Technology Enabled Learning Systems

20 Dec

Meeta Sengupta
14 December 2011, 08:23 PM IST

Technology has apparently transformed the classroom into a more interactive engaging environment. Both in India and abroad, the more progressive schools seek to engage with learning tools powered by multimedia. The debate on ICT for Education has been wide ranging and passionately fought over the years, with naysayers bringing data to prove that educational attainments do not improve while supporters claim that access, achievement and engagement are higher if such tools are used.

Having taught in a multi-media environment in professional and higher education for years, it seemed natural to me that this would be extended to schools too. Games and whiteboards were enthusiastically adopted by schools. Some schools in Scotland even were funded for Nintendo DS games consoles for each of their students in certain year groups to help them with their maths. Many school teachers have encouraged their students to create classblogs, which has become established in the school routine. Students as young as eight are writing their essays online and sharing it with their classmates and teachers.

Thus learning becomes interactive, a bit competitive and uses a wider range of resources than the teacher could have accessed alone. Online, when on twitter, I have said hello to classes in Finland, New Zealand and Canada and talked about my country. Even for poorer sections of society, I have received assignments on email – a free service provided to learners in many countries. Web based seminars and Open source resources all depend on availability and access to multimedia connected resources.

Classrooms in India too are becoming more complex, especially those in richer schools that can afford to invest in the technology. Large multilateral agencies have been researching and supporting programs that help to spread modern education using ICT and its tools. And yet, there is a strong disconnect between the two worlds. This generation is known to be tech-savvy, often naturally adopting technology while the so called immigrants to technology land – the older generation fumbles. The famous hole in the wall experiment was one of the first to prove that technology enabled solutions do not need to be taught. Yet embedding ICT into regular classes remains a distant goal, as they are still seen as an add on to classic text book style teaching. This, however is a small blip in the journey, as younger and more tech-savvy teachers enter the work force and build their work around more engaging tools.

This is of course possible if the infrastructure and attitudes move in tandem to allow access to such technology. In areas where there is limited electricity supply, with low voltage, and where slow expensive internet connections are the channel, then it is natural for these to become secondary to the learning process. The user experience must be designed and delivered effectively, or children will certainly walk away.

So, often, here I stand in front of classes – many of them superbly equipped. Others bare shell rooms. Sometimes I am lucky, and the equipment works perfectly.  Sometimes I am in a hall meant for assembly with a large screen far away from the students. Sometimes the sound system is meant for a smaller or bigger room and the acoustics may or may not work well. Sometimes the internet is slow, so I can just show static sites. Of course, given that there is electricity. It would have been a valiant fight to inject life into the session, to enthuse the students – if one had created the session depending upon the availability and quality of technology. So, both in the bare room, and in the equipped room, what is paramount is the teacher – their knowledge and wit.

There have been enough studies to prove that even with excellent e-resources, better learning happens with positive engagement by teachers. Technology enabled resources can enhance the learning experience, but cannot replace teachers.

Then, do those in the bare shell classrooms lose out to their first word counterparts? Are they learning less than their peers who research online and churn out teacher supported blogs for their assignments? With a few rare exceptions, yes – undoubtedly they lose out. We surely believe so, and as a nation are investing in creating connectedness across the nation that should meet the needs of the nation. The much promised Tablet ‘Aakash’ is almost here, and the cost will be shared by the taxpayer. Much of this has been in the future for a while – and the key is in effective implementation.  A quick look at government websites that are clunky and unusable makes one less than confident about the success of such learning systems.

So, where does the solution lie? Are our children doomed to second rate learning because we are not rich and cannot buy enough of the right tools. Absolutely not. This is where our demographic dividend kicks in – and the traditional notion of ‘shram-daan’ or ‘kar-seva’ will help. The only chance of success that transcends our limitations will come from the twin concepts of good design and crowd-sourcing.  Both of these will need investments, intelligence and co-ordination to deliver to the scale required. The only agency that can support such is the government, and they must now step up and deliver more than mere promises of infrastructure.

This was published on December 14, 2011 at


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