts major investments and is more likely to reach the global projection of $350 billion by 2025, for the online education market. Technology Enhanced Learning is set to influence modern education in India.
The time is ripe to create and support a robust education system as India will have the highest youth population in the coming years and investing in digital infrastructure will also assist in achieving the country’s commitment to the 2030 Sustainable Development Goal objectives, one of which guarantees quality education to all whilst facilitating the growth of an equitable and educated culture.
The author is Provost of HSNC (Hyderabad Sind National Collegiate) University. The cluster University constitutes of Mumbai’s three reputed colleges – KC College, HR College and Bombay Teacher’s Training College (BTTC). Views expressed in this article are personal and may not necessarily reflect the views of Outlook Magazine.)