Although setting up an autonomous NETF is not a bad idea, a better idea would be for the Central and state governments to confer autonomy to education institutions
Since a policy is seldom the same as a policy draft, we need to read the draft National Education Policy 2019, which is under consideration of the Union HRD ministry, as just that — a draft. On education technology, the recommendation of the nine-member Kasturirangan Committee is to integrate technology into all levels of education: teacher-preparation, teaching-learning, access to disadvantaged groups as well as planning and administration.
In its prescription, the draft suggests establishment of an autonomous National Educational Technology Forum (NETF) “to provide a platform for the free exchange of ideas on the use of technology to improve learning, assessment, planning, administration and so on. The aim of NETF will be to facilitate decision-making on the induction, deployment and use of technology, by providing to the leadership of educational institutions, state and Central governments and other stakeholders the latest knowledge and research as well as the opportunity to consult and share best practices with each other.”
Although setting up an autonomous NETF for free exchange of ideas on education technology is not a bad idea, a better idea would be for the Central and state governments to confer autonomy to education institutions and education institutions to teachers, and teachers to students.
Let us examine four aspects related to the use of technology in education — autonomy, efficiency, dependency and privacy.
Autonomy. Institutional autonomy denotes that local stakeholders are in charge; they are not being controlled, and they are not pawns in an external plan. People accept policies that give them a sense of being in control. In that sense, most principals and teachers have already adopted technology. They use smartphones and the various apps that come with it. Also, any student who has access to the Internet knows the power of search engines, learning apps, social media and virtual collaboration.
When a policy centralises management and control, the result is uniformity and standardisation. It is antithetical to local ownership and discourages experimentation. If the objective of the draft NEP 2019 is uniformity, the outcome will be mediocrity.
Efficiency. Technology plays the role of amplifier. It doesn’t differentiate between good and bad teaching. What it does is scale up existing capabilities many times over.
In schools, ERP (enterprise resource planning) systems have significantly reduced administrative load by mechanised online fee payment, attendance management, records keeping and so on. Simultaneously, communication apps have bridged the distance between parents, students and schools, making it easier to revise timetables, academic year plans, exam schedules, and announcements even at short notice. Moreover, online entrance examinations have notably reduced the time required for the admission process. However, it’s important to bear in mind that technology-enabled efficiency does not automatically translate into effective classroom pedagogy.
Dependency. The purpose of technology is to improve efficiency. It’s not a substitute for competence. Greater ed-tech usage doesn’t necessarily lead to better teaching or learning. It’s just that quite often, technology makes good teaching even better. It’s important to bear this distinction in mind, so that the significance of teachers — whom the draft NEP acknowledges as forming “the very heart of the education process” — is not diminished.
Privacy. The NEP 2019 draft does stress the need for privacy now that data is the holy grail for personalisation. But nobody appreciates continuous surveillance and monitoring. Therefore, one should be sceptical about technologies that promise to monitor student and teacher behaviour for improving learning outcomes. Today, almost every app stores our personal data as most people blindly accept the terms and conditions written in fine print.
But is it ethical to share this data with other individuals or corporations? If you have given your consent and you know who has access to this information and what they are likely to do with it, it is perhaps justifiable. Otherwise, it’s an invasion of privacy.
To conclude, what role can the State play to promote institutional autonomy and efficiency, reduce dependency and protect the privacy of stakeholders in education? Will it trust school principals and teachers, let alone students to take independent decisions on what type of technology they need?
By recommending multi-layered supervision of education institutions by several government-dominated councils, the NEP 2019 draft seems to favour centralisation. On the other hand, the critical need of India’s education institutions, spread across the country’s multiple states and Union territories, is autonomy. One hopes that while evaluating the recommendations of the Kasturirangan Committee’s draft, the Central government will bear this critical difference in mind.
(Anil Mammen is Chief — Learning Design & Impact at Tata ClassEdge)