Photo courtesy Digital Empowerment Foundation (DEF)

The government’s ICT@School policy has brought computers, software and digital content to schools. But digital infrastructure by itself does not lead to active and enriched teaching and learning. Government policy does not sufficiently stress the importance of teacher training and mentoring in integrating ICT tools in pedagogy. This article illustrates the difference that relevant and innovative integration of ICTs in teaching can make.

The Government of India launched the ICT@Schools scheme in December 2004 to promote ICT (information and communication technology) literacy and ICT-enabled learning. The central government funds and provides strategic support to the states, which run the scheme.

The scheme is generally implemented using the BOOT (Build, Own, Operate and Transfer) model. Under this model, the BOOT operator or vendor is responsible for setting up the ICT infrastructure. The duration of the contract is normally five years, and in addition to the set-up, the vendor is also responsible for maintenance of the infrastructure, hiring an ICT coordinator for the school, and providing digital content.

The scheme was revised on January 9, 2010, and the focus areas of the revision were:

  1. Expansion of the outreach of the scheme with emphasis on quality and equity
  2. Setting up of smart schools (schools with 40 computers for each of the classes 9–12)
  3. Teacher engagement and better in-service and pre-service training
  4. Development of e-content.

The ICT@Schools scheme has definitely provided schools with the required infrastructure and ICT coordinator, and ICT literacy has begun. However, access to the infrastructure continues to be a concern, with infrastructure still inadequate for the student population in a school. With a single computer lab, access and hands-on practice for every student is restricted. Tablet PCs are also being considered as part of ICT infrastructure.

The latest revision of the “National Policy on ICT in School Education” dated March 23, 2012 provides guidelines for ICT literacy and competency enhancement as well as other key components such as:

  1. ICT-enabled teaching-learning process, focusing on using ICT tools for teaching and teaching-learning materials for effective pedagogy
  2. Teachers evaluating and creating digital content
  3. ICT-enabled classes, progressing from computer labs to classrooms with ICT
  4. Educating students on safe use of ICTs and copyright
  5. Free and open source software
  6. Free and open digital content
  7. Development and sharing of digital content by national-level organisations such as the Central Institute of Educational Technology (CIET), National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT), Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) and state-level organisations like the State Institutes of Educational Technology (SIETs)
  8. Capacity-building of in-service teachers
  9. Capacity-building through pre-service teacher education.

The most important dimensions of making the teaching-learning process effective and engaging are the role that pedagogy plays in the entire process, and the effective integration of ICT/digital tools to create a relevant learning experience. Creating digital content also requires an understanding and appreciation of instructional/learning design, along with subject-matter expertise.

Machines, software and digital content are fundamental to any ICT policy. However, the knowledge and skills of the stakeholders, effective teaching-learning practices using technology, and an understanding of pedagogy is critical to create a meaningful, rich learning experience for the students.

Thus, teacher training and mentoring on these dimensions is critical to the success of any ICT in Education policy.

However, these dimensions are not given the required attention in the implementation of the ICT@Schools scheme.

What difference do these dimensions make?

Consider the following:

  1. For the first language, Marathi, one chapter describes the museum at Baroda. It talks about the paintings of Raja Ravi Varma and other painters. Using the ICT infrastructure, the teacher can show the students Ravi Varma’s paintings as well as works of art by other painters. She can show them what a museum looks like. She can divide the class into groups to appreciate the paintings and think about how they could build an online museum. Students may not know all the answers, but it is important to show them the many uses of ICT, get them to work in groups, and appreciate art. When this activity was conducted in some rural schools as part of a funded project, students enjoyed the interaction. They had learnt the lesson before but had never been able to imagine what a museum looked like, had never appreciated art, nor presented their thoughts or opinions in a class. Working in a mixed group of boys and girls was also a new experience.1
  2. In geography, a chapter entitled “Avkash Bharari” focuses on the importance of satellite communication. Let us consider using video clips and news clips of a tsunami. Could we show the video clips and ask students to analyse the situation? What happened? Why did it happen? Where did it happen? How could satellite communication help in a natural disaster? Students can answer questions and even work in groups to discuss what each of them has understood. The activity can be further extended by telling them to write about the situation they observed, giving them an opportunity to express using words—integrating geography with a language activity.
  3. For mathematics, subject experts who were part of a course development team were trained in creating open educational resources (OERs) in the form of e-content. The content was made in PowerPoint with narration and saved as videos or mp4 files. All through, scenarios were used to give context to the learning. For example, in an OER explaining the congruence of triangles, the mathematics subject expert created an imaginary scenario using a historical context. She first told the story of the great warrior, Shivaji Raje gathering his troops at Fort Pratapgad. The Mughals were a huge threat and were likely to advance at any time to capture Pratapgad. Thus, it was important that all forces joined in at Fort Pratapgad. However, the troops were scattered in four different locations.

    Image courtesy OER – Congruence of triangles – RGSM and MKCL OER Project. The labels are in Marathi. The diagram shows how to create a context for learning

    She then established the fact that the four locations were at the same distance from the top of the fort where the troops were to meet Shivaji. He wanted all the forces to reach at the same time. He dispatched four of his trustworthy soldiers to the four locations. At the given time and date, they instructed the troops to march towards the fort. They began their journey from four different locations and reached the top of the fort at the same time, just as Shivaji walked in to greet them. How did this happen?She then went on to explain the basics of congruence, connecting the scenario again and explaining it by labelling the triangles and the distance the troops had to walk to reach at the same time (see image).

    The imaginary scenario made the OER very interesting. Self-learning using e-content (OERs) was not only an enjoyable experience for the students, but also built concept understanding.

  4. For a science lesson on projectile motion, students could be shown a clip of Virat Kohli hitting a sixer, followed by a class discussion on what made the sixer happen, and how projectile motion is related to it. This would be an interesting way to bring in the real-life application of concepts. Students could use the camera of a smartphone to shoot fellow students watering plants with a hosepipe (how the change in distance and force applied gets the water to reach the plant bed) and then groups could reflect on the application of projectile motion in this situation.
  5. Imagine using a tabla and a string instrument in class to explain the basic concepts of “sound”. It would be great but not feasible in our environment of over-crowded classrooms, multi-grades in one classroom, plus the effort of transporting these teaching aids from one classroom to the other. ICT can be the solution.
  6. Consider planning project-based learning activities by dividing the class into groups of eight or 10. Give them an opportunity to choose a topic of local importance and conduct a guided discovery by integrating learning from all curricular subjects, using ICT first to find information, read more on the topic being considered, then using ICT to record data, analyse it, present their findings, write reports, essays and poems on the given topic. What an enriching experience!

These are just a few examples of active learning. The possibilities are endless.

Learning based on concept understanding and application is essential to innovation and creativity. Finding answers to the question “WHY” leads to the “WHAT” and the “HOW”, which takes one on a path of discovery.

Observing, Discussing, Exploring, Problem-solving, Doing and Creating with peers not only makes the learning process fun but also nurtures teamwork and collaboration. Building hypotheses and validating them as a team ensures that children can handle all sorts of real-life situations as well.
The key premise for education is to involve young minds in activities that arouse curiosity, give them opportunities for creative expression, generate interest in research, invention and innovation.

We all know this. Yet there are gaps.

Policy documents mention these dimensions, but do not focus or stress on them.

Integrating ICT in education largely focusses on training teachers on the basics of ICT, using email, word processing, presentation, and to some extent spreadsheet software.

Even though teachers are trained, they lack practice and continuous upgradation.

The computer coordinators (who are part of ICT@Schools) usually do all the work related to printing and updating data for the teachers. They teach students ICT based on the prescribed syllabus. Does every student get access and enough practice? That is yet another concern.

ICT is still equated with having a computer lab in school.

Digital content is available by the dozen. At present, the organisation that supplies the hardware and the software also supplies the digital content. However, the content may not have been developed using sound instructional design principles. Content is largely available in the form of digitised textbooks, with animations and glamorous 3D animations. Sometimes, media are not used for their strengths. For example, a 3D animation can be used to illustrate the inside of the ear or the working of an eye. However, it may not be a great idea to write a2+b2=c2 using 3D letters.

According to a revision in the ICT@Schools scheme, national organisations like CIET and NCERT would also develop digital content, and the best content from providers would be selected. Assuming that this content is based on sound instructional principles, the question about its effective use for learning remains. In one teacher training programme, a teacher shared her experience of using digital content. She said, “I used the animation of DNA to explain the concept. Students were excited and interested in learning by viewing the animation. However, after the animation, I administered a quiz and they could not answer all the questions. This means that they had not learnt using the animation.” I asked her, “You played the animation. After that or before that, what did you do?” She did not answer. The thought that digital content by itself can make learning happen and that technology makes the teacher’s role redundant defeats the entire purpose.

Integration of ICT in education expands the teacher’s role. She is no longer just a teacher. She is a facilitator.

Active learning workshops and training sessions conducted with teachers from various schools highlighted the following points:

  1. Lack of awareness of digital resources available
  2. Lack of awareness about open educational resources (OERs)
  3. Teachers know about strategies like group work, creating learning aids, role-play and projects. However, they are not fully aware about implementing these strategies for effective learning.
  4. Teachers lack knowledge about active and constructive learning and related strategies
  5. Lack of understanding on how ICT can be integrated in learning
  6. Fear of using ICTs
  7. Fear of being unable to complete the syllabus if innovative learning strategies are used.
  8. Myths about active learning or integration of ICT in learning—that it cannot be used effectively with a large number of students in a class
  9. Lack of access to experts and bouncing ideas off peers to discuss possible solutions, integrating ICT, pedagogy, and even subject knowledge
  10. Sometimes, a general mindset that she/he will not be able to “learn to learn” makes learning new things difficult.

So, what are some possible solutions?

  1. Creation of a framework for integration of ICT in learning at a national level—with a focus on using active and constructive learning, design of engaging learning experiences using ICT
  2. Using technology to scale and enhance reach—Setting up of a virtual school for teacher professional development
  3. Creating regional language content for teacher professional development
  4. Identifying experts and organisations which focus on active learning, constructive learning and effective integration of ICT in the learning process. Connecting the dots with experts, teachers and schools to leverage strengths in these areas
  5. Identifying core competencies for teachers in the 21st century
  6. Expanding the scope of training to include the requirements of the 21st-century teacher along with how to design engaging learning experiences
  7. Using virtual classrooms to connect schools and get expert teachers at the local level to give inputs on subject knowledge
  8. Organising education fairs for teachers which focus on sharing best practices in ICT in education, spreading awareness on emerging trends in education
  9. Reviewing existing monitoring mechanisms to ensure application of integration of ICT in the learning process
  10. Making requisite changes in the pre-service teacher training programmes.

The missing dimensions are the ones that will make a difference in leveraging the strengths of ICT for learning, getting teachers and students involved in the process, and making it fun, engaging and enriching for all.

Sucheta Phadke is a learning strategist with 25 years of experience. She has a Master’s degree in Communication Studies, and is the former Senior Vice-President of Core Education and Technologies Ltd and Head of Content at IL&FS Education.

Endnote

[1] All examples cited in the text are from the Shikshan Pandhari open educational resources (OER) project funded by the Rajiv Gandhi Science Commission and implemented by the Maharashtra Knowledge Foundation.