The future of learning: Five trends that could change the face of Indian education
The education system in India is in trouble and everybody knows it, not least of whom is the Government, whose inputs to the National Education Policy 2016 — currently in draft form — do not shirk away from the scale of the problem. In this preliminary document it is acknowledged that learners are disengaged, teachers are untrained and unmotivated, school leadership is lacking, and infrastructure is poor; factors which contribute to learning outcomes that fall a long way short of those required if India — soon to have the largest working population in the world — is to fully exploit its demographic dividend.
Bridging the digital divide
In India, like many other countries around the world, there is a lot of hype around the role of technology and how it might transform the education system. Indeed, the ‘ed-tech’ media is very excited about artificial intelligence, wearables, 3D printing and other machine technologies, and how they are set to change the face of education. While this is probably true in a broad sense, it is largely irrelevant to the current discourse on the future of learning in an emerging economy like India. The reason, simply, is that aside from a few wealthy international schools, expenditure on this kind of hardware is simply not an option.
The good news, however, is that there is plenty of room for innovation using technologies that are increasingly available to nearly all segments of society. This is not to imply that the so-called digital divide has been bridged. Having access to the technology is one thing. Knowing how to use it for educational purposes is another.
Herein lies the biggest challenge for the Indian education system. Teacher education and professional development needs a complete overhaul if there is to be any meaningful change in the nation’s classrooms which, in turn, enables Indian society to reap the benefits of its demographic dividend.
Curriculum development and learning design must incorporate the new technologies. In this regard, here are five significant trends that pre-service and in-service educators need to take account of:
- Improving access, better connectivity
With the advent of cloud computing, it is now possible for everyone to have their own piece of real estate on the Web. The competition between Google, Microsoft, Apple and other players means that this service is effectively free, and they compete by continually innovating to provide a better service. This is a boon for educational institutions as there is no need for expensive server hardware.
Meanwhile, Internet services continue to fall in price. Free wifi is increasingly available in metropolitan centres, and competition among telecommunications companies will mean that 4G services will soon be within reach of nearly all socioeconomic groups.
Significantly, when accessing the internet — whether via wifi or 4G — handheld devices are the medium of choice. This is a global trend, but India leads the way in this regard, with more than 70% of web pages accessed via mobile devices.
Of further interest, is the growth in the sale of smart phones with 5–5.5 inch screens. In between a phone and a tablet, these so-called ‘phablets’ could well become the default device for accessing the Internet as prices steadily fall. In short, taking a phablet to the classroom might become as commonplace as the exercise book and pencil in the pre-digital era.
2. The burgeoning growth of Open Educational Resources
Open Educational Resources (OER) are openly licensed materials (usually under Creative Commons licenses) that are freely accessible to anyone who wants to use them. They include, for example, full courses, course materials, modules, software, textbooks, videos, assessment items, and many other tools or techniques used to support learning. A growing number of higher education institutions, schools, governmental bodies, foundations and other agencies support this movement in the belief it will deliver higher levels of educational achievement, particularly in the developing world where it will promote economic and social development.
Educators at all levels are becoming more involved in the OER movement because they believe in the value of creativity and benefits to sharing. These individuals develop their own materials, sometimes building upon someone else’s work in the OER community, and then share alike. This ‘paying-it-forward’ approach is increasingly exponentially if the growth in the number of creative commons licensed works is anything to go by.
3. 21st Century Skills and digital literacies
When asked a question in the post-Google age, it is no longer socially acceptable to say “I don’t know”! With information literally at our finger tips, learning and teaching have to be re-conceptualised. We also have to rethink what it means to be ‘literate’. Increasingly, employers seek competence in the new digital literacies, and the so-called 21st century skills. This does not necessarily require a dramatic change in the curriculum, but pedagogy must change. Memorisation is not a 21st century skill. Teaching to the test, and ‘mugging up’ for exams now belongs to a bygone era.
4. Assessment for Learning
If learners are to readily engage, they must see the point of what they are doing. A bi-product of improving access and improved connectivity to the Web is shorter attention spans. Unless a learning activity is authentic with meaningful outcomes, students soon become distracted.
In developing 21st century skills, therefore, it is important the curriculum is appropriately contextualised. Learning is creation, not consumption. In other words, knowledge is not something a learner absorbs, but something a learner creates. This means designing assessment for (not of) learning, to enable students to demonstrate real-world application of their new found skills. The Design for Change movement is, perhaps, the leading exponent of this philosophy.
5. Competency based education
A chronic problem in many countries around the world is the unemployability of school leavers and college graduates. In India, this problem is particularly acute as the education system has struggled to adjust to the demands of the knowledge economy. Employers require evidence of competence and this does not necessarily equate with a paper qualification.
In response to this, some forward-looking educational institutions are embracing the idea of ‘micro-credentialing’ and the award of digital badges to provide confirmation that a certain level of competence has been demonstrated. Such an approach sits very comfortably with the idea of professional learning portfolios and the growing popularity of platforms such as LinkedIn that provide opportunity for individuals to showcase their talents.
In summary, embracing these five trends does not involve great expense, although a commitment to life-long learning and government/ employer incentives for ongoing professional development would certainly help.