Education and skill development are a key focus for the Government of India. The education budget was Rs 93,224 crore for 2021, with Rs 54,873 crore for school education and literacy and Rs 38,350 crore for the higher education sector. As a young nation with an average age of 28.4 years, this investment will go towards the education and vocational skill training of the youth. Education and skill development are crucial in eradicating unemployment and utilising our human resources. The entire nation was transformed into a digitally empowered society and knowledge economy through the Digital India campaign. The transformation of the education and skilling sector is also happening through the use of futuristic technologies to aid the mission of a successful and self-reliant India.
The New Education Policy (NEP) 2020 replaced the earlier policy introduced 34 years ago, with major reforms in the education system. It focuses a great deal on the use of technology and its integration. The NEP was drafted considering India’s position as a global leader in information and communication tech and other cutting-edge domains. Education will play a critical role in this transformation and technology plays an important role to improve educational processes and outcomes; making the relationship between them bi-directional.
There are seven key technologies that are growth driers across industries, and education and skilling are no exception. These include 5G, cloud computing, artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), big data, robotic automation, drone, and blockchain. Each of these key technologies can be leveraged to increase operational, structural, administrative efficiency of the process of education and skilling.
Challenges and solutions
There is a clear gender gap when it comes to access to education in India. This means we lose out on a large section of our human resource capacity. It has been shown that women are better suited for vocational skill development with lower attrition rates in jobs. Awareness drives are carried out to create a stronger, more lasting impact on the importance of education for all.
A land of many languages, India needs a comprehensive system in place to provide education and skill development in regional languages while upholding the national standards of teaching. Not everyone speaks English to compensate for the lack of a national language. Standardized content is still far from perfect and collating open-source content will require tremendous effort on part of the government not to mention magnify the costs. The syllabus needs to be re-evaluated from an amalgamated learning approach.
The teachers need to know how to operate digital platforms more effectively. Short, inadequate training of teachers can lead to inefficient teaching methodology at the basic level. Additionally, single teacher schools are another major issue in the rural areas with 97,273 single teacher schools in the country which account for ~8.8% of schools in India. We need comprehensive skill-gap analysis at a district level which can aid industry and academia to come together and fulfill the needs of the industry.
Data plans increase tariff with increased data usage. To address this, telecom companies can subsidize learning data plans to aid the existing gap.
The other key challenge we face today is the disproportionate distribution of human resources across the nation. The global pandemic also highlighted this aspect with disruption in the economy due to large-scale migration of the frontline workforce. This stems from the fact that there are certain jobs preferred or endemic to certain regions, sections of society, or industries.
Urban centers see large densities of youth leading to high competition for selective courses and skills. This creates selective skill training in those regions and leaves a gap for other or less preferred roles leading to scarcity in that sector. Conversely in rural areas, the lack of competition invokes less funding for specialization skills leading to a lack of high-skilled manpower in those regions. Labour migration patterns need to be studied to understand local requirements which will lead to more effective use of skill development funds.
Smart devices for low-cost education
Online education is a cost-effective and scalable way to provide remote areas with access to high-quality standardized education. This means that access to devices is imperative in remote or far-reaching sections of our country. Only 21.3% of people have access to desktops in rural areas, while internet penetration is another key challenge. This affects the availability of quality education in rural areas.
Mobile screens, although portable, are small and not very suitable for long hours of study. Data plans also increase tariffs with increased data usage, making it difficult for locals to fund these initiatives out of their own pockets. To address this situation, telecom companies can subsidize learning data plans to aid the existing gap. Government rollout of digitization and fibreization drives are the key to tackling these problems effectively through rigorous surveys and follow-ups.
However, a large percentage of the rural population lacks adequate literacy to acknowledge these equipment and digital terminologies. An important concern includes the shortage of infrastructural support facilities like electricity and high-speed internet connections.
One of the easiest ways to sensitize the population is to collaborate with ‘influencers’ on digital platforms. These are not only high-visibility individuals but also ambassadors for digital outreach and its transformational capacity. Identifying suitable individuals can help expedite this process while incurring the minimal cost and maximum engagement among the youth.
Blockchain will be used in many areas of education including examination management, student credentials verification, and certificate verification.
The future outlook
Digital education has frequently been regarded as a feasible solution to bridge the prevailing gaps in education delivery for rural India. People often consider it to overcome the problems associated with high dropout rates, insufficiency of school teachers in rural areas, delivery of quality education, and lack of innovative teaching-learning techniques, and inadequate standard of the learning materials.
The National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 stresses digital learning as an alternative to the conventionally accepted classroom model as a communication medium between teachers and students. This shows a tremendous opportunity to install digital education infrastructure using government institutions helping standardize the courses and trainers.
Going ahead there seem to be some clear choices; e-learning and LMS platforms will take over a conventional model of learning to create a blended learning environment. Industry-ready students will also become commonplace with the introduction of vocational skill development courses into the K-12 curriculum, while digitization through the BharatNet will result in increased last-mile connectivity in rural areas. This along with the development of smart cities will create jobs for high-skilled individuals resulting in demand for higher education and skill training.
Online education is a cost effective and scalable way to provide remote areas with access to high quality standardized education.
The use of AI to personalize learning experience will help us allocate human resources more efficiently and online certification will make getting jobs faster and more reliable. Blockchain will be used in many areas of education including examination management, student credentials verification, and certificate verification.
Bali is CEO at Telecom Sector Skill Council